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Coutinho and Özil – So Similar Yet So Different

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I don’t usually involve myself in player comparison debates that now transcend football. The success of Twitter is essentially founded upon these discussions but even so, I find them to be tedious and ultimately irrelevant. You can almost guarantee that nobody is going to change their opinion of Emile Heskey because of what I have to say. It’s relevance is entirely eliminated by the fact that José Mourinho is certain to not suddenly rate Victor Moses because someone on Twitter won a debate and earned a few retweets. So, to completely contradict the beliefs I just listed above I am now involving myself in the recent Coutinho versus Özil feud.

The first thing to be made aware of is; despite a natural preference to playing the number 10 role, they are in fact vastly different players. Before comparing them, I will first analyse them individually to better unveil their differences and ultimately the superior Premier League player.

Let’s look at Mesut Özil first. The German arrived from Real Madrid for £42.5 million when it became clear that he was out of favour at the Spanish giants. His price tag provoked much debate and outrage and was not at all isolated to Arsenal supporters only. The players at the club however, were delighted – especially the German contingent.

Fears over his hefty fee were diminished to an extent with his hugely impressive debut featuring an assist for Olivier Giroud and his early performances were very exciting. Arsenals fans; as they so often do, hyped him up to the extent that he had immense expectations to fulfil.

Özil’s sphere of influence is most extensive when he is played down the middle in his favoured number 10 role. It is from here that he is best able to pull the strings and create openings for his team-mates. When the German moved from the Spanish capital, the remaining players at The Santiago Bernabéu were dismayed, especially Cristiano Ronaldo. The footballing icon said that he was disappointed because Özil was the man who best knew his moves in front of goal. It is this seemingly telepathic knowledge of his team-mates’ intentions that makes him stand out. Moving the German maverick out onto the wing is bordering on the sacrilegious. It is no wonder that he goes missing when he is shunted far from his ideal location, as it greatly restricts his ability to play.

Perhaps Özil’s biggest flaw is his tendency to appear absent in big games. It could really be down to any number of things. As I previously mentioned, in matches where he operates in a wide role, he loses a degree of effectiveness that he would otherwise possess in a central position. Another point of contention is that Arsenal’s £ 42.5 million man needs to be constantly supplied with the ball to make things happen, as he is not happy to run all over the park in search of it but would rather it be handed to him to allow his natural flair to be expressed.

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That’s enough about Özil though. Now on to Philippe Coutinho – arguably one of the biggest bargain buys in world football at just £ 8.5 million. The diminutive Brazilian arrived from Inter Milan in January 2013 and caught the eye of many with his flashy and expansive style. His first goal came on his full debut during the 5-0 rout of Swansea after a brilliant ball supplied by Luis Suarez.

As with Özil, Coutinho is at his creative best behind the striker and much to the frustration of Liverpool fans, it seemed to take Brendan Rodgers several months to realize this. With the number 10 being shoved onto the left wing where he is still capable of doing a great job, his skill-set is nonetheless limited to a portion of the pitch rather than opening up the whole field for his exploits.

Initially, Coutinho’s shooting was erratic and his conversion rate was perhaps even worse than Mario Balotelli’s. Recently however, he has picked up the knack for scoring world class efforts from a considerable distance. It has seemed to come somewhat out of the blue but all of a sudden goalkeepers across England are genuinely worried about him in front of goal. This is even more impressive when you consider that scoring is not even his primary objective.

Since Luis Suarez left for the sunny isles of Spain and Daniel Sturridge has taken up temporary residence in a nursing home in Boston, Philippe Coutinho has become Liverpool’s most important player of the last year. Possibly the most impressive feature of the trickster’s persona is his mentality in big games and the way he takes on the opposition head first. Anybody watching last season’s tie between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield will vouch for the immense presence that the little man had on the pitch.

I would like to impress upon you the difficulty of separating the two of these players and distinguishing between them. They are both similar in that they both prefer to occupy the number 10 role but Coutinho has the edge where versatility is concerned, as he is not entirely limited on the flank, still capable of placing his renowned mark on proceedings. In fact, the Brazilian’s best goals have been scored when cutting in from the left and whipping in a shot with his favoured right foot.

