Mesut Ozil- A Legacy at Arsenal

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

It’s official. Mesut Ozil has left Arsenal Football Club. After eight years in North London, the German has taken the next step in his career by joining Fenerbahce on a permanent deal, after agreeing to terminate his Arsenal contract with six months remaining. The playmaker grew up with a Turkish family who have been devoted fans of his new club for many years. Ozil has finally been able to fulfil his mother’s wish to wear the blue and yellow stripes. Here’s a brief overview of Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career, and the legacy he built at our club…

The incredible scenes which occurred when Arsenal first announced the signing of Mesut Ozil are known not only by our own fans, but supporters of the sport all round the globe. Pure pandemonium. The joy and reception from Arsenal fans for this acquisition were far greater than any other. The Deadline Day announcement that the greatest attacking midfielder on the planet was becoming a Gooner.

Ozil joined Arsenal on the second of September 2013, and his impact was instant. The playmaker, who became the most expensive German player of all time with his move to Arsenal, was assigned the number 11 shirt- and was simply slotted in behind the front three, in Wenger’s notorious 4-2-3-1 formation. Against Sunderland on his debut, it took Ozil just 11 minutes to claim his first assist for Arsenal, and he ended his first season in red and white with 7 goals and 14 assists in just 39 appearances… whilst being a key component to ending Arsenal’s trophy drought. Ozil won the FA Cup within his first year at Arsenal- a competition he would go on to win on three more occasions at the club. He ended his first season at Arsenal successfully- and was widely viewed as one of the world’s elite players at this time.

The 2014/15 season couldn’t have got off to a better start for Mesut Ozil. He returned to Arsenal in mid-August, after playing an influential part in Germany’s World Cup triumph. The arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona saw the start of an iconic duo between the pair, that developed over the coming seasons. Ozil ended the season with 9 assists, 5 goals and back-to-back FA Cup victories, become a fan favourite due to his tricky skill, excellent passing range and top-notch creativity.

Mesut Ozil’s greatest season in an Arsenal shirt came in 2015/16. The German set a Premier League record for being the only player to claim an assist in seven consecutive league matches. He ended the season just one assist short of Thierry Henry’s ‘most assists in one Premier League season’ record- making 19, whilst also scoring 6 goals in 35 appearances domestically. With the help of Mesut, Arsenal finished the league in second place, behind Leicester City, thanks to some classic Sp*rs bottling on the final day. Many Arsenal fans feel angry that, in a season where both Alexis and Ozil showed how good they were, we did not win the league. The Arsenal frontline seemingly lost all finishing ability towards the latter stages of the season, robbing the German of the assist record… and maybe even a Premier League trophy. He won Arsenal Player of the Season, and Premier League top assistor in the 2015/16 season.

2016/17 was yet another successful season for Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. Despite not quite reaching the insane numbers he set the season before, he still managed to rack up an impressive 12 goals and 14 assists in 44 appearances. On October 19th 2016, Arsenal played Ludogorets in the Champions League. Despite going 2-0 down within 15 minutes, we came back to win the game 3-2, with Mesut Ozil scoring arguably his most iconic goal in an Arsenal shirt. The German elegantly took the ball over the goalkeeper and round two defenders before slotting it in the bottom corner of the goal. Simply sensational. He won the Arsenal Goal of the Season with this effort.

In the 2017/18 season, Mesut Ozil signed his famous three-year contract extension, to tie him to the club until 2021. The player’s wage increased to an eye-watering £350,000 per week- which has been the spearpoint of much of his criticism ever since. In term of statistical output, Ozil ended the season with 5 goals and 14 assists in 35 appearances- a respectable tally. Mesut Ozil scored another of his most respected Arsenal goals this year. On the 22nd of December 2017, the playmaker employed his unique technique of chipping the ball over the goalkeeper by hitting it against the ground to put Arsenal 3-2 up against Liverpool. The season ended with the departure of Arsene Wenger, the man who not only brought Mesut Ozil to London, but gave him the freedom, minutes and system in which he could thrive as a player. Both the player and manager have only spoken highly of each other since. He really was “Arsene Wenger’s man”.

There is very little I would like to address from the 2018/19 season onward, as it is widely understood by football fans that this is the time period where it began to go wrong for Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. Due to a culmination of reasons (reoccurring back injuries, publicly being dropped on several occasions and overall a bad relationship with the manager), Mesut Ozil was not able to replicate his production that had been show in previous seasons. Despite being named as one of the Arsenal vice captains and claiming the number 10 shirt following Jack Wilshere’s departure, Ozil recorded his worst season in an Arsenal shirt at the time, with just 6 goals and 3 assists all season.

