The Most Exciting Title Race in Years! EPL Week 9 Review.

EPL Week 9 Review

After another weekend of unpredictable results this is shaping up to be the most exciting title race in years.  Of the top eight only Liverpool and Chelsea were able to take all three points from their respective fixtures.

Jurgen Klopp’s side continued their fine run of form with a narrow victory over West Brom.  Having been held to a draw vs Bourinho’s United last Monday the title talk around Anfield had somewhat evaporated, at least temporarily.  Saturday’s victory which ultimately drew them level on points with both City and Arsenal has set the Liverpool band wagon rolling once again.

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Are Liverpool EPL Title Contenders?

Any team joint at the top of the EPL must be considered as contenders.  However, let’s not forget it is only October and so if I was a Liverpool fan I wouldn’t be getting carried away just yet.  Sorry Liverpool fans but I just can’t see you going the distance for a number of reasons.  Two dodgy keepers, the inability to defend any form of set piece and a lack of strength in depth will ultimately cost you.

The Return of the Special One…

Jose returned to the bridge this weekend and prior to kick off it was all about him, just the way he likes it.  Having gone to Anfield last week and parked the bus it was pretty obvious he was going to try and do the same thing in the hope of avoiding defeat.

I’m a huge critic of his ‘anti-football’ approach especially when you are the manager of such a prestigious club and spending hundreds of millions of pounds on ‘top players’.

Nothing pleased me more than to see his game plan go out of the window inside a minute and their vulnerability was clear for all to see.  Chelsea continued to stick the knife in on their old boss and were far superior in every department.

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“I know you sold me the wrong Pogba”

In a poor attempt to deflect the headlines away from his teams awful performance Jose reportedly whispered in the ears of Conte something to the effect of “you don’t celebrate like that at 4-0.  You can do it at 1-0, otherwise it’s humiliating for us.”

Despite his side being horrendous and Chelsea completely out playing them he still had to make it all about him come the end of the game.  He had an issue with the current Chelsea manager celebrating?  That’s rich coming from this man…

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Jose slides on his knee’s in celebration during his Real Madrid days.

City without a win in five…

Once again individual errors cost Pep Guardiola’s side dearly and John Stones’ decision making doesn’t seem to have improved just yet.

City were held at home by an in-form, well organised and resolute Southampton side.  Credit to the Saints but there’s no doubt the blue half of Manchester will be somewhat disappointed with the nature of the goal they conceded.

It appeared to be a mix up between Stones and Vincent Kompany but none the less a goal that could have been avoided had a bit of common sense been applied.  It wasn’t to be City’s day in the end but the results around them gave them some breathing space, a draw this weekend wasn’t as damaging as it could have been.

A constantly changing formation and  a lack of confidence are certainly contributing to City’s bad run but there’s no need for an over reaction, they are top of the EPL!

Arsenal & Spurs stutter…

Neither North London club were able to take all three points this weekend and I would put it down to both suffering from a Champions League hangover.  It’s been years since Spurs have been able to use that excuse!

Spurs failed to dazzle at the vitality stadium and Bournemouth could have nicked it late on. Perhaps the biggest talking point was the moment of madness from Moussa Sissoko where he appeared to throw an elbow at Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter.  The Frenchman was lucky not to see red and I expect him to face retrospective action in the coming days.

I was at the Emirates on Saturday and the Gunners were simply off the boil.  A leggy Arsenal side struggled to create as many openings as they would have liked against a stubborn and well organised Boro side.

The absence of Santi Cazorla in the middle of the park was a big miss for the Gunners.  He plays a vital role in Arsenal’s midfield, a player who is so good at both collecting the ball from the defence and play making from deep was always going to be missed.  The man who normally makes us tick wasn’t in the side and it disrupted our fluency in possession.

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Arsenal missed their deep lying playmaker on Saturday.

It’s worth noting had it not been for Petr Cech Arsenal could have ended up losing that one.  Adana Traore was a constant threat down the right hand side and its hard to believe that he spent last season sitting on Aston Villa’s bench!

Boro were good value for the point.  Both North London clubs suffered a minor stutter but it’s nothing to worry about at this stage, I expect both to be there or thereabouts come May.

EPL Results:

Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs, West Ham 1-0 Sunderland, Swansea 0-0 Watford, Leicester City 3-1 Crystal Palace, Hull City 0-2 Stoke, Burnley 2-1 Everton, Arsenal 0-0 Boro, Man City 1-1 Southampton, Chelsea 4-0 Man Utd.

Click here for the Premier League Table!

Harry

Sofa Sports News.

What a difference a few weeks can make! – Theo & AFC

In the end it was a nail-biting encounter, another stressful afternoon at the Emirates resulting in a vital 3 points for the Arsenal.  In the past I’ve criticized the Gunners for missing opportunities when the teams around us dropped points.  Although it was far from being the most comfortable of win’s we got over the line and the favorable results around us saw us leap above that lot down the road as well as drawing level on points with Pep’s Manchester City.

Arsenal’s best and worst were on display for all to see in what was a thrilling encounter for the neutral but essentially the points are all that matter.

Granit Xhaka saw red and you can argue the decision was extremely harsh but a part of me was proud of him for making that challenge and preventing what would have been a Swansea 4 versus 2 counter attack.  He will be missed whilst he serves his ban but for once we have a squad capable of plugging the holes.

What a difference a few weeks can make…

After week 2 many were writing our title chances off and calling for a change in management. Admittedly I was furious with Arsene after the opening fixture and the failure to prepare for the very start of the campaign was keeping me up at night.  Six straight league wins later and we have caught up to many peoples favorites for the title (Man City) and only one goal separates us.

Credit where its due, Arsene has found a new way of playing that has seen us (with the exception of saturday) defend effectively and attack with the fluidity we all associate with Wenger’s teams.

The Rise of Theo…

He could have scored 5 at the weekend but nobody can deny the significant improvement in Theo’s game.  So why the sudden upturn?

I put it down to a number of things.

