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Alcantara, Wilshere and Verratti: The Three Midfield Musketeers

The Boot Room

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Three names; Thiago Alcantara, Jack Wilshere and Marco Verratti.

This was a spontaneous twitter debate, where the person asking actually had a point and was not getting the answers he desired, just loads of unprintable abuse and scorn. Since it was a drop of the hat debate, I decided to go off cuff and actually debate it off of the top of my head.

Jack Wilshere has actually been around for so long till he feels old, an infant fossil sort of. After THAT performance against Barcelona he was typified as the great hope of the English midfield yiddi yadda, it has come to pass that even supporters of his club do not rate him as much. So what changed? Has Jack regressed? I personally wouldn’t go as far as say he has regressed but partly due to a bombed confidence and an array of injuries he hasn’t quite developed as projected, back in 2010 Pep Guardiola declared that La Masia had 20 Jack Wilshere’s. While the technical ability has never been in question, the application of it is almost always in query, his in game management can be spectacularly poor or if he gets it right he is an unplayable midfield metronome, gliding between the lines with those stout lines like Casper the Holy Ghost and keeping things moving. So while he might not have in the strictest sense of the word gone backwards, he hasn’t progressed either. He has played central midfield, defensive midfield, right midfield and attacking midfield and in THAT game he went toe to toe with Busquets, Hernandez and Andres and you can be sure they remembered the little English lad who tackled like a seasoned center back but passed the ball like a young Pirlo. I’ve always liked to think that played further forward he could be a devastating goal scorer as evidenced in his youth career numbers which he has not at all matched at senior level. And indecision on when to press or not to holds back his influence even defensively on games and at times lets down his whole team, his tactical understanding of the game I feel has not grown in any way. His current state is more mental than physical, his timing of when to play the simple pass, when to retain the ball, when to release a player, when to tackle or when to press. Jack gets lost in games that maybe at 18 years old he would have dominated single handedly, has the natural instinct been coached out of him by Arsene Wenger’s constant chopping and changing his position? The players around him have also influenced the way he plays and at times he might feel like he has to do more to influence games when his older contemporaries go into hiding and it ends up being a Steven Gerrardesque type of one man to the rescue of the planet type of performance, rarely ends well.

Marco Verratti; young, impetuous, super charged, outrageously talented, arrogant and opinionated. Straight from Pescara to the apex of the European game with PSG, testament to his capabilities he slotted right into the Qatari money funded midfield, expensively assembled but that is of no concern to the impertinent Italian. Two inches shorter than Jack he is nonetheless just as Brutish and tears about the defensive and middle third of the pitch with a zeal that oft manifests itself in many a yellow card. But when on the ball this insatiable little bundle of energy is a Van Gogh to look at, his ball retention in the tightest of spaces is a marvel, his progressive passing leaves one awestruck, the control and calm he exudes on a game is exemplary for one who went from the Italian second division straight into the very top of the European game. His defensive game isn’t lacking in zest though a notoriously bad tackler, the man playing alongside him is very important in keeping the rash side of his game well under wraps. Albeit a goal shy midfielder his other qualities more than make up for it, it is an area that can be improved, he almost scoffs at having to play in the attacking third of the pitch. His reading of a game for one so young cannot be explained, always open to team mates for the pass, always looking to either retain it or play it on. He has had Carlo Ancelloti and Laurent Blanc as his coaches, but you get the sense that his development is more down to his indispensable qualities than any coaching the two men could have indulged in. paired with an older more experienced head like Thiago Motta he is steadily on his way to claim the title of the best Regista in the business when Pirlo, Carrick and Xavi retire.