Things did not get a great deal better for Mesut Ozil in the 2019/20 season. After displaying his distaste for Unai Emery following the horrible 4-1 Europa League final defeat against Chelsea, the poor relationship between Emery and Ozil continued to exacerbate. Mikel Arteta’s arrival in December replenished hope for a revival of the German, and this was seen in the months leading up to lockdown, where he started a run of ten games following his former teammate’s appointment. However, after the restart of the Premier League following its temporary stand-still in the Covid-19 pandemic, Mesut Ozil did not make a single appearance for the rest of the season.

Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career has fallen off so sharply that, for this 2021/21 season, he was not even registered for the competition squads. He has made a total of zero minutes this season and with that number set to stay the same, the player’s agents and Arsenal’s representatives have reached a deal to terminate his contract, which was set to expire this summer.

And that, it seems, is that. After eight years, the majority of which were successful for him as an individual and the team as a whole, Mesut Ozil will now open the next chapter of his career in Turkey. A servant to the club. One who’s prime will never be forgotten by Arsenal fans. The greatest creative midfielder of the Premier League era. An Arsenal legend? That’s a debate for another day. One of the best Arsenal players in the last decade? Undisputedly.

Mesut Ozil was, and is, not only an incredible footballer- but an incredible human being. Eight years he gave to this club and, regardless what you think of him now, it is undeniable that he is one, if not the, greatest players to put on the Arsenal shirt in the Emirates Era. It seems only fitting to end this off by saying…

Thank you, Mesut Ozil. Best of wishes for your future ahead, both in Turkey and beyond that. #YaGunnersYa.

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Mat Ryan to Arsenal – A good signing?

(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

This morning, Arsenal announced the signing of Australian goalkeeper Maty Ryan on a 6-month loan until the end of this season. A surprise to all Arsenal fans, the 28-year-old had not been linked to the club prior to his announcement- a rare change from the regular weeks of transfer saga before we sign our targets!

As far as I see it, this deal makes complete sense. Our summer signing Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson has proven, in the little minutes he has played, that he’s out of his depth at Arsenal, so the signing of a new backup goalkeeper was absolutely essential this January, to provide cover in case of another injury to Bernd Leno. Mat Ryan fulfils most of the attributes that we need within our backup goalkeeper. He is experienced (has over 100 Premier League appearances at Brighton), as well as being a low-risk signing because it is only a 6-month loan. If he performs well for us, we will have the option to sign him for free in the summer, as he will be a free agent. If he doesn’t warrant a permanent move, we can part ways with him, and target a different goalkeeper for the long term. Low risk, decent reward. I am not against this deal for that particular reason.

The club seem pleased to have addressed our goalkeeping problem. When questioned about the signing, Mikel Arteta released the following statement: “We know Mat very well through his performances with Brighton in recent seasons and he brings additional quality to our squad. Mat has very good Premier League experience and has played over 100 times in the league, which is something that will benefit us greatly on and off the pitch. We welcome Mat to Arsenal and look forward to working with him this season.”

Also showing his support for the signing was Technical Director Edu Gaspar, who added that: “Mat is an experienced goalkeeper, a proven talent in the Premier League and has also played many internationals for Australia. Mat will further strengthen our squad with his experience and knowledge of playing at the highest level. Following Matt Macey’s recent move to Hibernian, Mat will provide very good competition and positive support to all our goalkeepers and we are looking forward to him integrating quickly into the set-up here at Arsenal.”

The player, who claims he was a passionate Arsenal fan as a child, seems elated to make the move to Arsenal: “All those mornings as a young kid in Australia, getting up to watch the [Arsenal] Champions League games at 4 o’clock in the morning when I had school. To now be here fills me with a great sense of pride and achievement.” He went on to say that joining Arsenal is “simply a dream come true”, and he “never thought [it] would become a reality, but [he is] very thankful that it has”. Clearly a man with a passion for the club, who is honoured to wear the Arsenal shirt. Hopefully, his motivation will to be as good as possible for the club he supports, so to earn a longer contract in North London.

The reality is that Mat Ryan has been poor for Brighton this season and the end of last, and lost his starting place at the club. However, I do think there is a solid goalkeeper within him. To play consistently over a course of several seasons in the Premier League, you have to have some sort of credentials. In his time at the top flight of English football, he has averaged 3 saves per game and a 66% save success in a shaky Brighton side. Far from awful stats.

