Sead Kolasinac

Getty Images

It’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button

1 Comment

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.

Hope for Manchester clubs chasing Sanchez?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger wasn’t as defiant as he has been when discussing Alexis Sanchez’s future at Arsenal on Friday.

Reports have been rife in recent days that Sanchez, 29, will be sold in January with Manchester City the long-standing favorites to sign the Chilean forward (their $75 million deal was called off on deadline day back in September 2017) before he can leave Arsenal for nothing on a free transfer in July.

However, multiple reports surfaced on Thursday suggesting that Manchester United have entered the race for Sanchez and would be willing to pay a higher transfer fee than City and a deal could include Henrikh Mkhitaryan heading to Arsenal in exchange.

Speaking to reporters on Friday ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Bournemouth on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Wenger was keeping his cards close to his chest when asked about United’s bid and Mkhitaryan.

“Nothing is really concrete at the moment. You conclude [that Manchester United are also interested] – but I don’t want to give you the wrong information. Nothing is decided one way or the other,” Wenger said. “Normally he should stay here until the end of the season but we shall see.”

Hmmm.

A change in Wenger’s mood was definitely noticeable as he had previously stated that Sanchez, and Mesut Ozil, would both stay at Arsenal until the end of the season.

Now, it seems like the situation has altered. Sanchez’s output (7 goals in 20 PL games so far this season) hasn’t lived up to his last three campaigns at Arsenal and rumblings suggest the rest of the squad have become unsettled with his attitude.

Wenger defended Sanchez’s recent form, even though he was left on the bench for the League Cup first leg draw at Chelsea on Wednesday.

“I don’t question Sanchez’s passion. I have had many conversations with him and we talked about how people always observe you with a microscope when you’re on a short term contract but I’ve never questioned his professional attitude on the pitch,” Wenger said. “[His form] is not necessarily linked with the length of your contract – [losing form] can happen even if you’ve got 10 years to go.”

All the signs are pointing towards Arsenal offloading Sanchez in the next few weeks, with Bordeaux’s Brazilian forward Malcom reported to be interesting the Gunners, even though Wenger admitted he was a good player “but at the moment nothing is happening” with that particular deal.

It seems there is now more hope than ever for the two Manchester clubs when it comes to signing Sanchez.

As for Arsenal this weekend, Wenger has been handed a fitness boost with Aaron Ramsey returning to the squad, Jack Wilshere‘s ankle injury isn’t as bad as first feared and he could play at Bournemouth on Sunday, while Mesut Ozil is rated at 50/50.

He also confirmed that Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal will be back in contention next week with Olivier Giroud back to full fitness the week after.

Premier League Preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Arsenal leads all-time 74W-56D-62L
  • Arsenal won Community Shield in pens
  • Drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge in Sept.

Chelsea and Arsenal review their even rivalry Wednesday in a midweek marvel at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Gunners’ boss, Arsene Wenger, is under a bit of fire, charged by the FA for entering the referees’ room after Arsenal’s draw with West Brom, raging about a penalty call from Mike Dean off a controversially-deemed handball.

Arsenal drew first blood in the series when it took the Community Shield in penalty kicks following 1-1 over 120 minutes, but Chelsea held the Gunners to 0-0 one month later in league play.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Arsenal is without several players as their injury concerns continue to mount, with Sead Kolasinac out and both Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny doubts. Nacho Monreal, Olivier Giroud, and Aaron Ramsey remain out of the lineup.

Antonio Conte‘s Blues can climb back about Manchester United and into second place with a win, while Arsenal needs a win to stay within three points of surging Liverpool.

What they’re saying

Wenger on Arsenal’s plans in the January transfer window“We are open in any position for the exceptional player who can give us a plus. Of course it depends a little bit on the injuries as well and on the other hand I must say it depends on who will manage to extend the contracts of the players who are at the end of their contracts in June. It will depend on that as well because we will have to take the consequences of these decisions and respond to it.”