Despite Mesut Özil having accomplished fabulous moments during his career such as playing for Los Blancos and winning the World Cup with Germany, he has never quite looked settled as a Premier League player. His form has been sporadic at best and given his price tag and talent, this is unacceptable. Therefore, adding my voice to the debate of who the superior player is, I would have to choose Coutinho as a result of his form in the last two seasons and rapidly establishing himself as a top Premier League performer on a consistent basis. That being said, I do still believe that all the criticism heaped upon Arsenal’s play-maker is far from deserved and he will come good given due time. What is less certain is whether The Emirates faithful will possess sufficient patience to eventually bask in this glory.


Featured image: All rights reserved by AJ.B Photography

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Aspiring sports writing currently completing final year of high-school education. Your typical die-hard fan of Liverpool. Founder of rousingthekop.wordpress.com

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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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An absence of progress at Arsenal leaves Arsene Wenger in danger of becoming the villain

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”.

So says Harvey Dent, a character in the 2008 DC Comics action movie The Dark Night Rises, which portrays the story of the fictional superhero Batman as he fights against organised crime in Gotham City.

There may be no men dressed as bats around the Emirates Stadium but it is a quote that might resonate with the thoughts and feelings of a growing number of Arsenal supporters regarding the position of Arsene Wenger in recent seasons.

The Frenchman is one of the most influential and successful managers in the club’s history, having secured ten major trophies since his appointment in 1996 and overseen the transition from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, but has come under increasing pressure over the last three seasons as The Gunners struggle to maintain the pace set by their title rivals.

The previous campaign was tainted by calls from from a portion of the Arsenal fan base for the 68-year-old to resign, although the club eventually opted to hand him a new two-year deal.

However, eight months on  and Wenger’s position has never been more fragile and the number of dissenting voices in the stands is beginning to increase.

The frustration around the Emirates Stadium is completely understandable. The Gunners are 23 points behind league leaders Manchester City, face an uphill task to qualify for the Champions League next season and suffered an early exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Nottingham Forrest.

Furthermore, Arsenal are in danger of losing two of their prize assets in the summer for nothing after allowing the contracts of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to run down into their final year. The unwillingness of the duo to remain in North London is a definitive sign that the club are no longer considered to be a significant threat in the domestic game.

With the club slipping behind their title rivals and struggling to retain key players, Wenger is in danger of turning from a hero into a villain.

A lack of forward momentum

The one thing that Arsenal have lacked this season, and arguably for a number of years, is a sense that the club is making progress or moving in the right direction.

The Gunners have been on a gradual decline that is only now beginning to come to the fore and there has been nothing to suggest that Arsene Wenger has the vision or prowess to reinvigorate a club that is anchored in stagnation. Even success in the FA Cup has felt like a brief moment of respite rather than a signal that a corner had been turned.

The Frenchman has failed to correct the issues that have undermined the team on the pitch, exemplified by his inability to purchase a top-quality central defender or defensive midfielder, and it has now been nearly thirteen years since the club last won the Premier League title.

A sense of progress is why Jurgen Klopp and Mauriccio Pochettino have sustained their positions at Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, despite failing to secure any silverware between them and have retained the favour of their club’s supporters.

Both have implemented a clear philosophy and playing style whilst creating the feeling around Anfield and Wembley that the team is moving forward in the right direction.

Wenger has secured more silverware than both Klopp and Pochettino combined since 2014 yet he finds himself under increasing pressure due to a lack of any forward momentum at the Emirates Stadium.

Whilst there is a general feeling that Liverpool and Tottenham are improving, the perception of many Arsenal supporters is that the club is standing still at best and certainly slipping behind their counterparts.

There have been question marks around Wenger’s future for some time and yet this feels like the 68-year-old is on the edge of cliff.

Success in the FA Cup has provided him with a degree of respite in recent years which made his team selection for the defeat to Nottingham Forrest appear especially bizarre.

With Arsenal already out of the title race you would have thought that Wenger would have put extra emphasis on winning the competition which, arguably, allowed him to negotiate a new contract in the summer.

However, such is the obvious disparity in quality between the Gunners and Manchester City that Wenger can no longer hide behind domestic cup success.

Failure to qualify for the Champions League for a second consecutive year would signify how far the club has fallen and the pressure on the Frenchman has been further exacerbated by the seemingly imminent departures of Sanchez and Ozil.

Whilst Liverpool and Tottenham are moving forward, Arsenal seem to be moving backwards. With Wenger’s position appearing increasingly fragile and the club in decline you have to wonder whether the Frenchman has now become the villain of the piece.

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Why Manchester United must go all out to steal Alexis Sanchez away from Manchester City

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Photo: Reuters

In the midst of winter, things are starting to heat up.