While he will almost certainly never play in the Premier League bar an injury to the nailed-on Bernd Leno, but Ryan will offer good cover in cup competitions- and will be an experienced player within the dressing room. This transfer is smart from Arsenal in my eyes, as I mentioned before; there is a low risk, it is a cheap move, it is only short-term and therefore can be reassessed in the summer. I am perfectly happy with this move from Arsenal, as the backup goalkeeper position was essential to fill this window, and we have done so successfully.

I wish nothing but the best of luck for Maty Ryan over the next six months, and hopefully he will be a successful signing that can become longer term in the summer. We could see the Australian commence his Arsenal career as early as tomorrow, because he has been registered in time to be available for Arsenal’s FA Cup tie against Southampton. Let’s hope for a good beginning, if he starts, to his time at the club- and that he can come in handy when called upon by Mikel Arteta!

Why Arsenal should sign Martin Ødegaard this month.

(Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images)

In the last few hours, Arsenal have been linked with a potential 6-month loan move for Norwegian creative midfielder Martin Ødegaard, as per Sky Sports- which has subsequently been confirmed by the ever-reliable David Ornstein. Here’s a look at the player, and why Arsenal should sign him in this January Transfer Window…

The 22-year-old has been virtually exiled from the Real Madrid team by manager Zinedine Zidane with no clear explanation, and therefore it is within the player’s interests to leave the Spanish capital in pursuit of a loan deal, so he can be playing regular football again. Real Madrid are said to be open to accepting a loan move, but are not yet willing to sell- which could work well for Arsenal, who do not have the finances to sign a player of his calibre permanently at this point. While Real Sociedad, who took the Norwegian on loan for 2019/20, are interested in another loan for the player (and with the player said to not be against a move there), they sit in poll position to resign Martin Ødegaard- but the deal is said to be far from completion. Arsenal should take this opportunity to formally register their interest in the player, and do their best to bring him to North London for the remainder of the season.

From an Arsenal perspective, Ødegaard completely fits the bill. While Emile Smith Rowe’s addition to the squad in recent weeks has been one of success, I think it’s pretty clear so see that Arsenal still require more creative threat in their side. Smith Rowe is young; at just 20 he cannot be expected to carry all the weight of being Arsenal’s creative aspirations alone. With concerns over his injury-prone past, it feels too dangerous a risk to place all our eggs in one basket with the Hale End graduate, so to speak. I fear, if we do not sign another creative player this window, our season will rest of a tightrope… we could be just one Smith Rowe injury away from returning to the diabolical form we showed pre his introduction to the Arsenal starting XI in the 3-1 triumph over Chelsea.

Martin Ødegaard can be that additional creative source within our squad. With his services available to acquire on loan, he can be the short-term solution to our problem- whilst we search for a permanent answer in the summer (be that him or someone else). Although predominantly playing centrally as a #10, Ødegaard has also played slightly deeper as the left-hand #8 within a midfield three, as well as left wing on occasions. His versatility could prove handy for Arsenal, were Mikel Arteta to transition to the 4-3-3 we originally expected him to employ- with Ødegaard alongside Partey and Xhaka behind them. Alternatively, the Norwegian could find himself providing cover, or challenging to start, over Smith Rowe. The two could even start together, with one originally starting out on the left flank- but the pair rotating during the game to offer more dynamism and unpredictability to the Arsenal attack. There are several ways he could be incorporated into the side- and would also be available to play in the latter stages of the Europa League.

Due to his inconsistent shortage of minutes so far this season, Ødegaard has not had a chance to prove himself. However, on his loan at Real Sociedad last season, he showed his class to the Spanish league. In 36 appearances, the 22-year-old scored 7 goals and assisted 9 times- averaging a goal involvement every other 90 minutes. He was key to the side’s attacks, the figurehead of the creativity, a role he completed successfully. His excellent statistics run deeper than just his goal contributions. Ødegaard also recorded 0.18 xA/90, 2.14 key passes/90 and 4.13 shot-creating actions/90 (via @AFC_Blogger49 Twitter). All round, it is clear to see from both watching him play and his metrics that he is, essentially, an excellent creative player.

The thesis of what I’m trying to say is quite simple, really. If Arsenal were to sign Martin Ødegaard this summer, I literally cannot find one down side to the deal. He provides another creative threat, cover to Emile Smith Rowe, can play on the wing, as a #10 or #8 and, despite all this, would be possible to sign on loan. Ødegaard could come in to the side this month, play regular minutes in the league and in Europe and then both parties could decide whether he is a signing we’d like to make permanent. Whilst it is true that other clubs are said to be interested in acquiring the Norwegian’s service this month and that he could choose another team over Arsenal, I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t at least formalise our interest with a bid to sign him.