Conte is focusing on Arsenal, not transfers“For us in this period we must be very focused on our target and tomorrow we have a really tough game against Arsenal. We have to find the right concentration. When you play against Arsenal every game is very important and tomorrow’s game is very important for the league. For sure we want to try our best and get three points and also to give satisfaction to our fans.”

Prediction

The series of stalemates continue, as defense is somewhat optional in a 2-2 draw in the home of the Gunners.

Watch Live: Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

They can’t jump into the top four barring a record-setting day, but Arsenal can draw level with Tottenham if they secure victory as they take on 16th place Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park at 3:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Under new manager Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace is unbeaten since November 5th in Premier League play, and they themselves can move all the way up to 13th or even 12th with victory at home over the Gunners.

[ WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal live online at NBCSports.com ]

Arsene Wenger has returned Sead Kolasinac to the starting lineup, with the Gunners returning to a back-three in Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, and Calum Chambers. Nacho Monreal misses out with an ankle injury, while Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey both find themselves on the outside with hamstring problems.

For Crystal Palace, Christian Benteke returns to the side after his one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation. He slots right to the head of the attack, while Joel Ward misses out thanks to a groin injury. Wilfried Zaha continues to maintain his steady place for the Eagles, as he looks for his 11th straight 90-minute showing.

LINEUPS

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Tomkins, Dann, Schlupp, Milivojevic, Cabaye, Loftus-Cheek, Townsend, Zaha, Benteke.
Subs: Hennessey, van Anholt, McArthur, Fosu-Mensah, Sako, Puncheon, Riedewald.

Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Chambers, Bellerin, Wilshere, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Ozil, Sanchez, Lacazette.
Subs: Ospina, Walcott, Holding, Iwobi, Welbeck, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin.

Midseason Premier League awards

Getty Images
Leave a comment

At the halfway point of the Premier League season, it is time to take a look back at the opening 19 weeks of the 2017-18 campaign.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Below our writers select their award winners for several different categories, plus pick their moments and team of the season so far.

Get involved and let us know your selections in the comments section below.


Joe Prince-Wright (3-4-3 formation)
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Cesar Azpilicueta, John Stones, Phil Jones
Midfielders: Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Philippe Coutinho
Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling

Nick Mendola
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Ashley Young, Kurt Zouma, Harry Maguire, Marcos Alonso
Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, N'Golo Kante, David Silva
Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Leroy Sane

Andy Edwards
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Alonso, James Tarkowski, Cesar Azpilicueta
Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, N’Golo Kante
Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling

Kyle Bonn
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi, Cesar Azpilicueta, Sead Kolasinac
Midfielder: Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Eden Hazard
Forwards: Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane

Matt Reed
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Cesar Azpilicueta, Phil Jones, Nicolas Otamendi, Ben Davies
Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic, Kevin De Bruyne
Forwards: Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah


Player of the Year (so far)

JPW: Kevin De Bruyne is in the conversation as the best player on the planet who isn’t named Messi and Ronaldo. He has completely transformed his game from a winger to a central playmaker and he can simply do it all. Goals, assists, killer passes, he has everything in his locker and is probably the most complete player in the world right now.

NM: Kevin De Bruyne — Wizard, magician, conductor, maestro. Choose your playmaking term, this guy is the straw that stirs Pep Guardiola‘s drink.

AE: Kevin De Bruyne

KB: Kevin De Bruyne is bossing the Premier League, and all we have to do is sit back, watch, and enjoy.

MR: There are a host of players worthy of this title, but all things considered Mohamed Salah is the man. He’s not only brought Liverpool’s attack to another dimension, but he’s completely silenced the worries surrounding the Liverpool attack that were thrown around prior to this season when Philippe Coutinho’s impending departure was all that Reds supporters could discuss.


Manager of the Year (so far)

JPW: This is actually a little bit tougher than just selecting Pep Guardiola. With City on an incredible 17-game winning run, Guardiola will of course get all the plaudits. That said, the relative success of Sean Dyche at Burnley and David Wagner at Huddersfield must be mentioned. Both have overachieved massively with limited resources but the beauty of watching Man City week in, week out means Guardiola gets the nod.