Thiago Alcantara is Pep’s dream come true, seeing as he could not prise away either Xavi or Iniesta due to age and circumstance, Pep with an insider’s knowledge stole the Catalan’s most prized asset, it is even claimed that he only asked for Thiago as his sole transfer when he was taking the Bayern Munchen reins. The hype behind this fiery midfield maverick I have to say is justified, a year older than the aforementioned duo, he is 5 foot 7, just like Jack Wilshere and just as naturally gifted if not more, technically otherworldly. His development at the very top has been stunted by injuries but he always seems to come back better which isn’t in line with any known science. His close affiliation to the La Masia breeding ground and his very apparent Brasilian roots make for interesting flair, a central midfielder by trade, he can play as a box to box or can sit alongside another midfielder, in a way he is a quarterback and his vision and the way his passing from deep opens up spaces shows exactly why he is teacher’s pet. His close control is a wonder, not averse to the odd showboating now then during matches, his quick feet bamboozles the first press and the awareness to release the pass at precisely the right time is what distinguishes him from Jack Wilshere. As a midfielder his pressing is one of the most impressive aspects to his game, he knows when to stick or twist, when to tackle or when to backtrack. His tactical understanding of the game is very mature and it has to have something to do with the guidance of Pep Guardiola and the philosophy in place at La Masia. His bloody mindedness oft stands him in good stead to dominate a game single handedly and he only makes his team mates play better, not much of a goal scorer though when he pops up with a goal, more often than not it is a worldie. What his best position is is up to date, probably not as an exclusively deep lying playmaker since his defensive side while quite okay isn’t exactly Claude Makelele like. A sprightly lad and probably one with the best platform to perform given his manager and the sort of club he plays for. When given the license to roam he can do no wrong, poetry in motion if anything.

The debate of who is better is a chicken, egg, yolk one. All born within 17 months of each other, all physically almost similar, all almost former trequartistas transitioned into regista’s , what distinguishes one from the other? Thiago would seem the better of the trio but mostly in part due to his innate intelligence and understanding of the game which is well beyond his years, the scope with which he influences a game’s tempo and contributes both defensively and offensively is superior to Jack and Marco but Marco isn’t very far behind him in terms of influencing the tempo of a game. Dictating the flow of a game is very important and an oft overlooked aspect of the best Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams, depending on the score and the aim of the team during a game, these registas are the in game managers. Perhaps when a team is losing the tempo is increased, when a team is preserving a lead the tempo is slowed down but not killed completely, Paul Scholes was a master at killing the tempo of an attacking team due to the passes he chose and ball retention, Marco and Thiago have mastered that art, Jack hasn’t come along that far and the tactical side of the game still escapes him, that is an aspect that can be corrected. So who is superior is up to your point of view and what rocks your boat, these three are the three midfield musketeers.

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Arsenal

What can Arsenal supporters expect from Unai Emery?

The 46-year-old looks set to be named as the next Arsenal manager.

Jake Jackman

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Unai Emery
Photo: Getty Images

There has been much speculation about who would be the manager tasked with following Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

Former player Mikel Arteta has been the bookmaker’s favourite for a long time, but BBC Sport report that Unai Emery is set to become the new boss at the Emirates Stadium.

There has been a widespread search for the next manager, with the Arsenal hierarchy keen to make the right appointment and avoid the deep that Manchester United suffered after Sir Alex Ferguson.

The report goes on to say that Emery was the unanimous choice and an official announcement and press conference could take place as soon as the end of the week.

Emery arrived after leading PSG at the end of the French season.

Although it will be remembered as an underwhelming spell in Ligue 1, he did manage to win a league title and four domestic cups.

(Photo by Christophe Simon/Getty Images)

His performances in the Champions League weren’t great and he struggled to manage a squad full of big characters.

However, the club from the French capital are now part of Europe’s elite and no coach has managed to be a total success there.

The job at Arsenal seems more suitable to Emery and comparable to the situation he found himself in at Sevilla. He wasn’t in charge of one of the biggest clubs in the league, but he was expected to challenge for Champions League qualification and trophies.

During his time with the Spanish outfit, he oversaw impressive recruitment and won three successive Europa League trophies.

Considering the strength of the Premier League, it could be that the second European competition could be Arsenal’s best route into the Champions League.

