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Arsenal round-up: Formation change; Sanchez ready to return; Monreal on defensive issues

Jake Jackman

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Arsenal are going to welcome Bournemouth to the Emirates Stadium tomorrow and the Telegraph report that Arsene Wenger is considering changing his formation. He had started the season with a 3-4-2-1 formation, but he could be ready to go back to the 4-2-3-1 that he has favoured during his managerial career. The team have struggled with defensive balance and a tweak to the formation might help solve that problem.

The Gunners need to be flexible when it comes to tactics and be able to switch depending on the opposition. Arsene Wenger appears to lack that and the 3-4-2-1 formation hasn’t looked to be well coached, which is why the Frenchman should go back to the 4-2-3-1. This is what he has coached for most of his managerial career and he understands what is required to make it successful. The lack of quality central defenders at the club is another reason why the change would be worthwhile, as there isn’t an obvious candidate to be the third centre-back.

Alexis Sanchez is raring to go after the international break and ready to prove his quality in the Arsenal team. It would have been disappointing for the Chilean to miss out on a move to Manchester City, especially after an offer was accepted by the Gunners. However, he can’t afford to sulk and lose form in a World Cup year. His latest post on Instagram suggests that he has returned to North London with the right mentality.

The supporters will be delighted that he has remained at the club, but it will only have been a decision worth making for the club if he applies himself on the pitch. There are few better players in the Premier League and if he performs to his ability, he could help Arsenal to have a great season. It is encouraging that he looks ready to put the transfer saga behind him, but it remains to be seen how much effort he is willing to put in on the pitch.

Nacho Monreal is the latest Arsenal player to admit defensive issues and attributes the problems to the negative atmosphere in an interview with the Evening Standard:

“I have to say that in the last three games we have conceded eight goals and this is a lot,” 

“This year we won the Community Shield. The problem is the last two games we lost and the atmosphere is a bit nervous, but I think from tomorrow if we play a good game and get three points, we will have more confidence and we will improve.

“We need to improve a lot. Our target is to win the Premier League, and obviously we can’t win it if we keep playing like we did against Liverpool.”

The defensive record at the beginning of this season is a huge concern and the main reason that Wenger should change back to a 4-2-3-1. It is the system that his players are most comfortable with and they can no longer afford to take risks. They need to rebuild their confidence and start to build up a good run of form, before they are cut adrift of the top.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: Unstoppable Harry Kane the difference again for Spurs

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Tottenham stole a march over London rivals Arsenal to further cement their hold on a top four place.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Harry Kane was the match-winner as Tottenham Hotspur beat fierce rivals Arsenal to tighten their grip on qualification for next season’s Champions League.

The England striker headed home Ben Davies’ cross for his 23rd Premier League goal of the campaign, just after half-time.

Spurs deserved to win the match – and Kane perhaps should have added to his tally – although substitute Alexandre Lacazette squandered two late opportunities to snatch a point for the Gunners.

Victory moved Tottenham above Chelsea and into fourth spot in the table but crucially, their advantage over sixth-placed Arsenal now stands at seven points.

Having missed out on the top four last season, the Gunners face another uphill battle following their third successive away defeat.

Here are three talking points from an enthralling north London derby…

Dominant Spurs show their mettle

During a tricky spell of results, doubts were cast over Tottenham’s top-four credentials. They have surely now been banished.

Runs of fixtures don’t come much trickier than Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Not only did Spurs come through unscathed with seven points from a possible nine, but the football they played showed they are more than a match for any Premier League team – and arguably the best suited to challenge the supremacy of Manchester City.

The margin of victory over Arsenal may have been only a single goal, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men were dominant in every department.

They peppered Petr Cech’s goal and the ingenuity and creativity of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen perfectly complemented Kane’s ruthlessness.

Defensively, they are very sound and the depth of the squad was highlighted by the options Pochettino had on his bench.

Now nine games unbeaten, Spurs are peaking at the right time.

Arsenal’s top-four hopes suffer hammer blow

From the positivity that emerged from Arsenal’s thumping of Everton last weekend, this was a reality check.

The big trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were in the starting XI once again, but they couldn’t have the influence that tore the Toffees to shreds seven days earlier.

With 11 games remaining, the Gunners are somewhat cut adrift in the race for the top four.

There is no denying this defeat was a hammer blow to their ambitions.

Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification last season for the first time since Arsene Wenger took the reins and revolutionised the club.

Despite the investment made during the summer and in January, it looks like the same fate will befall them this campaign.

Success in the Europa League – mirroring Manchester United last season – increasingly appears to be their most likely route back into Europe’s showpiece competition.

Unstoppable Kane is the difference once again

It feels like every time Spurs win, Kane is the man they have to thank.

The 24-year-old moved to 101 Premier League goals and decided the outcome of this derby with a towering header that gave Cech no chance.

Is there no stopping this prolific goalscorer, who continues to go from strength to strength?

In truth, Kane could have walked away with a hat-trick, but his seventh goal in as many north London derbies was sufficient to claim the three points.

Kane is not just a traditional number nine – his all-round game is mightily impressive.

This was a man-of-the-match display in which he showed off all facets to his game.

From spraying 40-yard passes, holding up the ball and pulling defenders out of position, to possessing an unerring ability to find himself in space, this was a complete performance by a remarkable player.

Keeping Kane at the club could well be the biggest challenge Tottenham face this summer, if suitors come calling.

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Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke

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There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…

Arsenal

There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  

Chelsea

It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th

Liverpool

You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan now requires consistency to live up to his reputation at Arsenal

After an impressive cameo in Arsenal’s 5-1 victory over Everton on Sunday, Henrikh Mkhitaryan now needs to maintain his level of performance if he is to fulfill his potential in the Premier League, writers Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Photo: Reuters

Arsenal were one of the more active sides during the January transfer window and the addition of Henrikh Mkhitaryan could be looked back on as one of the signings of the season.

The Armenian international joined in part-exchange for the unpopular Alexis Sanchez and the Gunners side that played against Everton this past weekend looked to be much freer on the pitch.

It would be simplistic to suggest it was entirely down to Mkhitaryan and fellow new signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but they clearly had a positive impact on the squad.

This level of performance will have to be displayed on a more consistent basis before supporters get too excited about this representing a new dawn for the club, but the first signs were encouraging.

Arsenal played Everton off the pitch and were out of sight by half-time. The match finished in a comfortable 5-1 win for the home side.

Although it was a disappointment not to keep a clean sheet, the side were near perfect throughout and that gives them something to build on heading into the closing months of the season.

It was a surprise when the rumoured swap deal involving Sanchez and Mkhitaryan eventually went through.

In the modern game, it is rare for straight swap deals to happen and it is even less common for it to involve two clubs that have been fierce rivals in the recent past.

The majority of the coverage suggested that it was a far better deal for Manchester United and it was seen as a sign of weakness from Arsenal.

Considering the form of the two players since arriving in England, that is a difficult viewpoint to argue against.

However, the Gunners will have seen the appeal of signing an experienced international and his first start indicated that he could be a huge success in North London.

The former Borussia Dortmund player made an immediate impact and contributed three assists during the match.

Manchester United had signed him in 2016 to add creativity to their ranks and although he threatened to do that at times, he never found his stride at Old Trafford.

It can be argued that his performance against Everton on his Arsenal home debut was the best of his Premier League career to date.

Given it came just weeks into his career in North London, there is reason to be genuinely excited about what he can achieve in a Gunners’ shirt.

Mkhitaryan was most dangerous down the right-wing, as he twice got free and supplied good balls in for two of Aaron Ramsey’s goals.

However, one advantage of playing him in a front three with Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi and Aubameyang was that he could interchange positions as the game progressed.

His second assist came when he moved into a central area and played a nice through ball to the striker he regularly supplied at Borussia Dortmund.

Their previous relationship has allowed both to settle quickly into the Arsenal team and the benefits were there to be seen on the weekend.

The Armenian played only three key passes, which is a surprise considering his influence on the game, but those that witnessed the whole match will attest to his quality.

He looked a completely different player to the one that was devoid of confidence at Manchester United.

In addition to creating several chances and making three goals, Mkhitaryan came close to scoring himself.

He popped up on the right wing in the first half and cut inside before producing a powerful effort that went just wide of the post.

Jose Mourinho was reluctant to give a prominent role to the attacker at Old Trafford as he had doubts about Mkhitaryan’s defensive work.

However, that part of his game was very impressive against Everton, as he won four aerial duels and completed seven ball recoveries.

He attempted 10 tackles in all and was successful in less than half of them (four), but he showed a willingness to work hard and that will have pleased Arsene Wenger.

The next challenge for Mkhitaryan will be to find the consistency that alluded him during his time in England so far.

He has shown flashes of his ability, but he hasn’t lived up to his reputation and his confidence levels dropped as a result.

His home debut should have provided him with plenty of that and it is crucial that he uses that to motivate him over the rest of the season.

If he can maintain this high level, Arsenal will have the player that Manchester United had hoped they were getting when they signed the Armenian.

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