  1. There seems to be a hunger/desire to succeed and his omission from the England squad last summer could have been the boot up the a** he needed.
  2. Anybody who has watched Walcott recently can clearly see he has done a lot of work physically over the close season.  The combination of his electrifying pace and improved ability to hold players off when in possession is enough to scare any full back in the world.
  3. Theo Walcott is quite clearly ten times more effective playing from the right.  Starting from the wide position gives him the licence to drift inside without necessarily being marked by the two or sometimes three centre halves and he often finds himself free in the box to devastating effect.

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The fact that Theo, Sanchez and Iwobi are all free to interchange at will has been a huge element of our success thus far.  It makes them so difficult to defend against and with Mesut Ozil pulling the strings, at times we can be unplayable.

 

Onwards and Upwards…

Prior to Saturday’s game I said I’d only be happy with 9 points from the Swansea, Middlesbrough and Sunderland fixtures and I stick by that.  I’m confident we can get the remaining 6 points over the next two games but this is the Premier League and anything can happen so we will need to be at our best!

We head into Wednesday night’s champions league tie versus Ludogorets in pretty good shape and I expect us to wrap up another 3 points on the way towards qualification for the knockout stages.

Thank god the Premier League is back and we can sit back and now we can watch Liverpool and United tear lumps out of each other knowing we’ve done our job for another week.

@HarrySymeou

@sofasportsnews_

Sofa Sports News

 

 

The Referee’s a WENGER!

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger(or the Chicago Gunners basketball team) were yet again gifted a decision on Sunday. Whether the goal should have stood is not debatable. Although there is a debate as to whether the biggest joke was the decision itself or Koscielny’s interview following the game.

The first bone of contention was whether Oxlade-Chamberlain made contact with the ball. The answer is yes. Had he not, the subsequent contact made by Koscielny would have been onside as he was behind the ball when Walcott flicked the ball on. However, because Oxlade-Chamberlain made contact with the ball, it leads to phase two – in which, Koscielny is clearly offside as at this point, he had run beyond the ball. The second contentious point is the handball itself. You cannot legally use your hand to score a goal. It’s quite simple. I won’t even begin getting into the added injury time because there is a wider issue here that the prawn sandwich Arsenal boys are only too aware of, which is that Mr Wenger has built a backbone of a side this season to include Mark Clattenburg in goal, Craig Pawson in defence, Michael Oliver in an attacking midfield role and Martin Atkinson spearheading the attack.

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One team has been gifted all the decisions so far this season and I’m sure it will continue. The penalties not given at Leicester, the Giroud penalty against Southampton and the hand of Kosc against Burnley. Two of these games were away from home by the way. Not that the 90 minute silence so impeccably observed at the Emirates would make a difference anyway. 5 additional points right there. Just like that. Of course, there were other decisions like Coquelin not being sent off against Liverpool etc, but I’m concentrating on the games that Arsenal ending up winning or drawing.

Below is a snippet from a well-known Arsenal website written by one of the few honest Arsenal fans:

“Arsenal travelled to the East Midlands today to take on Premier League champions Leicester City, and will have to consider themselves lucky to come away with a draw. Ranieri’s side should have had two penalties, Coquelin was let off a yellow card for a deliberate foul just outside the box, and had the most clear-cut goal scoring opportunities also. This will certainly not have pleased any Arsenal fan, but it is a result they will take. We were then given another gift by referee Mark Clattenburg, when Francis Coquelin, who had already been booked, brought Mahrez down just outside the box. A yellow card would have been hard to argue, but we were allowed to continue with 11 men, and the free kick was put over the bar.

The snippet was by one of the few fans who watched the game as opposed to the regular fans who stare at their Bovril and programme all game debating the house price increases in their home town of Surrey from a nice comfortable Emirates seat. Likely to be called Sebastian.

A lifelong Arsenal fan told me as soon as big Sam was sacked that Arsenal would get the benefit of every major decision because the FA need Wenger to rebuild English football from the grassroots up as soon as his Arsenal contract expires. The theory proposed to me by the Arsenal fan makes perfect sense.

Sam Allardyce left the post last week after just 67 days in charge, with the FA deeming his position untenable in the wake of newspaper allegations suggesting he was prepared to accept a £400,000 payment to represent a Far East firm and offer advice in circumventing rules on player transfers. Southgate’s appointment as caretaker buys the Football Association (FA) time and, given the four-month hiatus following the Spain fixture until England face Lithuania on March 26, they could be prepared to wait until next summer when Wenger’s contract expires if he indicates a willingness to take the job.  According to several reports, the FA have their set long(ish)-term sights on finally tempting Arsene Wenger into international management with a “fresh approach” for the Arsenal boss set to be launched in good time

How does that make any sense?

How can you have a football association that want a man as their national manager, yet is the same association that referees must answer to? The same association that essentially dictates referee selection, discussions with officials, retrospective punishment and many other factors that contribute to where a side finishes at the end of the season. It is a complete conflict of interest and explains why they want to keep the Arsenal boss happy.

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Wenger has previously advised the FA in their hunt for the new England manager. The French manager, who emerged as one of the potential candidates for the job following Big Sam’s departure has already met with the FA in an advisory capacity. So now you have a committee that rely on the Arsenal boss for consultancy too. I mean if that isn’t further conflict of interest then someone please explain it to me.

For the record I think the FA should bend over backwards to get Wenger. I’ve always been a big supporter of his as I’m sure our SSN listeners have heard on many a podcast. And for the record I’d have only given one of those penalties at Leicester.

Do I think there’s corruption in the sense that money is exchanging hands? Probably not. Do I think that the FA need to keep Wenger sweet and this is how they are doing so? Absolutely. Let’s see if Arsenal can win the title with their 20 point head start. For the sake of football and fairness I sincerely hope not.

Alavi

Sofa Sports News

It was late, perhaps not great but the Gunners run continues! – Arsenal FC

Burnley 0-1 Gunners

It was late, perhaps not great but the Gunners claimed their fifth straight Premier League victory at Turf Moor this weekend.  Arsene Wenger celebrated 20 years in charge of his beloved Arsenal and for a while it seemed as though there wouldn’t be much to celebrate.  A resilient, stubborn and well-organised Burnley side frustrated the Gunners for 92 minutes and will be desperately disappointed not to have taken anything from the game.

