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Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Jake Jackman




Arsenal earned a credible draw from the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Chelsea. The Gunners started the evening as big outsiders when the teams were announced. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech were all not in the starting eleven. It was a particular surprise that Sanchez wasn’t starting and it feared many to suggest it might indicate he is set to leave the club.

The home side picked a near full-strength team and gave another chance to misfiring Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard made the headlines last week against Arsenal in the Premier League as he missed a host of great chances. Chelsea had reason to be motivated for this tie, as it was Arsenal that beat them in the FA Cup final last season. Antonio Conte won’t have forgotten that, but he will be angry at his team’s performance. They didn’t play with enough intensity and were wasteful in the final third. This tie is delicately poised ahead of the second leg. Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge:

Eden Hazard isn’t as influential as he needs to be

The Chelsea attacker is a difficult player to judge. At times, he can be sensational and do things with the ball that other players can only dream of doing. However, he can be a frustrating player to watch and the last few months have been underwhelming at best. It was difficult for him to start the season late due to injury. He didn’t have a pre-season and was expected to come straight back in to team at a high standard.

This Chelsea team is significantly worse than the one that one the title. They are predictable in attack and rely too much on Hazard to produce in the final third. When he is playing poorly, the team suffer and that was the case on Wednesday night. He completed two dribbles, two key passes and attempted one shot on goal.

In the free role given to him by Antonio Conte, he needs to be more decisive in big matches. The very best players deliver when it matters and the stage was set for Hazard against Arsenal, but he couldn’t do it. The problem with his current role is that he drops deep and wide too often, which makes it easy for the opposition defenders. He is most dangerous when he is in central areas and the manager needs to look at the current system to see if any changes can be made to get the best from the Belgian.

Life without Ozil and Sanchez looks bleak for Arsenal

Arsene Wenger will see this as a great result for his team and it is. Few people would have expected them to avoid defeat in this leg, especially after the two line-ups were announced. This was Arsenal’s third draw against Chelsea this season and that suggests that they are similar quality. However, the Blues have been the better side in all three matches and the lack of ambition showed by the visitors on Wednesday went against their traditional style.

Arsenal started the game without Ozil and Sanchez, which limited their attacking threat. Wenger realised that his team lacked creativity, so he chose to play three quick attackers and look to counter-attack. Apart from one snapshot from Alexandre Lacazette in the first-half, they offered little threat and didn’t look like scoring.

During the last 20 years, Arsenal have been renowned for their entertaining style of play. Wenger was once criticised for not having a plan b, but on Wednesday, his side was pragmatic and dug in to remain on level terms in the tie. Supporters will accept this type of performance occasionally, but it could quickly become the norm once Ozil and Sanchez depart.

Chelsea’s formation isn’t balanced

Last season, Antonio Conte showed his tactical brilliance as he changed the formation to 3-4-3 and they became unplayable as a result. They won the league title comfortably, but they have recently changed to a 3-5-2 formation and it isn’t working. Chelsea have now drawn four of their last six matches and that is indicative of their lack of balance at the time of writing.

One of the issues is that they have a three-man midfield, but it is a defensive combination and there is too much being asked of the two strikers. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses were expected to take on a large share of the creative burden on Wednesday and that is a worry for a team expecting to challenge for major trophies.

Danny Drinkwater was signed during the recent summer transfer window and it was a puzzling transfer at the time. After seeing his first few months at Chelsea, it is even more difficult to justify his signing. He offered very little against Arsenal and was a passenger for long periods. Conte will be hoping that Ross Barkley can tilt the balance in favour of the attack, but if he doesn’t, a change back to 3-4-3 may be required.

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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Brenden

    January 11, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    I see the problem with Chelsea playing with Hazard in a central area he needs to be played left of the striker and allowed to drift inside. The other problem with the squad is crossing into Morata he has become a one trick pony and is to easy to stop. He needs to gain 10 pounds of muscle and learn to bully defenders and hold up play finesse soccer should not be his strong suit this isn’t La Liga Defenders in the EPL like to Bang. Chelsea would be best served if they switched to a 4-2-3-1 Moses-Azpi/ Rudiger-Christensen/ Cahill-Alonso Kante/Bakyoko-Fabergas/Drinkwater Hazard-Willian-Pedro Morata/Bats.

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Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech



Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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