NM: Manager of the Year — Guardiola — With massive respect to Sean Dyche, I can’t in sound mind override Pep’s unbeaten run in the deepest league on Earth.

AE: Pep Guardiola.

KB: Pep Guardiola. Manchester City has a chance at history, and given how under fire he was last year, this turnaround is incredible.

MR: It’s an easy selection because Man City has propelled itself to a 13-point lead at the PL summit, but Pep Guardiola has done everything right in his second season in charge at the Etihad Stadium. He’s guided Kevin de Bruyne to being the best creator in England and gotten the best out of Raheem Sterling, while shoring up the backline with Kyle Walker and Danilo, as well as Benjamin Mendy — who has barely even seen the pitch due to injury. Give Guardiola time and the Spaniard always seems to find a way to turn gold into more gold, or something like that.


Young Player of the Year (21 and under)

JPW: I’m going to have to go with Leroy Sane. He has added extra power to his game but still kept his speed and his trickery. At 21 years of age he looks incredibly mature and is such an intelligent player on and off the ball.

NM: Leroy Sane — Just sliding in at 21, the German has been a menace on the wings, racing to the end line with abandon and serving up cross after cross. Honorable mention to Watford’s unearthed Brazilian gem Richarlison (20).

AE: Leroy Sane.

KB: For me it’s Gabriel Jesus – barely. Sane is just as good a pick. Manchester City with two Young Player candidates…that team is set up.

MR: Despite rotating with Sergio Aguero, Man City’s young Brazilian striker doesn’t seem to miss a beat when he’s on the pitch. Gabriel Jesus has 10 goals in all competitions this season, and he looks frightening getting forward each time City manages a push in the attack.


Comeback Player

JPW: This is a really tough category. Fabian Delph has been a revelation at left back for City and Fernandinho in midfield, while Riyad Mahrez is back to his best at Leicester and you could argue that Mohamed Salah falls into this category too. Is David Silva really a comeback player? He’s always been sheer class but this season he has taken his game to another level. That said, his Man City teammate John Stones is my pick. He’s improved so much under Guardiola and looks a better defender this season.

NM: Countless nominees for this one, including Wayne Rooney, Fabian Delph, Kurt Zouma, and Emre Can. But I’ll go with Riyad Mahrez, who Leicester City has to hope is willing to hang out through the season.

AE: Fabian Delph

KB: Aaron Ramsey, who missed an enormous amount of time for a multitude of injuries last season, and while none of them were terribly serious, each successive injury seemed to stop Ramsey’s form in its tracks, forcing him to start from scratch again. He’s having a fantastic season thus far. However, I still have my eye on Luke Shaw. There’s a long way to go on that one, but Shaw is finally showing signs that he still can be the player Manchester United expected when they shelled out big money to lure him away from Southampton. He’s struggled mightily with injuries, but if he can break his way into that Red Devils side, he can prove a massive asset. Problem is Ashley Young is having a great season in front of him at LB.

MR: When Pep Guardiola went out and made big adjustments to the Man City backline this summer, he didn’t address the center of his defense. With captain Vincent Kompany missing much time due to injury in the past few seasons, it was a bit of a gamble to just rely on young defender John Stones, but Kompany has found his form once again and anchored a defense that has conceded just 12 goals all season.


Best individual team performance

JPW: Their have been some incredible displays from PL teams in Europe with all five making it through to the last 16, but City’s demolition of Stoke City proved just how good they are going forward. They won 7-2 but it could have been 12-2. Everything clicked, as it has for most of this season.

NM: Can I go with a Premier League team in Europe? Because Spurs win over Real Madrid was pretty magical. If forced to stay domestic, I choose Man City 4-1 Spurs.