Our last premier league outing was the decimation of Chelski and so it was always going to be difficult to live up to that performance.  Even the most biased of Arsenal fan would have to give Sean Dyche’s side credit for the way they defended and they may feel on another day they could have been the ones to nick it 1-0.

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The Performance

The Gunners just simply weren’t at the races, the passing was off, there was a lack of sharpness and Mr Wenger said post match that we made a lot of ‘technical mistakes’.  Take Alex Iwobi’s shot in the second half for example, he opened his body up and looked to bend one into the top corner.  The problem was he bent it out for a throw in!

That pretty much summed up our day. The movement and fluidity that we’ve seen over the past few weeks just simply wasn’t there and around about the 85th minute I began the process of trying to convince myself that a draw would have been a point gained on the leaders Man City.  Deep down I knew the draw wasn’t good enough and we needed to capitalize on their slip up.  I just really couldn’t see where the goal was going to come from!

The Goal

There is no doubt Koscielny’s last minute winner was a controversial one.  There were suspicion’s of a handball and an offside shout but were the officials correct in letting the goal stand?

Absolutely not, but we will take it!

It is however, worth noting that the handball by Koscielny certainly wasn’t deliberate and so you could say it was the bit of luck we deserved for fighting until the death.

The strong run continues and with the international break coming it was vital to close the gap on Pep’s Man City.

In the end Monsieur Wenger was smiling on his 20th anniversary game and it was nice to hear the crowd chanting “There’s Only One Arsene Wenger.” It reminded me of the good old days!

Harry

Sofa Sports News

 

Official Podcast – Premier League Matchday 6 Review!

On this edition of the Podcast we discuss Sam Allardyce’s slip of the tongue, Arsenal’s victory over Chelsea, the demise of West Ham, Man City’s impressive form and Danny Simpsons comments around shirt-pulling and holding in the penalty area.

As well as our usual La Liga and Serie A round ups!

Also available for download on iTunes, please don’t forget to rate and share our podcast!

The Theory Behind Wenger’s Questionable Team Selections

As I settled on the sofa to watch my beloved Arsenal take on the mighty PSG I scrolled through my twitter feed to check Wenger’s starting lineup and see what the mood was like amongst Gunners fans.   To say I was surprised with the selection was an understatement.  I had spent the past couple of days defending Wenger’s team selection on Saturday purely on the basis that he was resting players for the Champions League clash in Paris.

So you can imagine my shock when summer acquisition Granit Xhaka and Arsenal’s only recognized centre forward Olivier Giroud were left out for the second time in less than a week.  Wenger opted to go with David Ospina between the sticks despite the backlash that same decision brought in last season’s Champions League campaign.  The Colombian stopper justified his managers show of faith with a solid performance and he made a number of very smart saves – its clearer than ever that Arsenal do really have two top class goalkeepers in the ranks.

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The Match

Even the most pessimistic of Gooner’s couldn’t have foreseen a worse start, Laurent Koscielny was caught too high up the pitch with Francis Coquelin chasing shadows and once Serge Aurier broke free down their right hand side there was no catching him.  A pinpoint delivery and an instinctive finish from Edinson Cavani gave PSG the lead and that all too familiar thought of ‘here we go again’ sprung to mind.

Despite having a fair share of the possession in the first half (49% to be precise) we failed to create any chances and PSG were cutting through us like a knife through butter.  Edinson Cavani squandered two fantastic chances, most notably the one where he took the ball around Ospina and shot wide.  Just imagine what we’d all be saying if that was Giroud!

The second half started somewhat more positively and Arsenal were keeping the ball for long periods but there was still no cutting edge.  It was only a matter of time before PSG began pulling us apart and by-passing our non-existent midfield, but for a host of smart saves from David Ospina it would have been Goodnight for the Gunners in Paris.

Thankfully, in what was probably our first meaningful attack of the game Mesut Ozil picked out Alex Iwobi in the penalty area, the Nigerian’s shot was blocked and Alexis was right on cue to rifle it into the bottom left corner. 1-1! It was a strange feeling, a mixture of joy at the equalizer but also frustration as to why it had taken 78 minutes for Arsenal to carry any sort of meaningful threat.

Arsene Wenger will be pretty pleased with himself, the introduction of Giroud was vital in creating the space for Iwobi and like I mentioned in my last post – just having a forward to occupy the centre halves can make all the difference.  The Frenchman coming on and Alexis Sanchez being able to move back into his familiar role of wide left ultimately made the difference.

The decision not to play a striker was a strange one but I don’t think this is the last time we will see Wenger adopt this approach in the so called bigger games.  Here’s why…

 In all my years of watching the Arsenal that wasn’t the first time I’ve been scratching my head over the boss’ selection and it certainly won’t be the last.  At first, I just thought it was another poor selection and I couldn’t see the vision or indeed the idea behind his selection.  Before I continue, I am not suggesting that this approach worked and it’s important to note we were very fortunate to leave the Parc Des Princes with a point.  However, despite all of that it was clear that Arsene had at least tried to adapt his approach to this particular game – something that we’ve often criticized him for failing to do.

There were a number of differences to our set up. Most of them, I struggled to make sense of, in particular early on in the game.

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Coquelin

 Usually the anchor in our midfield, patrolling left to right in front of the back four and putting out fires.  Francis Coquelin was found pressing further up the pitch than normal and on occasions was further forward than even Mesut Ozil!  I can’t for a moment believe that a player who is usually so disciplined would be pressing in the last third unless instructed by the manager to do so.  This had a negative impact on our defensive shape because every time PSG won possession and broke on us the midfield was nowhere to be seen.

Defence

Under Arsene Wenger we have been known to play a high line where possible, pushing up to the half way line and squeezing our opponents in – you could say a good way of sustaining pressure.  While we try to do this as often as possible the fact that Mustafi is playing rather than Per Mertesacker seems to have encouraged us to push that little bit further up the pitch, there is no longer a clear lack of pace in the central defensive department to cause major concern.

