Hector Bellerin

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It’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button

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John Cross of the Mirror wrote yesterday that this is the worst Arsenal team in 20 years. He’s right, and that means it’s time to blow the squad up.

Sitting in 6th and coming off an embarrassing 2-1 loss at 13th placed Bourneouth, there is no quick fix to return this club to Champions League caliber, having slowly emaciated through years of poor transfer policy and miserable contract management.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and even Jack Wilshere could all potentially leave this summer for zero return, the loss of prime talent at the height of its monetary value. Even if Sanchez does leave this January, which looks likely, he’ll leave for a cut-rate price.

In recent years, Arsenal has failed to prepare for the stark decline of defensive stalwarts Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, left with Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, and occasionally an out of position Nacho Monreal at the back. In Holding’s five Premier League starts this season, Arsenal has conceded 11 goals; Chambers has started the last four games, with just one win and seven goals conceded.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

It doesn’t end there. With Francis Coquelin failing to live up to his sky-high potential shown early in his career, the Gunners brought in Granit Xhaka, who has been utterly useless, succeeding more at reducing his side to 10 men than he has in providing defensive cover or possessional strength. The 25-year-old Swiss is rated the 21st-best midfielder in the Premier League this season according to Squawka’s player ratings, behind guys like West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucore.

Hector Bellerin has declined for two seasons straight. Petr Cech looks all of his 35 years old, leaving fans longing for Wojciech Szczesny, who has performed his backup duties to Gianluigi Buffon to perfection (six goals conceded in 10 Serie A appearances). Lucas Perez lasted one season before being shipped out on loan. Mohamed Elneny can’t even beat out Xhaka for a starting spot. Gabriel Paulista was a flop; Mathieu Debuchy too.

The miserable squad makeup has forced youth products Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles into spot starts over the last few years, with none of the above able to grab a foothold among Premier League competition.

Meanwhile, on the outgoing side, the club has sold players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has been revived under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. They let Szczesny leave for Italy. Even back to the Robin Van Persie sale in the summer of 2012, they handed a top talent to a Premier League rival where he won a title. Arsenal hasn’t broken its record sale since shipping Marc Overmars to Barcelona in 2000 for $49 million, proving they can’t cash in on top talent when necessary. Allowing Alexis Sanchez to leave for pennies on the dollar (if anything) is a disaster of epic proportions, but not the first – they held onto players like Lukas Podolski too long, eventually saying goodbye far past peak value for little return.

And so, the Gunners have no other option. They must completely blow up the squad and start over. It will take some time, it will take heavy investment given the lack of assets at the club, and it might take a painful season or two. But it is what must be done. They only need to look north to Anfield to get a solid blueprint of what a top club grinding out a successful rebuild looks like.

Liverpool was in the same situation in 2015. The squad was aging, the transfer policy was poor, and aside from a 2nd place finish the year before which masked some of the problems plaguing the club, they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2010. So, Fenway Sports Group blew the whole thing up. They sold Raheem Sterling, who would take years to finally blossom under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, for top dollar. They saw Steven Gerrard, Luis Enrique, and Pepe Reina out. They got rid of failures like Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic. They used money from the painful but necessary sale of Luis Suarez to bring in Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. They swung and missed on Christian Benteke, but righted that wrong quickly and got most of their money back. They brought in a veteran grinder in James Milner on a free. Eventually, smart money was spent on Emre Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah, and they found a gem in Philippe Coutinho for just $16 million.

The key however, through all that, was the home run hire of Jurgen Klopp, who has had plenty of growing pains in the Premier League, but is the perfect manager for a rebuild. A loyal and enigmatic character who grooms young players brilliantly, Klopp has mixed cheap veterans with promising youngsters with amazing touch, and can tactically mask squad weaknesses with the best of them. The Reds still have a ways to go as they slowly climb the ladder to perennial Champions League contender, still sporting massive holes at defense and goalkeeper, but shrewd decision-making at the top now has Liverpool with the resources to patch holes while still allowing the stars of the squad to shine.

No rebuild is perfect, and no rebuild is without pain and mistakes, but it is preferable to the alternative in the long-run. Manchester United has been able to avoid a full-on squad nuke when left in a similar position after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but only because of near-unlimited resources and the hiring of managers who mask deficiencies with short-term band-aids such as negative tactics which infuriate supporters and yet fail to achieve the heights the club once reached on a regular basis.

It’s clear that Arsenal must follow Liverpool’s example and sacrifice a few battles to win the war. The first step is letting go of Arsene Wenger and finding someone to lead them through the muck and still be there on the other side. While Carlo Ancelotti would be a big-name get, he wouldn’t fit a long-term plan as snug as someone like Diego Simeone.

The next step – which is no cake walk – would be to retool the squad without many assets of value on hand. Players like Jack Wilshere must be retained, while recent transfers Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac have shown enough promise and work rate to build around. The rest are expendable, and departures are required to both raise funds and provide turnover. Aaron Ramsey would be a rare example of someone who could net a solid return while also proving replaceable, as would Hector Bellerin at just 22 years old. Expired has-beens over 30 in Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Debuchy are all immediately out the door despite minimal return, while keeping Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal would provide valuable veteran leaders who can still produce on the field.