Making a move for Martin Ødegaard on a 6-month loan deal seems like an absolute no brainer for me. We should act quickly to get an offer on the table for Real Madrid and the player’s agents to consider- and hope he choses to make the temporary switch to North London.

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Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle: Four Things We Learnt.

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Well, that was certainly a refreshing win. A confident victory, a game we dominated from the first whistle and we got our rewards in the ends. Here’s four things I noticed from the win against Newcastle..

1. Aubameyang gets his goals!

After missing a tap-in during the first half, Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made up for his error in the second 45′, scoring not once but twice to secure the win for Arsenal. The Gabonese goalscorer has come under vast criticism from Arsenal fans, myself included, recently due to a combination of poor finishing and overall disappointing performances- but today showed that he still has what it takes to get back to his best. His first goal what exactly what we were accustomed to with the Aubameyang we know and love; driving with the ball from the left, cutting inside and getting the shot away. It was nothing less than a magnificent goal. His second, while simpler, was another stereotypical goal from Aubameyang. He found space in the box to convert from close range into a half open net. Much better from our captain in that second half. He needs to use this brace as the confidence to get back to his best!

2. Emile Smith Rowe saves us again.

I came across the most amazing stat today after the game, thanks to @Orbinho on Twitter. Since he made his first start against Chelsea, only Bruno Fernandes (12) has created more chances from open play than Emile Smith Rowe (10) in the Premier League. These incredible numbers only begin to show how good he has been in recent weeks, and this game too. For me, Smith Rowe was Man of the Match. He was bright in the first half, provided a constant threat throughout the game and coined off a great performances with a lovely combination play to assist Bukayo Saka. Emile Smith Rowe created more chances (4) than any other player during his time on the pitch, as many as the entire Newcastle team combined. No Arsenal player has created more in a Premier League game this season. (Squawka). He has a goal or assist every 80 minutes in an Arsenal shirt this season. Not only does he get involved with the goals, he also offers so much to the team in terms of build up play. Absolutely unstoppable right now.

3. Our defensive record gets better!

With yet another defensive shutdown, we have extended our run of clean sheets to five games in a row, the first time Arsenal have done so in almost 12 years. That is a statistic that accurately reflects just how defensively good we have been recently. Our backline was so defensively secure that Bernd Leno practically had the evening off. Newcastle had just one shot on target, and a relatively comfortable save for Leno it was. In our last six games in all competitions, we have faced just 13 shots on target- an average of just over 2 per game. That’s 1 shot on target against us per half of football played. We’re really starting to see our defence go from strength to strength under Arteta. Cedric, while it seemed an odd pick, proved why he had been given the opportunity to start. He was secure and steady at the back, whilst having a greater end product than what we have seen from Bellerin of late. Kieran Tierney was as consistent as ever- and had a quietly strong performance. That’s what you are guaranteed with Tierney. He won’t always grab the headlines, but he’ll never drop less than a 7/10. Good from him, especially coming straight back from his muscle tightness. While I don’t view Luiz-Holding to be our long-term centre back partnership, they played well again today- and coped well with the challenge of two imposing strikers playing up top against them.

4. It’s Partey time!

After sustaining a reoccurring injury against Sp*rs in early December, Thomas Partey made his first league start since returning. And, to put it quite simply, he did not disappoint. In 66 minutes against Newcastle, he had a 95% pass accuracy, 9 ball recoveries, 3 interceptions and 67 touches. But not only was Partey defensively solid, he offered us lots going forward- his two chances created were topped off with an excellent assist to put Aubameyang in for the first goal. What strikes me about Partey is just how well-rounded he is. Not only can he do everything you require of a modern day midfielder, but the standard to which he does it is phenomenal. I am struggling to think of five midfielders with a greater breadth of ability in all of Europe. He is, for me, undeniably a world class footballer. Between Partey and his midfield accomplice Granit Xhaka, I saw a very respectable midfield pivot- greater than any we have seen in recent times. This will only get better as they improve their understanding of one another in coming months, and it excites me to see where this duo will be in the short, and long-term. Some very positive signs.

Overall, this was a great win for the team. The three points, three goals and yet another clean sheet. A successful day in the office! We look now to the next round of the FA Cup this weekend!