However, this issue should be approached with caution.  As happy as I am with the signing of Mustafi its clear for all to see that his understanding with Koscielny will need time to develop and I just feel that playing such a high line leaves no margin for error.  You only need to look at the amount of times PSG broke through the middle of our defence last night to see exactly what I mean.

I am firm believer that in order to have a strong central defensive partnership you require two different styles of centre halve that compliment each other’s games.  Koscielny tends to play on the front foot, often stepping out of the back four to close space and going toe to toe with his opponent.  Over recent seasons he has usually been the one to man-mark the opponents striker.  One of the reason’s he developed such a strong partnership with Per Mertesacker was because their styles did exactly that, compliment each other.  Per will take a calmer approach, dropping off as the spare man and often reading the danger early from his ‘withdrawn’ position allowing him to get his starting position right and move across to deal with it.

It’s not that I don’t like Mustafi but during his first two games for the Arsenal something about the way he plays just reminds me of Thomas Vermaelen – that all action style.  I don’t believe you can get away with having two centre halves wanting to play on the front foot, both constantly committing themselves and stepping out of the back four to make challenges, it leaves you far too exposed and the better teams will pick you off.  Some of you may disagree and I am hopeful they will develop a strong central defensive partnership together but one of them will certainly have to adapt their game for the benefit of the team.

Attack

No recognized striker on the pitch is something we are beginning to see more and more of in football.  To use a Premier League example, Jurgen Klopp has had plenty of success in the ‘bigger games’ by refusing to play a recognized centre forward.  I feel this can be successful for a number of reasons…

  1. It allows you to dominate possession, when necessary the midfield becomes a six and you end up simply over running your opponents in the midfield area.
  2. It allows freedom of movement – as long as a couple of your midfielders are disciplined enough and sit in front of the back four it pretty much allows your more advanced players to be able to interchange positions and makes it almost impossible for your opponents to man mark and keep tabs on them.
  3. There are no passengers in this system (when played correctly!) – When you haven’t got possession of the ball you can fill up the midfield with bodies and the numbers allow you to close more of the spaces and press your opponents effectively.

As I mentioned in my last blog entry we never seem to carry enough of a threat when Sanchez or Walcott for example play as the striker.  Teams tend to load the middle and without a physical presence or focal point in attack we just don’t seem to create very much.

I feel Giroud’s presence and physical strength occupies the central defenders, giving them something to worry about and therefore creating spaces for others to exploit – last night’s goal was a perfect example.  It’s as clear as day for all to see that were not getting any joy playing that way.

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Is Arsene Wenger silly enough to persist with something that clearly isn’t working or are we seeing a transition as a result of him trying to implement something new? A plan B perhaps?

I think and I hope it’s the latter – it’s clearly something that requires a lot more work but a small part of me was glad to see us trying to adapt ourselves to better cope with our opponent’s strengths.

Time will tell whether it’s something Arsenal decide to persist with and despite the questionable performance I woke up with a smile on my face.  A big European result and let’s hope we can make it past the last 16 this time!

UTA

Harry

Sofa Sports News

A Clear Penatly & A Vital 3 Points! – Arsenal FC

Arsenal hardly set the world alight on Saturday but it’s the three points that matter.  Santi Cazorla held his nerve in stoppage time to convert from the spot and ensure Arsenal registered their first home win of the season.

I spent most of my weekend debating whether the foul on Giroud warranted a spot kick with my sofasportsnews.com colleague Alavi.  Having reviewed it over and over again and even digging out the FIFA rule regarding holding players in the box there is no sensible argument against the award.  I took the liberty of extracting the following from the FIFA rules:

FIFA rule 14 clearly states:

“Referee’s are reminded to make an early intervention and to deal firmly with holding offences especially inside the penalty area at corner kicks and free kicks.  To deal with these situations the referee shall:

  • Warn any player holding an opponent before the ball is in play.
  • Caution the player if the holding continues.
  • Award a direct free kick or penalty and caution the player once it happens if the ball is in play.

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Based on the extract from the rules and the image above, I challenge anyone to give me a genuine reason as to why Fonte’s wrestling moves didn’t warrant a penalty.

It’s no secret that the performance wasn’t great; Arsene surprised a few including myself with his team selection.  His decision to leave out Giroud, Sanchez and Xhaka from the start meant he was already under pressure from the WOB’s before the game even began.

Wenger handed debuts to Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, with both showing glimpses of why the manager brought them in.  Mustafi had a few hairy moments early on where he seemed to give the ball away far too cheaply but he certainly grew in stature as the game went on.  Lucas Perez showed some classy touches and very good link up play at times but in truth he was starved of service in that centre forward position and had no choice but to pull out wide or into deeper areas just to get on the ball.

I’ve read a number of peoples comments regarding the Perez signing after Saturday’s game and claims we have signed another average striker; most notably Ian Wright, who made some comments to that affect.  Let me explain something to those of you who love to jump on a band wagon!  Alexis Sanchez has failed to make an impact in the centre forward position when asked to play there, is he a bad player?

The reason being our current system, playing style and the way our opponents set up against us means you need a certain type of player to fill that position.  A physical presence, somebody to occupy BOTH centre halves, able to play with his back to goal and somebody willing to use his body as a battering ram and cope with the physical challenges some of the leagues fiercest centre halves bring to the table.

Perez is not the ‘wrong’ signing as some have claimed but a change in focus when attacking will need to be considered by the boss in order to get the best out of him, will we finally discover a plan B?

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The above is exactly why I am forever calling on Arsenal fans to give Olivier Giroud a break, there is so much more to his game than just goals and his presence is a constant threat to our opponents.

He is a vital component to our ONLY way of playing, he consistently bags around 20 goals a season and some say it should be more but you certainly can’t underestimate his influence in this side.  It’s no coincidence that he came on, did exactly what I described and eventually winning us the penalty but more importantly the three points.

It was a lack luster performance all around and having performed so well at Watford I put it down to just being a bad day at the office.  I’m not pressing the panic button just yet.

Wenger opted to protect some of our key players and took into account their international exploits – it was certainly a gamble but he got away with it and Arsenal now go into the champion’s league clash in Paris in pretty good shape.

