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What would constitute a successful January for Arsenal?

Jake Jackman

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

Arsenal are facing a crucial January transfer window, despite Arsene Wenger’s own preference to do no business during the season. The Gunners have pushed themselves into a corner when it comes to the contracts of key first-team players.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have been widely written about for over a year. Both are now in the final six months of their contracts and able to discuss terms with foreign clubs with a view to a Bosman transfer this summer. Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere is another who is approaching a contractual impasse, but if the club want to keep him, he will be easier to renew.

The current state of the Premier League makes the contractual situation particularly difficult for Arsenal.

On the one hand, it would be foolish to lose two world-class talents like Ozil and Sanchez for free. If you take this stance, it makes sense to sell both during this window as they are still able to bring in some money, even if it is below their valuation of the players. The former has been linked with Manchester United, while the latter has been heavily linked with Manchester City.

It would be a blow to lose them to rival clubs, but it would be more embarrassing if they moved to the same sides on a free transfer at the end of the current season.

On the other hand, Arsenal are approaching a key period in their history and if they are to propel themselves back to be a club that challenges for major honours, they need Champions League football.

The competitiveness of the Premier League means that there is a chance for the Gunners to finish in a top four, but this would be severely hurt if they were to lose their two best assets.

The Europa League offers another chance to qualify and they are currently one of the favourites to win the competition. That would change if their squad became weaker over the next month.

Wenger will realise that his club need to project a positive image if they are to sufficiently replace Ozil and Sanchez if the duo do move on. Champions League qualification will be central to convincing top-tier replacements and they need the unsettled duo in order to get that.

This next month should be focused on bringing players in to strengthen their cause, rather than spending time dealing with speculation about outgoings.

For that reason, it is imperative that Arsenal send out a strong message early on and tell interested clubs that neither player will leave in January. This will have financial implications, but the Gunners must prioritise Champions League qualification.

Although it would be self-destructive to sell either player in this window, Arsenal can’t be stupid and they must start planning for their eventual departures. It would be a lot better for the club if they were to bring in attacking reinforcements in January with the view that the players coming in would eventually replace Sanchez and Ozil.

One high-profile player that they could tempt to the Emirates Stadium in January is Julian Draxler. The Paris Saint Germain midfielder is not first choice for the French club and he will have ambitions of starting for Germany at the World Cup.

In addition, the club themselves are in danger of Financial Fair Play punishments after their big-spending summer. There were reports in Spain, following the previous transfer window, that the Ligue 1 leaders would have to sell players to meet UEFA regulations and the German international is one of their most saleable assets.

Draxler has shown flashes of his ability in France, but he has the potential to perform at a higher level and a move to the Premier League could provide him with the platform to fulfil that.

The German has been a long-time target for Arsenal and it would be a move that makes sense for all parties, if the price tag is a fair one. If the 24-year-old was to arrive in North London, he would be viewed as a long-term replacement for his compatriot Ozil, rather than Sanchez.

As he is one of the best players in the Premier League, it will be near impossible to replace Sanchez with a player of similar quality. However, a move for Riyad Mahrez could fit the bill and go some way to filling the massive hole left by the Chilean.

The Algerian international won the PFA Player of the Year award during the 2015/16 season, which showed that he has the ability to consistently perform to a high level in the Premier League.

Since then, he has lacked the same motivation, but in recent weeks, he has been excellent. The winger has two goals and three assists in his last four matches for Leicester City. Although Claude Puel would like to keep him, it will be difficult for the Foxes to stand in the player’s way if a good offer is forthcoming.

Finally, if they do choose to be active in the transfer window, they should be looking at defensive reinforcements. Arsene Wenger has favoured the 3-4-3 formation, but he lacks depth at centre-back. Against Chelsea, he had to start with Rob Holding and Calum Chambers, neither of whom have the required quality to start regularly for a club with Champions League ambition.

Liverpool’s signing of Virgil van Dijk is likely to inflate the prices, but there could be an opportunity for Arsenal to sign somebody of good quality. West Bromwich Albion’s Jonny Evans has been a target in the past, but that would not be one to get the supporters excited.

Wenger likes working with young players and he will be aware of the best prospects coming through across Europe. Manuel Akanji is highly rated and has been linked, by the Independent, with Liverpool and Dortmund. He is a player the Gunners should be looking at.

It remains unlikely that Arsenal will do business in January. Arsene Wenger has rarely been active in the mid-season window, but if he wants to provide his squad with more balance and fresh impetus, he should be looking to bring in attacking and defensive reinforcements.

Supporters will be more concerned with the possible departures of Ozil and Sanchez. However, the time has gone to sell them. If the club do it this month, they would be crazy.

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

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
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

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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

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Bournemouth
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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