Shkodran Mustafi

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Lackluster Arsenal concede late goal, draw Vitoria

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Arsenal dropped their first points in the UEFA Europa League as they drew 1-1 at Vitoria SC in Guimares, Portugal on Wednesday.

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For the Gunners it was a case of yet another late goal conceded after being ahead.

Shkodran Mustafi nodded home late on as Arsenal looked to be heading home for a win with their only effort on target, but Bruno Duarte’s superb overhead kick in stoppage time snatched a draw for Vitoria.

A much-changed side didn’t play well at all against Vitoria as the pressure remains on Unai Emery shoulders. With the draw Arsenal remain top of Group F and on course to reach the Round of 32, but they will only reach the knockout round on Thursday if Standard Liege lose to Eintracht Frankfurt.

The home side came flying out of the traps as Pepe smashed the post with a superb strike from distance and then Emiliano Martinez was forced into a fine stop to deny a curling effort from the edge of the box.

Davidson’s cross was inches away from Duarte converting as the home side continued to dominate, as Martinez saved Tapsoba’s header before the break.

Mustafi sent a header just over in the second half as Arsenal improved marginally, while Dani Ceballos hobbled off with an injury to give Emery further selection issues.

Vitoria battled hard to keep their chances of getting out of the group stage alive, but Mustafi nodded home Nicolas Pepe‘s fantastic free kick to grab a victory for the Gunners.

1-0 to the Arsenal…

Wolves loanee Leo Bonatini smashed a late effort over the bar as Vitoria looked dead and buried but then Duarte finished superbly to make it 1-1 and set up a grandstand finish.

A cross then deflected off Mustafi and flew inches wide of the post as from the resulting corner Rochinha’s volley was agonzingly close for Vitoria.

The home side have crashed out of the Europa League but they do so with their heads held high, which is more than can be said for Arsenal.

Xhaka offered counselling to cope with Arsenal backlash

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Granit Xhaka has been offered counselling by the club to help him cope with the criticism after he clashed with Arsenal’s fans on Sunday.

Subbed off in the second half of their 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace (Arsenal had led 2-0 early on), Xhaka was booed and jeered by Arsenal’s fans. The club captain then threw his armband to the ground, put his hands to his ears, told the supporter to “f*** off” and took off his shirt before storming straight down the tunnel.

Xhaka, 27, has been left devastated by the incident as Arsenal’s players have been rallying around him and spending time with him at his home.

“He is upset, devastated and very sad,” Arsenal’s manager Unai Emery said. “It is not only yesterday and today. He is feeling the supporters don’t like him.”

Xhaka has yet to publicly apologize for his actions and has since removed ‘Arsenal captain’ from his Instagram profile, instead just keeping that he is captain of Switzerland.

No decision has been made on whether or not he will be stripped of the captaincy, while Emery acknowledge that Xhaka was wrong to react in the way that he did and he will be fined in due course.

Arsenal’s fanbase have been a frustrated bunch for quite some time and last season it was Shkodran Mustafi who became the scapegoat. Now it’s Xhaka’s turn and although his actions were incorrect, you can understand his frustration at being singled out.

Look, Xhaka hasn’t been great since joining from Borussia Monchengladbach for $45 million in the summer of 2017. He’s made huge errors, picked up silly red cards and after being touted as the holding midfielder Arsenal have been missing for a generation, he hasn’t delivered.

But he shouldn’t be made the scapegoat here. You can go through this entire Arsenal side and picked out individuals, especially in midfield and defense, who aren’t playing well enough.

Xhaka was voted as Arsenal’s captain by the players this summer and he is their representative in the public eye. When things are going badly for the team he will have to take a larger share of the blame and he didn’t handle that well on Sunday.

Was it fair? No. Is the abuse part of the society we live in? Unfortunately, yes.

Arsenal: Mustafi, Elneny can leave

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Arsenal could see more first team veterans leave the club, after Unai Emery has allowed Shkodran Mustafi and Mohamed Elneny the chance to leave before the European transfer deadline closes.

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Mustafi started 38 times in all competitions for the Gunners last season, but he’s remembered for many miscues and blunders that cost the Gunners points, even if he did help take Arsenal to the Europa League final. Elneny meanwhile played in just 17 games last season. Both players are not in Emery’s plans.

“They are very big players but for one circumstance or another they are going to have fewer chances to show their capacity or to be happy with us and the minutes they play in matches,” Emery told reporters in London, via the Guardian. “But they know the situation and really I am wishing the best for them. I think now the best for them is to be protagonists in another team and to get another challenge for themselves.”

It’s a huge fall from grace for Mustafi, who just a few years ago was a major signing for the Gunners and was coming off playing three times on Germany’s way to winning the 2014 World Cup. However, that was then, and Mustafi’s form has dropped off enough that he hasn’t been called up by Joachim Low since 2017. It’s hard to realize that Mustafi is only 27, but it appears that he either peaked much earlier, or injuries have kept him from realizing his past form.

Elneny meanwhile came in 2016 as a mid-season, January signing for Arsene Wenger. However, he was always used as a depth piece, and never truly blossomed to become a main player.

For some coaches knowing they’ll be playing a taxing schedule in four competitions, they might have done whatever it took to keep players like Mustafi and Elneny, both comfortable at Arsenal, for at least depth and help in the cup competitions. But to Emery’s credit, his honesty to the players will surely be appreciated, and allow them to look elsewhere for more playing time.

Ultimately, Elneny and Mustafi will play at Arsenal if they don’t leave, but it just won’t be in as many games as they hope, unless there’s some sort of crazy injury crisis.

Arsenal eye Coutinho, defenders ahead of transfer deadline

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Let’s start with the big one: A report from L’Equipe in France states that Arsenal are closing in a season-long loan move for Philippe Coutinho.

The Barcelona and Brazil star, 27, has struggled since swapping Anfield for the Nou Camp and the former Liverpool superstar is reportedly keen on a move back to the Premier League.

Per the report, Coutinho will spend the season on loan at Arsenal and will not be heading to Paris Saint-Germain, the club he has been linked to on numerous occasions as Neymar has been linked with a move back to Barcelona all summer long.

After signing Nicolas Pepe for $87 million, adding Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid and still having Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on board, quite why Arsenal would want another mercurial playmaker is beyond pretty much everyone.

Except, most importantly, Arsenal.


The Gunners finally appear to be willing to sign a new central defender. But is it too late?

With just over 48 hours to go until the transfer window shuts for Premier League clubs, Arsenal have been linked with moves for two center backs.

RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano and Juventus’ Daniele Rugani are the two players mentioned in a report from the Guardian.

The former would be a tricky deal given the fact that Leipzig want $85 million for their 20-year-old central defender, plus Upamecano is keen to play in the UEFA Champions League for the Bundesliga side this season.

As for Rugani, it is believed Juve are open to an initial loan deal and then selling him next summer which could suit the Gunners as they reportedly have just over $50 million to spend this summer. Those reports broke before a record-breaking $87 million move for winger Pepe, but remember, that deal is to be paid in several instalments.

One thing is certain: Arsenal need help defensively. And they have done for about a decade now.

Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin will return from injury this season to boost Unai Emery‘s options but with Laurent Koscielny heading to Bordeaux and the likes of Shkodran Mustafi still around, Arsenal are looking at the likes of Sokratis and Callum Chambers to step up in defense this season. They did buy William Saliba, 18, this summer but he has gone back on loan to Saint-Etienne for the upcoming campaign, so they are no better off than least season when their leaky defense cost them finishing in the top four.

Like Manchester United, it has been pretty comical to see Arsenal blatantly ignore their need to sign new defenders in recent seasons and instead prioritize buying attacking player after attacking player.

Rugani, 25, would seem more likely to arrive and if that does happen, all of a sudden the Gunners are in the conversation for having one of the best transfer windows for PL clubs this summer.

Arsenal gambling big with summer spending spree

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Just two measly weeks ago, Arsenal board member Josh Korenke – son of owner Stan Kroenke – told the public, “It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment.”

His words were in response to an open letter from Arsenal supporter groups that claimed the club’s “approach to both buying players and paying wages looks uncoordinated and appears to lack strategy.” Days later, despite media claims that the club is operating on a summer budget of just $50 million, the Gunners were reportedly smashing the club transfer record for Lille winger Nicolas Pepe. So what gives?

There’s no other conclusion: the club is betting on itself. The Pepe transfer tells the story, as the club has deferred much of the payments to installments over the course of the year, hoping to ease the immediate financial burden with the budget currently strapped.

The decision to spend future funds now is a dangerous risk, but could pay off should the club reach the Champions League. Kroenke explicitly said the team is currently operating on a Champions League wage budget, despite beginning a third consecutive season outside Europe’s top competition. It’s clear that three Europa League seasons in a row is beginning to have an effect on the operating costs at the Emirates. Adding a club-record transfer fee plus wages competitive to lure Pepe to the Emirates seems counter to a logical resolution, but by betting on the team, the front office is pushing the team forward in an ambitious and positive direction.

Undoubtedly, there’s huge risk involved with such a push. Should the Gunners yet again miss out on the Champions League either by a top four finish in Premier League play or by winning the Europa League, there could be disastrous consequences. The Premier League television money is free-flowing, but going another year without Champions League prize money and media rights could be disastrous for the current financial structure.

One questionable decision is the choice to bolster the attack rather than patch up the defensive line, an area the club struggled mightily with at times last year. With captain Laurent Koscielny pushing to leave the club, it leaves Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Konstantinos Mavorpanos as the only healthy central defenders, with Rob Holding still recovering from his ACL tear suffered, although he is expected to return soon. On the flanks are Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, Ainsley Maintland-Niles, and Hector Bellerin, with Calum Chambers versatile enough to play anywhere along the back or in midfield.

Is that a Champions League defensive unit? It’s hard to see how it would be, yet Arsenal has decided to splash the cash up front and hope they can outscore teams enough to reach the promised land. Other than Pepe, the Gunners spent money on winger Gabriel Martinelli, an 18-year-old Brazilian, and young defender William Saliba who was sent back on loan to St. Etienne.

The Gunners have taken a calculated risk, one they believe to be beneficial to the long-term health of the club. Should it pay off, Arsenal could be set up for a long stay near the top of the Premier League with a young attacking core and some youth at the back as well. But if they miss, the financial detriment to the club could be even more devastating than what they are set to potentially gain, as Financial Fair Play could be a factor down the road if Champions League riches never arrive.