Harry

Sofa Sports News

Twitter: @sofasportsnews_

Facebook: Sofa Sports News

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The Gunners travel to Watford this weekend – Preview

The Gunners travel to Vicarage Road this weekend to take on Walter Mazzari’s Watford side in search of their first win of the season.  The Hornets have only managed to beat the Gunners once since the turn of the century but they’ll be confident of getting a result in front of their home crowd.  Watford will take great encouragement from their performance against Chelsea last weekend and they will feel extremely unlucky to have lost that one, especially seeing as the winning goal scorer shouldn’t have even been on the pitch!  Anyway, that’s a story for another day…

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has been extremely busy in the transfer market this week and it looks as though (fingers crossed) Deportivo La Coruna striker Lucas Perez and German International defender Shkodran Mustafi will be joining the club imminently.  Maybe he is going to spend some money after all!

Lucas Perez may not be the marquee signing most Gunners fans were looking for but none the less seems a decent acquisition in what the boss described as a ‘difficult market’.  The striker may be something of an unknown quantity but there is no doubt about the quality of Shkodran Mustafi, a proven centre back at international level is just what the doctor ordered to nurse our injury ravaged defence.

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Watford have also been active in the transfer market this summer and earlier in the week completed the signing of right back Daryl Janmaat from Newcastle United.  I expect Walter Mazzari to set his side out with three centre halves and his sides rely heavily on having strong, energetic and technically gifted wing backs.  These are all qualities the Dutchman possesses and I believe he will be a big hit with the Watford faithful.  Perhaps the most crucial part of business the Hornets have done this summer was turning down a huge bid from a Chinese Super League club for striker Odion Ighalo.

His partnership with Troy Deeney was one of the main factors in ensuring Watford’s survival last season; they will be extremely pleased to have kept them both at the club.  Troy Deeney was also the subject of a substantial bid this summer – champions Leicester city decided to test Watford’s resolve with a bid in the region of £20m.  The Hornets fans will be buoyant and there is no doubt that being able to hold onto your stars is just as big as signing new ones.

I expect this to be an incredibly tight fixture between two teams with two very different systems, an intriguing tactical battle and I cannot wait to see which one will come out on top.  Arsenal should be looking to pin back the wingbacks, expose the gaps they may leave behind them and try to stretch the three centre halves.  Walter Mazzari is no boy scout and I expect him to be fully aware of any flaws in his system, during periods of the game I expect to see the home side shift their defence into a back five with Etienne Capoue screening the centre halves.

The former Spurs man has been Watford’s star player in the opening two fixtures with goals in consecutive games.  Arsene Wenger has described Troy Deeney as a fighter and rightly so, I’m sure Walter Mazzari will be telling his star man to get in the face of the young Holding and they would have identified him as a potential ‘weak link’.

Rob Holding silenced the doubters and performed extremely well at Leicester last week, with his confidence forever growing and another ninety minutes of premier league experience under his belt I predict the Arsenal to keep a clean sheet.

Monsieur Wenger spoke to the press on Friday morning and when asked about the conditions of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud he explained that he would make a late decision on the German but the Frenchman is still ‘a bit short physically’.

The Gunners will be desperate to get three points on the board; failure to win could see us fall even further behind the early pace setters.  It’s still early days but I expect the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea to pick up victories this weekend.  A defeat at Watford could see us eight points off the top which even at this early stage is far from ideal.

I expect Mesut Ozil to be given the nod from the start and if Alexis Sanchez does remain in the central striker position I’d be interested to see if his performance improves with our chief creator providing the service.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Gunners will dominate the possession and Watford will be set up to absorb pressure but as we learnt last season it doesn’t mean you will cruise to victory.  Having said that, I am optimistic and in my predictions this week I have gone for an Arsenal 3-0 victory!

A somewhat BETTER week as an Arsenal fan and the only way is up! Come on you Gunners!

UTA

Harry

Sofa Sports News.

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Wenger & The Excuse Culture: Arsenal FC

Two games into the new season and Gooner’s up and down the country are already tearing their hair out.  A squad decimated by a combination of injuries and lack of match fitness has seen Arsene Wenger’s men stutter in the first two weeks of the season.  A disappointing home defeat on the opening day left a sour taste in the fans mouths and the draw at Leicester hasn’t done very much in terms of easing the pressure on Monsieur Wenger.  Large sections of the Arsenal faithful have begun calling for the clubs most successful manager of all time to walk away from the Emirates stadium.  The chant of ‘We Want Wenger Out’ could be heard coming from some of the away section during Arsenal’s trip to reigning champions Leicester City this past weekend.

I said in my last blog that I had finally jumped off of the fence and firmly onto the ‘Wenger Out’ side.  I would be lying if I said I was overly concerned at the fact we didn’t beat Leicester City last Saturday, after all they are the Premier League champions and we were away from home.  Not to mention the fact that young Rob Holding was thrown in at the deep end and the likes of Olivier Giroud & Mesut Ozil were not deemed fit enough to participate from the start. Upon reflection I would say it was a credible result and keeping a clean sheet is always encouraging after conceding four goals at home the week before!

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Another weeks gone by and the transfer deadline is just around the corner, we are still yet to do any significant business other than the acquisition of Granit Xhaka which seems like an age ago.  Once again the post game press conference saw the media lay into the managers transfer policy and provoke a reaction to make the back pages.  I must admit, I enjoyed his comments regarding Rob Holding and that must have been a welcomed confidence boost for the young centre back.  It can’t be easy joining one of the country’s biggest clubs under these particular circumstances; it’s almost as if some of our supporters are angry at him because Arsene didn’t bring in a more proven player as well.

Much has been made of one particular comment Mr Wenger came out with post match in regards to the clubs responsibilities to their 600 employee’s, yeah you know the one I mean!  In such situations, you must be careful not to take the comment out of context and remember emotions are always running high just after a game.  The combination of that along with the constant pressing from the media can cause even the coolest of customers to come out with absolute nonsense from time to time.  Arsene is no exception to that and in my view made an utter twat of himself and the club with that comment.  Don’t any of the other Premier League clubs have employees?

It highlights the ‘excuse culture’ that has taken over in recent years at our football club.  It begins right at the top of the food chain, a money hungry board of directors who have turned this once great football club into a money making machine.  Arsenal Football Club generates more match day revenue than any other football club in the world according to Deloitte.  That’s great news if you happen to be a share holder but for us regular fans it means inflated ticket prices and encourages the PSB (prawn sandwich brigade) to flock to the Emirates stadium for a day out and to the majority of them the result is of no relevance.  It’s no wonder we struggle to generate a decent atmosphere at certain games.  The traditional Arsenal fans have been prized out of attending week in week out and if modern football continues in this direction it won’t be too long before we are saying this about clubs up and down the country.

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Despite all the figures saying otherwise the manager and the board continue to give us excuses as to why we can’t compete with the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City in the transfer market.  I will tell you why, because our board and our manager are stuck in the Stone Age, their refusal to move in the same direction as the rest of the game will see us fall further and further behind.  Somebody once said to me “The Arsenal don’t need to win the title, keeping Wenger there and finishing 4th brings in guaranteed revenue without having to fork out hundreds of millions.  For Arsenal to win the title it would mean spending millions and that doesn’t guarantee profit come the end of the year. Qualifying for the Champions League will be our only objective under this ownership.  It’s no wonder the manager isn’t ever under any pressure.” I used to laugh it off, dismiss it even, call me crazy but it’s beginning to make a lot of sense.

The problem at the Arsenal is a complex one; the excuse culture created by both Wenger and the board is becoming evident in some sections of our support as they continue to defend this manager’s failing policies.  His refusal to value players in line with the rest of the football world has left him behind the rest of the pack; a manager who was once innovative and daring has become the dinosaur of the division. His tactical approach is farcical at times and we continue to be embarrassed by our biggest rivals.  His loyalty to a mix of average and crocked individuals (not mentioning any names!) has cost us at vital times during the past twelve seasons.  I guess it’s just been down to the injuries hey Arsene?  There is no doubt his legacy will go down in Arsenal folk law and for that we will always love the man but every dog has its day and Wenger’s was over a decade ago.

Twelve years and counting since the last Premier League title and there is nothing about his current approach to convince me he will ever reach those heights again.  If things continue in the same fashion it is only a matter of time before the likes of Sanchez and Ozil begin looking for another, more ambitious club.

Arsene has invested far too much time on the likes of Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey for example.  He lacks the ruthlessness to just accept that these players aren’t going to win us league titles and as a result we have a squad crawling with dead wood.  Our first team squad is flooded with injury prone, mentally weak and simply below par players.  When Mr Wenger does eventually leave I don’t expect the board to suddenly release excessive amounts of transfer funds to the new manager.  However, what I look forward to is a fresh pair of eyes coming into the club without any loyalty/attachment to any of the current squad and being able to identify the very players I am referring too. A clear out if you like.  There will no doubt be a transitional period after Le Professuer eventually leaves his post but we may need to take a step back to move forward again.

Let’s hope this season is his last and we can unite in giving him the send off a club legend deserves.  Thanks for the memories Wenger, but it’s time to say goodbye.

Harry

Sofa Sports News

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Leicester City vs Arsenal – Preview

Sofa Sports News’ Kyri previews Arsenal’s trip to the champions Leicester this Saturday.

So the new Premier League season kicked off last weekend and as usual we saw a number of shock results.

Leicester City started the defense of their tittle against a Hull side who’ve had a shocking pre-season to say the least.  Firstly, manager Steve Bruce handed in his resignation having led the club back to the Premier League promise land.  An injury list as long as my arm meaning they will be missing key players for months and to top it off they have failed to bring in any senior players.  Hull City were most people’s pre-season relegation tip.  Despite all of the above mentioned they began the campaign with the best possible start, turning over the champions.

The other major shock came the following day in North London when Liverpool came out of the Emirates stadium as 4-3 winners.

In all honesty, I didn’t really expect Arsenal to win the game with the team that was available and what surrounds the club at the moment but I certainly didn’t expect to witness us well beaten at home.

What can you say about Arsenal?

What has changed?

The answer to that question is simple, nothing much.

Another summer of endless rumors but with nothing actually materializing.  It seems as though Arsene Wenger is trying to sign the best players on the cheap.

I will never turn around and call Arsene Wenger a c**t or ‘le freud’ or any of the other names that fans have been calling him.  I love the manager for everything he’s done for the Arsenal, he’s been the best manager this club has ever had and their have been some pretty good managers down the years.  When Arsene eventually does depart, there is no doubt he will be leaving behind a great legacy.

The frustration comes because it’s the same old story with Arsenal, he constantly fails to learn from his mistakes.  I believe when Mr Wenger does call it a day, it will be a breath of fresh air and a huge relief for us.

When Arsenal completed the move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium we were assured as fans the move would allow us to compete financially with the monster clubs in Europe.

With this vision in sight the club endured a long transitional period in order to clear the stadium debt. That was paid off almost 4 years ago!

Arsenal now generate £4/5 million per home game, have a majority share holder who is richer than Roman Abramovich, Arsenal (like every other club in the Premier League) have just been given £250 million for TV money, not to mention the millions each season from Puma, Fly Emirates and all the other sponsorship deals.  Despite all of this, the club still insist we cannot compete financially with our rivals and that we are not willing to over spend on transfers.

As fans, we massively overspend to support our team whether it be at home or away.  Making it even more frustrating when the club flat out refuse to.

During the summer, Arsene Wenger has  made some laughable bids for players.  In his pursuit of Alexandre Lacazette he offered £5 million less than the bid West Ham had rejected a week earlier.  Arsenal have been in negotiation with Valencia for Shkodran Mustafi and could miss out on the player for the sake of £2/3 million.

You cannot expect to get the players you want for the prices that you want to pay, modern day football doesn’t allow you to approach the transfer market in this way.  This has been the case at the Arsenal for many years.

People can say there is still two weeks of the transfer window left and he can still buy.  If he really rated mustafi and Lacazette and thought he could strengthen the squad with these players, they should have been signed 2/3 weeks ago. Even more so when you go into the first game of the season with two of your centre halves injured and the other one is given time off after the euros. He has taken the Arsenal into the new season unprepared. AGAIN.

Now to focus on Arsenal’s trip to the King power this Saturday evening and both teams will be desperate to register their first three points.

Leicester City will not want to begin their title defense with back to back defeats. The damage that could do mentally could be huge.  However, a win against the Arsenal and the belief and the momentum will be back with Claudio Ranieri’s side.

Arsenal on the other hand are plagued with injuries (again), Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey are out of action for 2/3 weeks and we are all wondering when Arsene Wenger will call back Ozil, Koscienly and Giroud.  In my opinion, he hasn’t got a choice. They should have all been back and ready to face Liverpool.

It will be interesting to see how both teams line up on Saturday, I expect Ranieri to call back Mark Albrighton to the left who was left out of the team last week at Hull.  His experience and work rate will be needed against Arsenal and it will be interesting to see if King plays along side Drinkwater in central midfield like he did last week. I firmly expect Jamie Vardy to get onto the score sheet after rejecting Arsenal this summer.  It’s just written in the script!

I predict the Leicester starting line up to look like

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As for Arsenal I predict Koscienly to come back into the side and play along side Chambers at the heart of the defence for me I think a defensive minded midfielder has to play in front of the back four and protect them because if somebody with Musa’s pace and trickery gets in behind that midfield and in at the defence he’s got Vardy (who I expect will target chambers) and Marhez making runs inside for company and Arsenal could really struggle with that.

I can see Wenger starting with Theo Walcott (because he loves him) and Alexis Sanchez on either flank and I expect Mesut Ozil and Oliver Giroud to return to the side.

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I’d expect Arsenal to have a lot of possession on Saturday and I predict Leicester to go back to basics and play on the break.

I think it will be a great game for the neutral, an exciting match and I can see it ending in a score draw.

Kyri Predicts: 2-2

Kyri

Sofa Sports News

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Some Things Just Never Change – AFC & Arsene Wenger

Walking up to the Emirates stadium on Sunday all the summer frustrations were swept under the rug.  The excitement that comes with the new season is the perfect antidote for all of last season’s wounds.  This summer at Arsenal has been much like the ones before it, endless speculation about who may be coming into the club with none of it materializing into anything of substance.  Heading into the match vs. Liverpool it was clear that once again Arsene Wenger had failed to fully prepare his side for the opening weekend.

Key players missing through ‘extended holidays’ after the European championships, long term injuries in the heart of our defence and upon reflection a squad that were nowhere near the fitness levels required in the Premier League.  It was after all, the opening day of the season and so it’s vital not to over react and look at the situation with some perspective. However, Arsene Wenger’s side has won just once on the opening day in the last seven seasons.  There is a bit of a recurring theme here!

As a consequence of NEVER doing our transfer business early we are always faced with an even more challenging start to the season.  The inevitable injuries mount up and we find ourselves desperately searching the continent for ‘B grade’ players to come in and plug the holes.

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I pointed out in my preview http://sofasportsnews.com/premier-league/gunners-take-liverpool-season-opener-preview/ that I was confident the club would do some business before the end of the window and Sunday’s game has all but confirmed that.  No club with any aspirations should start a season with just their fourth and fifth choice centre backs available; it’s as simple as that.  Thankfully Laurent Koscielny’s return is imminent and one hopes that Sunday’s display will convince the gaffer that the French international is in desperate need of a capable partner.

Onto the game itself, we began fairly comfortably and looked the sharper and the more confident side.  Theo Walcott was granted his wish of returning to the right hand side and we reaped the benefits thirty minutes in when he was brought down in the box by Alberto Moreno, stone wall penalty not even Alavi would argue with!  The most alarming thing for me was that nobody in the ground was confident he was going to convert the spot kick and low and behold he failed.  I’m one of Theo Walcott’s biggest critics and so credit where its due he responded brilliantly and with a smart finish to find the bottom corner putting us into the lead.

Philippe Coutinho found the top corner with a stunning free kick right on the stroke of half time and that was where our problems began.  Going into half time at 1-1 was by no means a disaster, especially having been the better side for long periods of the first half.  The momentum was clearly with Klopp’s side having found an equalizer just before the break, so this is where you need your leaders to step in and take charge of the situation.  Game management is a huge factor in top level football and you require your leaders to ensure this is applied effectively.  Just one problem, we don’t have any leaders and our manager preferred to slouch further and further into his seat as Liverpool dismantled us in the space of twenty minutes.  Where is your desire Arsene?

Arsene will probably point to the fact we were beaten by just the one goal but I would urge all Gooner’s not be fooled by the score line.  The only reason we were even remotely in with a chance of pulling it back to 4-4 was because Liverpool are just as defensively disorganized as us.  Our vulnerabilities were highlighted once again and there are no signs we have learnt anything from the previous seasons mistakes.  We continue to show ourselves as team that lacks leadership, mental resilience and any desire and that all stems from one man.  A ‘stubborn old goat’ that refuses to accept the fact that his best days are behind him.

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on prior to kick off during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Arsenal at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2013 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Arsene’s under pressure just one game into the new season.

In his early years, I found myself trusting in Arsene.  Now it seems as though we are rusting under Arsene.  I find myself questioning almost every decision he makes…

Why didn’t he sign a centre back before Mertesacker or Gabriel got injured?

Why have we not got another striking option in?

Why was the spine of our team given an extra holiday period to leave us short?

Nobody more than me would like to see Arsene Wenger succeed but as each season passes the chances of him rediscovering the magic touch fade that little bit more.  Arsenal Football Clubs most successful manager of all time is slowly driving his legacy into a brick wall and all because of his refusal to move with the times.  The next couple of weeks are crucial in terms of transfer business; with the window slowly closing we are in desperate need of some top class players to help put this club back where it belongs.  There is no doubt the whole of Europe will be watching with interest and prospective player’s asking prices are no doubted growing.  We are in a desperate situation and unless Wenger and company are willing to pay over the odds we may end up with the Korean striker Fu-Kin-No-Wun.

A club that is divided between those who defend the man’s every action and those who simply want rid of him.  This weekend saw the launch of Sofa Sports News TV and one of the fans (a season ticket holder for over 30 years) I caught up with after the game described it as being like the Brexit situation, half in and half out.  Those who defend AW claim that the stability he brings provides a great foundation for progression.  I would counter that argument by simply saying the division and poisonous atmosphere surrounding every defeat provides the complete opposite.

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We are just the one game in and it’s important to remember that.  I’ve always been on the fence on all things Wenger and so it pains me to say this, with his contract coming to an end in the summer – it may be time to say goodbye Arsene.

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@HarrySymeou

@sofasportsnews_

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The Gunners Take on Liverpool in Season Opener – Preview

The Gunners kick off their premier league campaign with a tricky home fixture against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

Once again, all the talk has been around Arsenal’s lack of transfer activity meaning there is additional pressure on the Gunners to get off to the perfect start.  In recent times Arsene Wenger’s side have struggled on the opening day, winning just 1 of our last 6 opening day fixtures and so it’s not inconceivable that Liverpool may just turn up and spoil the party.

Throughout the summer the Gunners fans have been crying out for a ‘Top Class’ striker and with just short of three weeks remaining in this current transfer window my hopes of us attracting that lethal marksmen are slowly fading away.  However, the real area of concern for me is in the heart of our defence.  With long term injuries to Per Mertesacker (four months), Gabriel (six to eight weeks) and Laurent Koscielny still short of match fitness alarm bells are ringing.  Once again I am left scratching my head as to why we have left ourselves so short in such a key area of the pitch.  But that’s Arsenal for you! The injury to Per Mertesacker has been common knowledge for quite some time now, so why haven’t we got a replacement ready for the big Premier League kick off? In my view neither Gabriel, Holding nor Chambers are ready to play regularly, with or without Koscielny.  So where do we go from here?

It looks as though we will be welcoming Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi to the Emirates in the coming days and whilst that’s fantastic news it doesn’t solve our problem for this Sunday.  The German international has a fantastic reputation and if we can get this deal over the line I’m sure it will be a great piece of long-term business.  It is about time Gazidis and co and acquired a high class, proven, central defensive partner for Laurent Koscielny. Per Mertesacker unfortunately isn’t always up to the task and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes onto miss half of the season with this current injury problem.

The ‘Gunners injury curse’ strikes again and if there is one thing I’ve learnt about our club in recent seasons it is that our club doctors cannot be trusted to give accurate timescales and so you can’t always rely on that.

The Gunners enjoyed two fantastic pre-season tours winning four out of the five fixtures played.  The pre-season results and the great form of some of our fringe players during the tours of the USA and Scandinavia have been the positives to take from what has been a largely frustrating summer.  I was fortunate enough to see all of our pre-season fixtures and a number of players stood out to me. In particular, Chuba Akpom, Alex Iwobi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Campbell and Mohamed El Neny were especially impressive.

Our opponents this Sunday are another club under pressure to perform and finishing in the top four has to be the primary target for Jurgen Klopp’s side.

Another busy summer of transfers at Anfield has seen them acquire a number of decent players, most notably ex-Southampton forward Sadio Mane.  In previous seasons I’ve been extremely critical of the Liverpool transfer policy, they seem to just want to give Southampton bags of money each summer for players who just aren’t really all that good!  Since Klopp took the reins at Anfield there has certainly been some progress and big wins at Stamford Bridge and Man City last season demonstrated that.

Having lost two cup finals last season it will be very interesting to see how the German’s first full season in charge goes.  If he can somehow find some consistency there is no doubt they can be knocking at the door of Monsieur Wenger who normally makes fourth spot his own!

Although they’ve been active in the transfer market I personally still don’t think they’ve signed anywhere near the class of player required to make a strong push for one of those much sought after champion’s league spot.  Having said that, stranger things have happened!

I am confident that Monsieur Wenger will do the necessary business before the end of the transfer window and so I think it’s just a case of getting through the Liverpool fixture with a positive result.  The thought of returning to the Emirates this Sunday has got me absolutely buzzing but there is no doubt that the minute I arrive at my seat in Block 6 those all too familiar feelings of nervousness and pressure will be back within moments.

My Prediction is the Gunners 3-1 Liverpool.  It should be an enthralling encounter between two sides that will certainly be chasing the game; I mean in all honesty neither side are renowned for their defensive solidarity.  The atmosphere will be awesome and this is without doubt the standout fixture this week.  Either way, north London will be red on Sunday but then again the Spurs fans should be used to that by now!

UTA

Harry

The Gunners miss out on yet another Transfer Target!

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Gonzalo Higuain transfer – Is he worth £75m?

On Tuesday afternoon Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain completed his transfer from Napoli to Juventus.

The deal worth in excess of £75m means Gonzalo Higuain transfer makes him the third most expensive player of all time only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Arsenal were strongly linked with the striker and it seems as though they’ve missed out on yet another transfer target.

Were the Gunners wrong to pass up the opportunity to sign him?

Assuming the Gunners were even in for him, I believe they have missed out on one of the top three strikers in Europe.

His goal record speaks for itself, he joined Napoli from Real Madrid back in July 2013 and since joining the ‘Gli Azzuri’ has scored 71 goals in 104 appearances. 36 goals in Serie A last season means Gonzalo was the second highest league goalscorer in Europe only behind Luis Suarez of Barcelona.

There is no doubt about it, £75m is a hefty fee and with that kind of price tag he will be expected to re-produce the form that earned him the move immediately.

Arsene Wenger will tell us that there is a shortage of world class strikers around and thats why we are yet to bring one in. Whilst I agree there aren’t too many around the former Real Madrid striker is definitely one of them.

When it comes to the transfer market, timing is everything. Had the Arsenal made the approach before Juventus decided to cash in on Paul Pogba would we have been able to outbid the Italian champions?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, whilst I’m unsure on the excessive price tag, one thing I am sure of is there aren’t too many strikers in world football hotter than Gonzalo Higuain.

Another transfer target gone, key players to miss the start of the season and Arsenal look a long way off being ready for the opening weekend.

@HarrySymeou
@sofasportsnews_

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