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Arsenal 0-0 Crystal Palace: Four Things We Learnt.

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Well… that was a snoozefest. Arsenal vs Crystal Palace in one word? Boring. Neither team offered much, there were very few chances and overall very little happened across the 90 minutes. Here’s a look at some of the things I picked out from this lame London encounter…

Still a lack of creativity.

If yesterday’s Arsenal result proves anything it’s that despite Emile Smith Rowe’s excellent contributions of late, we still need to have more creative outlets in the side. We simply cannot rely on an inexperienced 20-year-old to effectively control everything that happens creatively for the team. He needs the support of both Tierney’s wide presence, and at least one more pure creative player in the side. Having just one outlet to create all our chances makes us, as we saw today, incredibly one dimensional and easy to shut down. We failed to get the ball to the likes of Saka and Lacazette in areas where they could have an impact on the game, with the former looking isolated for large parts of the game due to a Laca-service (I apologise). Our attack was so tame that no Arsenal player had more shots (2) or created more chances (2) than Rob Holding against Crystal Palace. Signings are a must. We have to get in a creative supply this month.

We miss Tierney.

Due to muscle tightness, Kieran Tierney was left out of the Arsenal squad as a precaution for the game. Though we all knew pre-match that it was a setback, no one could see just how much of a hindrance his absence was to the performance of the team. His replacement, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, was nothing short of poor against the Eagles. Granted he is not a natural defender, nor a left-sided player, but the drastic difference in standard between the Englishman and Kieran Tierney seemed vast. We missed his creativity, consistency from wide crossing positions and security on the ball- which Niles could not bring on this occasion. Mikel Arteta has confirmed that Tierney will be going for a scan tomorrow to assess his wellbeing, and it is absolutely critical to the success of the team that he is good and ready to play come our next fixture on Monday.

Nothing off the bench.

Arsenal’s bench heading in to the game was a sorry sight, with practically no one who excited me into thinking they could come on and change the game. Unlike in our previous fixture (2-0 vs Newcastle), the players who came on had virtually no effect on the game. Mikel Arteta turned first to £72,000,000 Nicolas Pepe to come on and prove himself to the coach, fans and teammates. Who better than our record signing to help us out? The reality was, Pepe did nothing. In 35 minutes on the pitch, he created little, provided virtually no threat to the Palace back line and ultimately had no effect on the game whatsoever. Pepe, in fact, is yet to create a single open play chance for a teammate in the league this season. Not good at all. One positive off the bench, however, was the return of Thomas Partey. Much to the delight of the Arsenal fanbase, the Ghanaian took to the field in the 69th minute- his first appearance since coming off injured in the North London Derby at the start of last month. Let’s hope he can start for the side from now on. Eddie Nketiah came on with just ten minutes to play and, much like the player he replaced, had very little service. Arteta, as far as I see it, made the three correct substitutions… but the players offered him nothing.

Some decent showings.

In a poor performance from the whole team, two players impressed me yesterday…

Bernd Leno: Much like in the previous game against Newcastle, Bernd Leno had little to do across the course of the game against Crystal Palace. He faced just two shots on target, and remained fairly untroubled all night. But, when it came to it, he didn’t let us down. Christian Benteke’s towering header seemed destined to reach the top corner, but an excellent dive from the German shot stopper palmed it wide. A big save in a crucial moment to protect our clean sheet.

Granit Xhaka: Though he did make some questionable stray passes, the Swiss midfielder shone in an other wise dull side tonight. He completed 97 accurate passes, made 8 long balls and had 129 touches, but more impressive than that was the defensive side of his performance. Xhaka made several key tackles, one in particular to deny Zaha access just metres from the goal. His 6 tackles won, 13 ball recoveries and 3 clearances ranked top of all Arsenal players on the night. A pleasing display from our number 34.

Our performance versus Palace was, obviously, sub standard. It’s essential we pick ourselves up to go again on Monday against Newcastle (again!). If we intend on making any success from this season, these are the sorts of the games we have to grind out results from.

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle: Four Things We Learnt.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

We’re through to round four of the FA Cup! After an ultimately underwhelming 90 minutes, Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 in extra time, thanks to late goals from Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Not the most confident of victories, but we got the result we desired. Here’s a look at four things we learnt from yesterday’s match…

1. The youth taking charge.

For yesterday’s game, Mikel Arteta made the wise decision to bench Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka despite their recent successes, so they could rest for Arsenal’s next Premier League fixture against Crystal Palace on Thursday. The front four, instead, contained record signing Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian Borges (alongside Reiss Nelson). From this trio, you would expect a top class performance; a mixture of experience, flair and high expectations from fans would have put the triplet in place to show why they deserve to be starting in the league. However, this was far from the outcome. I think it is fairly safe to say that Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are nailed on starters for Arsenal right now. The experienced front line offered very little throughout the game and were ultimately very poor, to the point where Pepe and Willian both got substituted off. Arteta had to rely on his younger players, who he would have wanted to stay rested for our upcoming games, to come on and change the game… which they did successfully. Bukayo Saka looked bright throughout, and was involved in Arsenal’s second goal with a lovely switch of play from the right flank into Aubameyang at the far post. But it was Smith Rowe who turned the game on its head, scoring with a tidy finish past Martin Dúbravka to put Arsenal through to the next round.

The likes of Nicolas Pepe and Willian need to take a long, hard look at what their younger teammates are doing and reflect that in their own game.

2. Emile Smith Rowe is essential.

Without the creativity of Emile Smith Rowe in the side, Arsenal looked like the team that we played before the start of our winning streak. There was no-one who could break the lines, take a risk or try to create something. We looked at most parts to be flat and uninspiring, bar the relentless Kieran Tierney (who created six chances from left back last night). Emile Smith Rowe came on and did exactly what he has done every time he has played. He worked hard defensively, was a constant threat on the ball and crowned a bright performance off with an incredible finish from a tight angle to win Arsenal the game.

One month ago, you would have thought Emile Smith Rowe would either be wasted on the bench, or sent on loan in the transfer window. Fast forward a month, he’s been given his opportunity, taken it with a firm grasp and is now surely one of the first names on the teamsheet.

3. Bernd Leno is a brick wall.

In his first ever FA Cup appearance, Bernd Leno, for much of the night, had little to do. Newcastle registered just two shots on target across the 120 minutes, due to a combination of poor finishing (10 shots off target) and steady defending from the Arsenal backline. But, when Andy Carrol was one-on-one with him in the dying seconds of the original 90′, Bernd Leno saved us from dropping out of the cup early. An incredible save, followed by a brave dive to reclaim the ball off the rebound. In the past few weeks, Bernd Leno has reminded everyone how good he is… and begun to show people why Mikel Arteta chose him to be our number one this season.

In his last four games, Bernd Leno has conceded just once, kept three clean sheets and saved a penalty. He currently ranks seventh of all players in the Premier League based off Sky Sports’ form chart. A man with a point to prove.

4. Defensively solid (again!)

After another clean sheet today, Arsenal have now gone over three hundred minutes without conceding a goal in all competitions. Yesterday’s centre back pairing of David Luiz and Pablo Mari were rock solid, allowing very little for the Newcastle front line. Pablo Mari in particular was exceptional: the Brazilian made 5 clearances, blocked 1 shot, made three interceptions, 4 tackles, won 8 duels and was steady on the ball, completing 73 passes. An all-round excellent performance from him, and another clean sheet to add to his record of four games, four wins and three clean sheets. He may, against fast-paced teams, not be the most suitable defender, but at just three and a half million he was an shrewd signing. His partner was also solid at the back; David Luiz rose to the challenge of holding off the physical Andy Carroll. Just two shots on target across 120 minutes is a fair reflection of just how secure our backline was for the most part.

Yesterday wasn’t a pretty win for Arsenal, but in the end we prevailed with qualification for the next round. Huge shout out to Emile Smith Rowe, Kieran Tierney and Pablo Mari, who I thought were our best three players on the night. A far from perfect performance, but a solid result in the end. We move onto a tough fixture against Crystal Palace next week!

Why Arsenal MUST sign Emiliano Buendia this January.

(Original Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

When you look at Arsenal’s current squad, bar the emerging Emile Smith Rowe and controversially outcasted Mesut Ozil, you cannot help but see the gaping lack of creativity possessed within the club. It has been commonly accepted by the Arsenal fanbase and even hierarchy at the club that this is a problem that must be addressed immediately, after failure to do so in last summer’s window leaving us more desperate than ever for playmakers. With the January Transfer Window officially open, now is the time to address our void in creativity- and here’s why Emiliano Buendia can be an effective solution to our problems.

Club manager Mikel Arteta made it clear in the summer that his top priority for the window was to sign a creative midfielder who could preferably fill in as a #8 in the 4-3-3 system he wished to play. Houssem Aouar was identified as Arteta’s desired signing and despite lengthy negotiations between the club, the player’s agents and Lyon- we did not manage to get our man. Any possibility of achieving the signing was soon shut down by Arsenal’s Technical Director Edu Gaspar, who overruled Arteta’s preference to instead sign Thomas Partey, a player who the club had been interested for a number of years prior. Partey was, without doubt, a world class signing and most definitely a step in the right direction- but the ever-exacerbating void in creativity was left unanswered as the consequence.

Fast forward a number of months, and this problem is still unsolved. Despite a remaining interest in Aouar, it has been widely reported that the North London club are not set to make another move for the Frenchman during this particular window, in order to prioritise other targets. Who, however, may these other targets be? You guessed it; Norwich’s star man and playmaker Emiliano Buendia.

As many of you will know, Emiliano (Emi, for short) Buendia is a 24 year old playmaker for Championship side. The Argentine is widely regarded to be one of the best players in the league, and therefore easily one who could make the jump up to England’s top division- as proven from his eye-catching success in Norwich’s 2019-20 Premier League cameo. Buendia’s 8 goal involvements in 36 league games do an injustice to the player’s overall impact to a poor Norwich side; he ranked fourth of all Premier League players last season in take-ons completed (102), as well as ranking seventh in minutes per chance created from open play, making one every 45 minutes. This is drastically greater than any Arsenal player in that very season, with Hale End graduate Joe Willock being the closest of the pack (70 minutes/chance created). Quite simply, Emi Buendia was nothing short of exceptional in his debut Premier League season- a star in an otherwise dull and uninspiring Norwich side; a diamond in the rough so to speak. He averaged 1.5 shots per game, 3 key passes, 3.7 dribbles, 6 crosses and 3 tackles- all per 90 minutes. (Opta Stats via WhoScored). Truly outstanding statistics from a player with no previous Premier League experience.

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(via WhoScored)

Although Buendia normally adopts the position on the right wing for Norwich, he is also able to play on both wings, as well as behind the striker at #10- as he himself said when questioned: “At first, I played on the right wing, but with the freedom I can move around. For most of my life, my position has been the number ten behind the striker, but with this system, it doesn’t matter for me if I’m there or on the left or right wing.”

As well as his creativity and excellent underlying stats, Buendia’s versatility is yet another quality that could prove beneficial to Arsenal- who could operate a fluid front line, with Buendia starting centrally but drifting between their and the right wing with Bukayo Saka. This dynamism could prove threatening for opposition back lines, who would struggle to pick up the interchangeable creative men.

Buendia has more than three years left on his current deal at Norwich, and the Canaries are keen to keep their star player at the club as they challenge for promotion to the Premier League this season. The club are said to be willing to accept offers if they have to sell- but would alternatively offer Buendia a bonus if he chose to stay. Joining Arsenal would easily be a step up for Buendia’s career, and I have no doubt he’ll be an Arsenal player shortly if the clubs can reach a deal.

Since writing is article, news broke this morning from the Independent that Arsenal are investigating a possible play-plus-cash deal for Emi Buendia, to sweeten the deal for Norwich. The two players in question thus far as potential exits are Hale End graduates Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock. With neither of the two getting many minutes for the first team of late, if we are offering these players as a loan, then it makes complete sense; get them to a club where they will play more football, potentially increase their market value with good performances, whilst helping Arsenal sign a target. However, if the deal includes a permanent swap, it would be a much harder situation. Ideally, I would offer Eddie Nketiah to Norwich, a player who is still young and would undoubtedly score a lot in the Championship, which would allow Arsenal to keep Nelson, Willock and give upcoming striker Folarin Balogun more minutes- so he will have a greater reason to sign his new contract. However, we cannot say if Norwich would be interested in Nketiah, and for me selling the other two at this early stage would be a waste of talent- I think they both have the potential to contribute to Arsenal in years to come.

If Arsenal are to offer a swap deal for Buendia, I would hope it is a fee, plus one (or both) of Nelson and Willock heading to Norwich on loan to help them secure promotion, with Buendia coming the other way. I’d be against selling Willock and Nelson as of now, but would let Nketiah go if Norwich are interested.

Emiliano Buendia: young, exciting, Premier League proven, relatively cheap, versatile and seemingly a good solution to our creative drought. This seems like a perfect signing for Arsenal, given the circumstances we find ourselves in. Were we to acquire Buendia before February 1st’s deadline, I strongly believe it would be the first piece in the puzzle to resolving our issues and revitalising what is left of this season.

Arsenal should move quickly to secure the affordable signing of Emiliano Buendia, before another club comes along and picks him up. He should be the first signing of a (hopefully!) productive transfer window this month. It’s that simple.

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West Brom 0-4 Arsenal: Four Things We Learnt.

(Photo Credit: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal)

Back in winning ways! After yesterday’s triumphant victory at the Hawthorns, Arsenal have now extended our streak to three Premier League wins in a row- the first time we have won three on the bounce domestically all season. A cruising 4-0 victory over our opposition saw the Gunners score some incredible goals, accompanied with some admirable individual performances. Here’s a look at four things we learnt from yesterday’s match…

1. Creativity is KEY!

For the third consecutive match, Mikel Arteta opted to start 20-year-old attacking midfielder Emile Smith Rowe as the #10 behind the front three. The ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ did not disappoint; providing the assist for our second goal of the night, which came after a string of intricate passes between himself, Alex Lacazette and goalscorer Bukayo Saka; a goal that Arsene Wenger would have smiled at from his home in France- a Prime Wengerball-esque move. He was also involved in the third goal, where Lacazette clinically converted from the rebound of Smith Rowe’s shot. With the addition of his creativity, we managed to score four goals in one match for the first time in the league this season- making it eight goals in three games with Smith Rowe in the side, a vast improvement on the twelve goals in fourteen games without him. If we can add another creative spark to this Arsenal side in the January Transfer Window, there is no reason to say why we cannot even further improve our chances created and therefore goals scored.

2. Lacazette’s on form.

Lacazette has, for a large amount of time since the start of last season, underwhelmed many fans at the club- leading to large amounts of slander towards his missed chances and all-round underperformance. However, as of now it is clear to see; Lacazette is a player in excellent form. His brace last night saw him score for the third Premier League game in succession (four in a row in all comps), adding to his total of nine goals in 1,173 minutes this season. He is the top goal contributor at the club right now- and looks a revolutionised player when his confidence is high. Not only has Lacazette been in the goals of late, but his all-round performance has been far greater than we are used to. His linkup play has been tidy, his press more energetic but it is his movement especially that has caught my eye. His willingness to run the line or come out wide to receive the ball and clear space has been a welcome addition to his game. For the club’s sake, let’s hope he can keep his confidence high, and the goals coming!

3. Mr. Reliable came through again!

Kieran Tierney. Mr. Reliable. The captain without the armband. The man who seems immune to the cold… whatever you call him, we all know just how good he is. Tierney has been arguably our most consistent player this season, alongside Bukayo Saka, and yet the past few weeks has seen him go from strength to strength. Since Arsenal’s return to a back four, Tierney has looked full of freedom, his shackles released. He has now been able to show us the attacking side of his game that had been supressed for so long when playing as a third centre back. Yesterday the Scotsman was immense, winning Man of the Match in a defensively assured performance as well as offering a huge threat going forward. He elegantly took the ball round the outside of his man, cut inside, drove into the box and curled it top corner with his weaker foot, an inspired goal to put us 0-1 up and set the whole dynamic for the game. As if his goal wasn’t enough, Tierney continued to probe for the duration of the match, creating four chances, making twenty-three passes in the final third, completing three take-ons and of course his perfectly placed cross to assist Lacazette for the fourth of the game. An exemplar performance from a fan favourite.

4. Bukayo Saka at right wing.

In his time with the Arsenal first team so far, Bukayo Saka has impressed vastly with his ability to play at such a high standard across a variety of positions. It seems now, however, his best position has become apparent. Bukayo Saka has started six games at right wing for Arsenal, and has contributed either a goal or assist in each of these appearances. He has far outshone both Pepe and Willian this season, thus proving why he has to be the starting right winger for the long-term future. His directness is refreshing- he has both the ability to go one-on-one and beat his man on the outside, or cut inside to his favoured left foot and whip in a mean cross (or even a shot vs Chelsea). Yesterday, his movement into the box from a wide starting position allowed him to score with a simple tap in, after some lovely linkup play. Every time Saka has the ball on the right, you feel he will cause some form of genuine threat, which will only get better as he continues to work on his finishing. Another aspect of his game which is flawless is his positioning; his movement to receive the ball or create space for a teammate is what you would expect from a player with far more experience. He looks so comfortable on the flank. Right now, Bukayo Saka is giving us everything we would expect to see from Nicolas Pepe on the right wing. Just 19 years old and already instrumental to everything Arsenal do.

Yesterday was an all-round refreshing win for Arsenal, with some great goals, top performances and even a clean sheet for the defence. An excellent start to 2021; and long may it continue!