These aren’t all the answers, and it can’t all be done at once, but it’s a starting point. As is, the Gunners are slowly bleeding out, and instead of layers and layers of gauze, upper management should invest in wide-scale surgery for the long-term health of the club.

Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Cherries keep Gunners down

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  • Cherries beat Arsenal for first time

Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe scored second half goals as Bournemouth came back to beat Arsenal 2-1 on Sunday at the Vitality Stadium, securing its first ever win over the Gunners.

Hector Bellerin scored Arsenal’s lone goal in a match played without injured Mesut Ozil and “vague” Alexis Sanchez.

It’s Arsenal’s first league loss since Dec. 2, but that eight-match stretch includes just two wins to go with Sunday’s loss and five draws.

The Gunners are now five points back of the Top Four before fourth-place Liverpool hosts Man City at 11 a.m. ET.

Bournemouth rises to 13 with 24 points, four points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

An active first 20 minutes showed both Arsene Wenger and Eddie Howe remained aligned in spirit, pushing tempo (albeit at the expense of precision on this particular Sunday).

Perhaps the best chance of the half was blocked by Arsenal’s Callum Chambers, as in-form Ryan Fraser was alone at the back post following a seeing-eye cross from the right.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Bellerin put Arsenal ahead in the 52nd minute, racing down the right and watching as Asmir Begovic could only get most of his hard shot.

Bournemouth, spurred by lively Ibe and Nathan Ake, produced some promising moves over the next quarter hour.

The Cherries went level in the 70th minute through Wilson, who beat a sliding Petr Cech to a Fraser cross.

Ibe then broke his Cherries duck, belting a low shot through traffic after Wilson’s trap spun onto his path.

Premier League stars attend NBA game in London

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Premier League stars of now and years past graced London’s O2 Arena to catch a rare regular season NBA game outside of the U.S. and Canada.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and former Blues midfielder Michael Ballack were all seen courtside, as well as Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Arsenal pair Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin. Even former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson enjoyed the game.

Stoke City’s American centerback Geoff Cameron also attended the game to see his hometown Boston Celtics face the Philadelphia 76ers, and he had a chat with our sister TV station in Boston.

Here’s a cool photo gallery of some of the Premier League’s best who were in attendance.

Wenger sheds blame to players after Nottingham Forest loss

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After Arsenal was soundly beaten by Nottingham Forest 4-2 in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday, Arsene Wenger was quick to criticize his players’ defensive performance, but dismissed any notion that the weaker side selected played a part.

“It was very frustrating,” Wenger said when asked about having to watch the game from the stands due to his touchline ban.”Unfortunately it was the case on top of that to see the team lose because we played against a very good Nottingham Forest team that was sharp, focused, won the challenges that were decisive and you know overall our performance today was not good enough to win the game.”

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup with Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham all in play ]

When asked about his team selection, which featured a defensive pairing with a combined 11 Premier League appearances this season in Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker, plus the presence of Joseph Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Reiss Nelson in the starting lineup, along with the absence of first team players Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Hector Bellerin, Petr Cech, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud, and Francis Coquelin from even the substitutes bench, Wenger brushed off any criticism of himself. “We had 8 or 9 international players and only 2 young players in the team so I believe it would be a bit easy to think that was a problem today.”

When the interviewer followed up by asking what he thought the problems were then, Wenger answered, “Defensively you cannot afford the mistakes we made today to get away with a good result.”

Finally, when asked about his thoughts on the controversial penalty awarded to Nottingham Forest that led to their final goal, Wenger wouldn’t be baited into blaming the officials again. “For the referee, honestly, I’ve said what I had to say, I don’t need to say anymore. That’s all I can tell you.”

Raging Wenger: Penalty to Chelsea ‘farcical decision’

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To no one’s surprise, reaction is divided along blue and red lines when it comes to the penalty won and converted by Eden Hazard in Chelsea’s 2-2 draw at Arsenal on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea ]

Hazard’s cross from deep in the 18 was blocked and both Hector Bellerin and he went for the loose ball. Bellerin’s attempt to clear the ball caught Hazard’s foot, and the Chelsea man hit the turf. Penalty. 1-1.

Bellerin, who’d go on to score a late goal, wasn’t sure it deserved a penalty and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had even stronger words.

[ MORE: 4 things | Player ratings ]

Hazard has no doubts. From the BBC:

“We don’t need a replay, it was a penalty. Petr is a great goalkeeper, it is always hard to score against him but I put the ball in the net and that was the most important thing.

Wenger has no doubts, either. He just feels the opposite.

“There’s a farcical decision. … You ask me if it’s a penalty, I say it’s a farcical decision. You could give 10 penalties like that per game.”

The Arsenal manager was charged by the FA after he went into the referee’s locker room following a poor penalty decision against his Gunners against West Brom. And that certainly colors his temperament regarding Hazard’s penalty.

Call it soft in the sense that it’s not one Bellerin intended, or that should decide a game… but it’s a foul in the box. The draw is less about this penalty and more about Thibaut Courtois‘ brilliance against a splendid Arsenal attack.

Here’s the incident. Let us know your thoughts in the comments: