Tag Archives: Alex Iwobi

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Arsenal’s International Break

The Good

Mohamed Elneny

Egypt 2-1 Congo

Mohamed Elneny played the full 90 minutes of Egypt’s World Cup qualifying win over Congo which saw his country to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Egypt to win the World Cup: 150/1

Alex Iwobi

Nigeria 1-0 Zambia

Alex Iwobi came off the bench to score Nigeria’s only goal as the Super Eagles became the first African side to secure qualification for the World Cup. A 1-0 victory.

Nigeria to win the World Cup: 150/1

David Ospina

Colombia 1-2 Paraguay

David Ospina featured as Colombia lost 2-1 to Paraguay, with the visitors scoring twice in the final minutes to snatch the three points.

Peru 1-1 Colombia

David Ospina and Colombia will play at their second successive World Cup after securing a 1-1 draw against Peru.

Columbia to win the World Cup: 33/1

Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud

Bulgaria 0-1 France

Alexandre Lacazette and Olivier Giroud both featured in France’s 1-0 win over Bulgaria. Lacazette started in an exciting front three with Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, Giroud was an 85th-minute.

France 2-1 Belarus

Olivier Giroud became France’s joint-seventh top goalscorer as he helped France to secure their place at next summer’s World Cup with a win over Belarus in Saint-Denis. Giroud charged through to double Les Bleus’ advantage just after the half-hour mark. Giroud played the entirety of the game, with Alexandre Lacazette an unused sub.

France to win the World Cup: 5/1

Nacho Monreal

Spain 3-0 Albania

Nacho Monreal was an unused substitute as Spain hit three past Albania in World Cup qualifying.

Israel 0-1 Spain

Monreal helped Spain keep a clean sheet as the former world champions saw off Israel 1-0 in Jerusalem, courtesy of a late goal from Asier Illaramendi.

Spain to win the World Cup: 7/1

The Bad

Sead Kolasinac

Bosnia & Herzegovina 3-4 Belgium

Sead Kolasinac played the duration of Bosnia’s World Cup qualifying defeat to Belgium, where he was booked.

Estonia 1-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Sead Kolasinac played the first half in Tallinn as Bosnia-Herzegovina’s World Cup dreams were dashed despite them finishing Group H with a win in Estonia. Greece’s home win over Gibraltar meant it wasn’t enough to reach the play-off round.

Aaron Ramsey

Georgia 0-1 Wales

Aaron Ramsey won his 50th Wales cap and assisted Tom Lawrence’s winner in his country’s 1-0 win at Georgia.

Wales 0-1 Republic of Ireland

Aaron Ramsey was on the losing side as Wales were beaten 1-0 by the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff, ending their World Cup qualification hopes.

The Ugly

Shkodran Mustafi

Germany 5-1 Azerbaijan

Shkodran Mustafi started Germany’s World Cup qualifying win over Azerbaijan but was substituted after just 36 minutes through injury as Germany maintained their 100 per cent record in World Cup qualifying.

Germany to win the World Cup: 5/1

Alexis Sanchez

Chile 2-1 Ecuador

Alexis scored the winning goal in the 86th minute against Ecuador to seal three points for Chile, who are now on the verge of automatic qualification to the World Cup.

Brazil 3-0 Chile

Copa America winners in 2015 and 2016 – but Alexis and Chile won’t be at next summer’s World Cup. The result that saw Chile fail to finish in the top five qualifying spots in South America as a consequence of other results. Alexis played the full 90 minutes.

The Neutral

Granit Xhaka

Switzerland 5-2 Hungary

Granit Xhaka opened the scoring for Switzerland in their World Cup qualifying win over Hungary. The midfielder capitalised on goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi’s slip to slot in from close range are just 18 minutes.

Portugal 2-0 Switzerland

Granit Xhaka’s Switzerland could still make the World Cup in Russia next summer – but his Switzerland team will have to qualify through the European play-off round after losing their decisive qualifier in Portugal.

Switzerland to win the World Cup: 80/1

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Europa League good for Arsenal’s future?

Sometimes to take a step forward you need to take a step back. And in a weird quirk, Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League could be turned into a positive for the future.

With Petr Cech unlikely to leave this summer, qualifying for the Europa League could create a situation where we could now purchase a top young keeper – such as Jordan Pickford – and have enough games for both to keep them satisfied.

Someone like Pickford is clearly a talented young keeper, but there is a big difference between making 10 saves in a game and conceding 3 goals, and being man of the match for keeping the score down, and doing nothing all game, and having to make a 90th minute save to keep the team ahead.

With the Europa League, we could sign Jordan Pickford and play him as understudy to Petr Cech. He would learn off the goalkeeping legend on the training ground, and he would get plenty of game time over the next year in the cups.

You would play Pickford in all 3 cup competitions – a potential of 14 Europa League games, 6 in the FA Cup and 6 more in the League Cup. That would be 26 in total if we make every final.

Now realistically, we will not make every final, but you would still expect there to be enough games in all 3 competitions to have Pickford play a dozen or more games.

By the time the 2017/18 season is over, Pickford would have grown as a keeper, be settled at the club, and have been fully analysed by the club staff to establish he has the mental strength to play for Arsenal. Qualifying for the Europa League will give him the game time needed to develop.

Game time will also be very important next year for the likes of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding.

Chambers looked good whilst on loan at Middlesbrough, playing in his preferred position of centre back. If Arsenal continue with 3 at the back, long term Chambers would be an excellent option for the right if that 3, but he needs to keep playing games.

Last season he stagnated due to lack of game time. Europa League (and the League Cup) would give him nearly 10 up until Christmas. It will keep him sharp and continue his develop. It would also allow him to build up a relationship with Rob Holding inside him.

Rob Holding has been given a lot of praise since breaking through due at the back end of the season, and he deserves that hype. But he is still young, he is still raw, and he still has mistakes in him. He was caught twice by Diego Costa in the FA Cup Final, one of which led to Chelsea’s equaliser.

He needs to be given time to develop, and whilst he has been excellent, he is probably not ready to start week in, week out in a title chasing side. But the flip side is he needs games to continue his development.

3 months ago I would have written a blog about how Rob Holding could do with going on loan next season. Like Chambers, he desperately needed games and with Arsenal playing 2 at the back, there were too many ahead of him. A move to 3 at the back, coupled with his own performances, means he has now had some more game time, and is too valuable to the squad to send on loan for 38 games.

The happy medium will be for him to start in the middle of a back 3 in the Europa League and League Cup, whilst being the first change if Laurent Koscileny or Shkodran Mustafi pick up an injury in the Premier League.

There will some now criticising this blog saying that Rob Holding should start every game next season. Let’s lay off him and give him the chance to develop. Mustafi Koscileny Monreal is our strongest defence, but Holding is knocking on the door. And the Europa League could help him knock that door down.

Other youngsters will also benefit from being in the Europa League.

Alex Iwobi has dropped out of contention in the Arsenal starting XI this season. In my opinion, he was played too much when clearly out of form in the first half of the season. He is barely 21 and should be handed a staring role behind the striker in the Europa League.

The extra games, and confidence, he would get from playing in the lesser competition will keep him sharp and ready if the top boys are out injured. He could be the star of the Europa League.

Alongside Iwobi, the Europa League will give a big chance to the likes of Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock and forgotten man Gedion Zelalem to show they are good enough for the long term at Arsenal. It would also be good to see Ainsley Maitland-Niles got more of a run out.

Finally, the early rounds of the Europa League at least would be good for any potential young striker in the squad. Whether it be a chance for Chuba Akpom finally, or if Arsenal make a move for Henry Onyekuru, 10-or so games in the Europa League and League Cup will do wonders. Remember it is the competition Harry Kane used as his break through a few years ago.

Arsenal should take the Europa League seriously. But especially in the first half of the season, and potentially up until the quarter-finals, Arsenal could play a seriously rotated squad, meaning the regular starting XI get mid weeks off, and some of our most talented youngsters get game time.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and if the Europa League means we end up with Jordan Pickford, and see Chambers and Holding turn into the England internationals they are destined to be, than taking a step back into the competition could be great for Arsenal’s future.

Keenos

Arsenal’s far left problems

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There is currently a massive problem at Arsenal Football Club. One that is being quietly spoken about amongst friends. It has not yet reared it’s ugly head on the terraces, but it is getting to a point where the crowd are on the verge of turning. Arsenal have a problem with their left hand side.

The weakness on our left hand side is becoming more and more problematic. It is simply not working. From both a defensive side and an attacking side.

In the summer, there were massive reports linking us to many a left back. From reports that we were set to trigger Ricardo Rodriguez’s minimum release clause to interest in Leicester youngster Ben Chilwell and Celtic’s Kieran Tierney. In the end, we stuck with what we had, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs.

Even reports that we were after a left sided centre back who could then cover full back failed to materialise as we ended up with Shkodran “I am still having to Google his first name” Mustafi – a right sided centre back.

So it left us exactly where we were last season. Two solid left backs of similar level.

Now it was easy in the summer to make a case of why we should not go for a new left back. A centre back, defensive midfielder, right winger / striker were more important. We signed one of each.

But 3 months after the window shutting, left back has now arguably become our weakest link.

I have been a massive fan of Nacho Monreal in an Arsenal shirt.

Not blessed with the extreme pace many a full back now has, he has always been more of a Bacary Sagna of the left. Or a Pablo Zabaleta. Someone who recognises their job is to defend, and understands how to go it. A strong defender, using positional and game awareness.

But this season he has had a bit of a shocker.

He has been beaten numerous times too easily on the outside. Average wingers seem to be blasting past him without much effort. And he seems to be diving into challenges with poor decision making. Perhaps a sign that he lacks confidence in himself. Committing early on to the challenge in the hope if he does not win the ball, at least he is being beat high up the pitch.

I do not know the stats, but I would hazard a guess a lot of our goals this season have come from our left hand side.

Of course, it is not just about the full back, you work in pairs, so some of the blame has to go to whoever has been ahead of Monreal for the season.

Against Manchester United, a game where their opener came from our left hand side, it was Aaron Ramsey. Not a natural left winger.

For the majority of the season, Monreal has played behind Alex Iwobi.

Iwobi offers little defensively. You rarely see him busting a gut to get back, chasing his opposing full back, leaving Monreal in a 2 on 1 situation too often.

Even when Iwobi get’s back, his lack of defensive positional awareness becomes exposed. He does not seem to know when to show a player outside or in, who to pick up, what run to follow, or where to stand to cut out the pass. He offers nothing.

Of course, he is just 20, so has a lot to learn, but with Monreal out of form, Iwobi needs to be helping his full back out more.

Football is all about partnerships. From centre backs, to midfielders, to strikers. Leicester City won the league last season because their team was greater than their individuals. Better players in other teams failed to link up with team mates as well as Leicester. We see that on Arsenal’s left hand side. Defensively, Monreal & Iwobi have no gelled.

Then we come to going forward.

Alex Iwobi has started 8 of 12 games in the Premier League for Arsenal this season, and 3 of the 5 Champions League games. Of those 11 games, he is still yet to scored, and has made just 3 goals.

Some would say he has gone backwards this season, that he has been ‘Wengered’ (what the hell does that even mean?), but the truth is expectation is now higher this season.

He has been a first team regular, and he has simply not done enough this season to justify his continual selection. He is not ready for week in week out at Arsenal’s level.

And as a partnership going forward, Monreal and Iwobi have not linked up.

Monreal is very different going forward to Hector Bellerin on the right. He makes shorter runs, hits the bye line, and gets dangerous balls in. He is also a very good passer, even in close situations. But Monreal has done little going forward this season. He has simply not been a threat.

Part of this might be due to his lack of confidence in his current defensive form, so he does not want to be caught out high up the pitch. But what this results in is the opposite of Iwobi not defending.

Monreal not attacking leaves Iwobi isolated. Often with the opposing full back and winger surrounding him. He cuts inside and has a central midfield in his face. 3 on 1. Normally, having dragged 3 players inside, he could flick the ball outside to Monreal in space. But Monreal is not there.

Nacho Monreal and Alexi Iwobi are not linking up. Not gelling. Not performing. They are playing like two individuals with no confidence. They are not a partnership.

And even when they have been rotated out, it is not much better. Kieran Gibbs has not done enough this season in his handful of appearances to usurp Monreal. But he does perhaps deserve a bit of a run in the team. Maybe start him against Bournemouth, mid-week against Southampton, and take it from there. It will then give him 3 games in a row, at least.

And then forward of Monreal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been inconsistent, and the likes of Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey should not be considered on the left. So what options does this leave Arsene Wenger?

The most obvious one is move Alexis Sanchez back to the left hand side. He will give Monreal (or Gibbs) the cover they have missed. Also attack is the best form of defence. A full back will not be bombing forward when they are faced against Alexis Sanchez like they are against Alex Iwobi.

Of course, this then has implications upfront, where Sanchez has performed exceptionally so far. Return Olivier Giroud back to the forward line on a permanent basis.

The other option would be to give Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance on the left.

A new partnership of the Ox & Gibbs would be worth giving a go.

In the last few days, Arsenal have been heavily linked with Hull City’s teenage left back Josh Tymon and forever linked Julian Draxler.

Over the next 2 transfer windows, Arsenal need to sort out their hard left, before it plunges the club into crisis.

Note: This blog was written before the Bournemouth victory which saw us win 3-1 with Nacho Monreal crossing for one of the goals. He also gave away the penalty. We did however look a lot stronger with Monreal & Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Keenos