It seemed for all the world that Manchester City were finally going to get their man in the January transfer window after missing out on Arsenal talisman Alexis Sanchez on deadline day in late August.

On that occasion they offered £60 million to lure the Chilean to the Etihad, only to see their offer rebuffed by the Gunners after Arsene Wenger failed with his pursuit of replacement Thomas Lemar.

Instead, it seemed inevitable that Pep Guardiola would finally persuade Arsenal into selling once January came around, a feeling that has grown due to a lack of contract negotiations between Sanchez and his current Club – although it may not be as straightforward a move as first seemed.

Quite sensational reports from around the globe over the past two days have now suggested that City’s bitter rivals Manchester United are also in the race to sign the soon to be out-of-contract Arsenal forward.

Sky Sports Italia were the ones that broke the news on Thursday, claiming that United have now entered advanced talks with Sanchez’s agent ahead of a proposed move to Old Trafford this month.

The report also claims that United are preparing to offer a larger transfer fee – which the The Guardian believe to be in the region of £25 million – than Manchester City, and that any deal that would see Sanchez move to Old Trafford could also see the out-of-favour Henrikh Mkhitaryan go the other way.

And quite frankly, if there’s any truth behind these reports, United should go all out to get him.

After starting the Premier League season in fine form, setting the pace with City at the top of the table, United’s form has derailed somewhat and it seems that their pre-season hopes of the title are a distant memory.

That’s not to say that they’ve been poor, because they haven’t.

Not many teams only lose three times in the opening 22 league matches yet find themselves 15 points behind the leaders, and the size of the gap is testament to just how good City have been.

Yet it’s hard to deny that there has been a spark missing at Old Trafford this season since their blistering start to the 2017-18 campaign, and a player in the mould of Sanchez could be exactly the tonic required for a mid-season boost.

There’s a distinct lack of width in the United side, something that boss Jose Mourinho has been aware of for a while after trying – and ultimately failing – with his pursuit of Ivan Perisic last year.

Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata have all played their parts in wide areas but none are fully comfortable there, and United are in need of a fully-fledged winger who possesses the talent to deliver consistently into the area for the likes of Romelu Lukaku to work with.

And in Sanchez there’s few better options around as of now.

His Premier League pedigree is anything but a secret, scoring 31 times in his last 57 appearances since the start of last season, and he can add 13 assists to his impressive record during this period.

Mourinho is on the hunt for a creative hub and the Chilean forward is just that, and despite coming in for criticism this season for his performances he’s still created 50 clear-cut chances for Arsenal, only second to Mesut Ozil.

For a point of comparison United’s most creative player this season has been Mata, crafting 31 opportunities for his teammates, and that just shows the impact Sanchez could have upon arrival.

Yet, a move for Sanchez would run far deeper than just his creativity.

He’s a player ideal for Mourinho, one that’s determined, willing to give his all until the final whistle and leave nothing behind on the pitch, and his never-say-die attitude could lift the Old Trafford dressing room no end.

It seems to be a viewpoint that is shared by those with an avid interest in United too, with ex-defender Phil Neville telling Sky Sports that it could be an ‘unbelievable’ coup for them should they pull it off.

Addressing the transfer rumours yesterday, he said:

“It’s pretty obvious he’s not going to stay at Arsenal. I think if United were going to buy him, £25m would be an absolute snip.

“United missed out on buying Ivan Perisic in the summer, and with that missed out on a winger. I think Sanchez provides the quality, the goals and the world-class ability he has got.

“I think it would be an unbelievable signing. If you look back at the big signings over the decades, [Eric] Cantona came out of the hat, [Robin] Van Persie was a surprise, and they both helped United win titles. I think this could have a similar impact. He’s got the character to play at Old Trafford.”

His point on Cantona and Van Persie is a hugely valid one, and whilst a move for Sanchez now isn’t likely to help them overhaul Manchester City this season it sets them up perfectly for next time out – and could help their Champions League push in the latter part of 2017-2018.

However, perhaps more than anything, being able to hijack Manchester City’s proposed move for him would almost give them an air of having something over their rivals in a season where Guardiola has dominated.

Should the rumours be true, and should both Manchester sides be in for Sanchez, then ultimately the Chilean’s choice of final destination will be down to his personal preference – and this would say a lot.

January is often known for being a more mundane transfer window than the summer installment but that’s certainly not the case this time around, and Manchester United could be drawing ever closer to one of the most memorable hijacks in Premier League history.

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