AE: Manchester City 5-0 Liverpool

KB: Manchester City 5-0 Crystal Palace. City has had a number of candidates this season, but that game had the best combination of beautiful attacking play, possessional strength, and smothering defending.

MR: The Clarets were granted a gift early on in their season opener against Chelsea when Gary Cahill was sent off inside the opening 15 minutes, but Burnley took full advantage with a 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge. Not only does it appear that Burnley could contend for a top four position, but their win against the defending league champions made for a great storyline to kick off the 2017/18 campaign.


Best individual player performance

JPW: Kevin De Bruyne against Tottenham Hotspur in their 4-1 win. He ran the show, scored a great goal moments after being clattered by Dele Alli and drove his team to victory without his partner in crime David Silva, who he gave a nod to during his goal celebration. True class.

NM: Wayne Rooney’s hat trick against West Ham, mostly because I feel dicey not giving him Comeback Player of the Year.

AE: David De Gea — Arsenal 1-3 Man United

KB: Kevin De Bruyne vs. Arsenal. De Gea’s performance against Arsenal was wild, but De Bruyne puts forth an effort across a full 90 minutes that proves he is the Premier League maestro.

MR: Goalscorers always get the recognition, but David de Gea’s 14-save performance against Arsenal was just as special to watch from a goalkeeping perspective. In a match that could have easily been flipping in favor of the Gunners, De Gea made acrobatic stops time and time again to preserve the victory for he and his side.


Best fans/atmosphere in Premier League

JPW: Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium. Their fans create a wonderful atmosphere win, lose or draw. The Terriers have a 12th man and they’re so hard to beat at home.

NM: Newcastle United at St. James’ Park

KB: Anfield. Can’t beat it.

MR: It could very easily vary on a week-to-week basis, but Anfield is always one of the best places to take in a match. The Liverpool supporters are impassioned whether winning or losing, and their “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is one of the most iconic sports fandom songs in all of sport.


Signing of the Year (so far)

JPW: Mohamed Salah has been a revelation at Liverpool and you can see why Jurgen Klopp‘s analytic department was pleading with him to sign the Egyptian winger. Plenty of eyebrows were raised when he signed but Salah is the PL’s top scorer and has 21 goals in all competitions for Liverpool. Simply stunning. Other contenders include Ederson, Alvaro Morata, Davinson Sanchez and Harry Maguire, who have all made a big difference to their respective teams.

NM: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

AE: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

KB: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool. Unquestionably.

MR: In his return to the PL, Mohamed Salah has been every bit the player that Liverpool had hoped that he could be. The top goalscorer in England, and arguably the most dynamic attacking player, Salah is not only poised to win the Golden Boot but also validate himself as one of the best wingers in the world.


Game of the season (so far)

JPW: Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool. I had the pleasure of being on-site at the Emirates Stadium for that game. I thought the 3-1 win for Manchester United at Arsenal would take some beating as that end-to-end game had it all, but the dramatic goals and comeback from Arsenal made this a truly unbelievable encounter. It could have ended up 5-5.

AE: Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool

KB: Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United

MR: Liverpool’s 3-2 victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium was one full of drama and exquisite attacking from both sides. A penalty save by Simon Mignolet was the key difference for the two sides, while the Foxes thought that they should have had another penalty late on in the match.


Goal of the season (so far)

JPW: Sofiane Boufal for Southampton against West Brom. Saints badly needed inspiration and Boufal delivered with an amazing 70-yard run and fine finish. St Mary’s was rocking as he scored that winning goal.

NM: Wayne Rooney vs. West Ham — 60 yards, on the laces. There is no other.

KB: I refuse to give Wayne Rooney this award because, while a 60-yarder is cool, the net was wide open. There haven’t been any surefire stunners yet, and while I think Jermain Defoe‘s volley against Crystal Palace should have a go, and Rajiv van la Parre’s against West Brom was spectacular, Sofiane Boufal’s incredible run against West Brom (poor Baggies!) does the trick, mostly because the two defenders crashing into each other halfway through is just a thing of beauty.