In Emery, they will have one of the most successful coaches in the competition’s history. That can hardly be considered a bad thing.

There won’t be a tactical revolution at Arsenal after Wenger, with Emery likely to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation that the former manager used for the majority of recent seasons. That bodes well for Mesut Ozil, as he isn’t a great fit for other formations.

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Although the formation won’t be a huge change, Arsenal are likely to be more functional under Emery.

He is less likely to produce scintillating attacking football, with the focus being on control and small margins. That especially plays strongly in cup competitions and his record reflects that.

The Gunners are currently at a low ebb after finishing in 6th without a trophy, but the incoming manager looks to offer hope for a better future.

There is a desire for instant gratification in football now and there will be a lot of Arsenal fans that will be wanting to see immediate progress on the pitch.

Considering the size of the job that Emery is inheriting, it would be unwise to expect the club to be challenging for major honours next season.

This needs to be seen as a long-term project and time needs to be given to the 46-year-old.

His success with Sevilla bodes well and he will be stronger for the experience at PSG, even if he didn’t fare as well as he would have expected.

Emery looks to be a safe appointment and is capable of getting the club back to challenging for a top-four finish.

In addition to that, Arsenal will be a bigger threat in cup competitions with improved game management.

It may not be the most exciting appointment and Arsenal fans will be disappointed to be giving the job to a manager that has just failed with PSG.

However, considering their current position, he looks to be the best man to lead the club forward.

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Arsenal

It is too soon for Mikel Arteta to be considered for Arsenal job

The 36-year-old has been linked with the Emirates hot seat.

Jake Jackman

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Mikel Arteta
Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal have a huge summer awaiting them as they will need to appoint a successor to Arsene Wenger and rebuild a squad that has missed out on Champions League football for the second season in a row.

It won’t be an easy task and the board must act swiftly to make sure the club are prepared for the 2018/19 campaign.

Considering Wenger’s departure was announced weeks ago, Arsenal should have made progress in their search for a replacement.

There will be a number of names under consideration and it is important that they do their due diligence to ensure they can start to move in the right direction again.

BBC Sport report that Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta is one of the options being considered by the hierarchy at the Emirates Stadium.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

As a former player, he would be well received by the fanbase, but it would represent a huge gamble by the club.

The 36-year-old was part of the playing staff under Arsene Wenger as recently as 2016.

Although he will know the problems that exist at the club, he may struggle to exert the authority to correct them considering many of the current squad were his peers.

It has only been two years since the Spaniard retired from playing and he wouldn’t have expected to be in the running for a job of this size this soon.

Upon retiring, he took up a coaching role at Manchester City and the experience will stand him in good stead to move into management one day.

After all, he is working with one of the best managers of all-time in Pep Guardiola and Arteta will have played a role in the team’s record-breaking Premier League season.

That coupled with his history with Arsenal makes him an attractive left-field option for the Gunners.

However, the size of the risk attached to an appointment means that the club should look elsewhere this summer.

The club will want stability, but first and foremost, they will want success.

The fact that Arteta has no managerial experience means that he would be learning on the job and the North London side can’t afford to allow that.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Arsenal are a huge club and as the man following Arsene Wenger, the next manager will be scrutinised closely.

It would be a job better suited to a manager with experience and know-how at the top level.

The article goes on to mention both Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri. Either of them would be a better appointment for Arsenal at this time, as they have both managed big clubs previously.

For Arteta, the fact that he is being linked to a job like Arsenal shows how highly he is thought of within the game.

If he wants to go into management, he needs to leave Manchester City and gain experience as a number one.

If he does that, whether it be in England or abroad, he could be ready to take the hot-seat at the Emirates Stadium at a later date.

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Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – Hoffenheim move, Julian Nagelsmann and facing Liverpool

The Norwegian international discussed his time at Hoffenheim and his experience of English clubs.

Mathew Coull

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Havard Nordtveit
Photo: Getty Images

This summer West Ham United utility man Havard Nordtveit called time on his career with the Hammers, after just one season.

Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer he suffered from the London outfits’ own struggles, the change of stadium and being asked to play out of position at right-back.

After just 21 games for the Hammers, he headed back to Germany, where he had such success previously.

Now, speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, the Norwegian international has discussed working under an exciting new manager, facing Liverpool in the Champions League and coming through the ranks at Arsenal.

Plenty of teams in Germany would have wanted Nordtveit this summer.

He built a fine reputation in the Bundesliga during his time with Gladbach.

In fact, just hours before his July transfer was announced, he was being linked with Bundesliga rivals Hamburg.

In the end, it was Hoffenheim who snapped up the Norwegian. They had just finished fourth in the Bundesliga and it was a brilliant move for the 27-year-old.

(Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images)

But, as the former Hammer explained from Germany, it has been a topsy-turvy season:

“It went well in the first couple of months. But then my games weren’t as good as I was hoping for,” he admitted. “Then obviously I was not good enough for the team. I have been training hard and lately, it has been back to normal again.

“It’s good to be back in Germany and also I needed half a season to get to know the new coach and the new system. I am looking forward to the rest of the campaign.”

Nordtveit started the season playing in the Hoffenheim back three, but found himself out of the squad entirely from mid-December until last month.

Despite his problems, he did not sulk and simply worked hard to get back into the first-team:

“I am not that person,” proclaimed the Norwegian international. “I have been in that situation before with West Ham and Gladbach. It’s all about giving everything you can instead of moaning.

“You have to be positive,” he continued. “This is a team sport. You have to give your best for the team. If that means you are playing or not you know that you will get the chance in the end.”

This season Hoffenheim and Nordtveit were challenging for the Europa League.

However, at the start of the campaign, the Bundesliga outfit were in Champions League action for the first time in their history.

They took on Premier League side Liverpool in the qualifying rounds, with Nordtveit playing in both games.

Liverpool were not yet working under Mohamed Salah power but still proved far too strong for their German opponents over two legs:

“We knew they were strong. With their attacking forwards they are brutal. We had a very good home game. But in the end, it is a little better a feeling to know we went out of the play-offs against a team that reached the finals,” Nordtveit explained, with a sense of vindication for his club’s exit.

“What Klopp has done with the club is massive and also Salah, at this time, maybe is Europe’s best player.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Hoffenheim’s entrance to the Champions League was masterminded by their brilliant young coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old is just a few years older than the Norwegian but has proven himself a top manager:

“He is fantastic,” said an excited Nordtveit. “He has great experience and his own style of play. It is a lot of tactics for every new player. Also when I came in then there was a lot of new things I had to learn quite quick.

“I am now starting to see that I learn something in myself to get into the rhythm that he wants. He is like a young, bright, football professor.”

He then gave him high praise, by comparing him to his former Gladbach boss Lucien Favre:

“He reminds me a little bit of Lucien Favre. He thinks about football 24/7. Small details, always, which can mean we take the three points.

“If I could compare him with someone it would be Lucien Favre, which is not a bad comparison.”

Nagelsmann’s clear ability has seen him linked with taking over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

The Norwegian came through the ranks at Arsenal, but made it clear that he spent most of his time working with the current Arsenal assistant Steve Bould:

“I spoke with him of course but he was more observing the training. I was more with the reserve team.

“I was more with Steve Bould, the legend. He was quite important for me, a really good guy. I think he was one of the more important guys in Arsenal when I was there.”

Working under the Arsenal legend as a young defender must have been a big learning experience for the Hoffenheim player, who speaks highly of his time at Arsenal:

“I went quite early, about 16,17,” remembered the talented utility man. “It was perhaps the most important choice I did in my career because there I learnt how to do the basics in football.

“I did not play much with the first-team but the experience of training with the first-team and getting to know English football and a really high standard was really important to me.

(Photo by Nikolay Doychinov/Getty Images)

“From there, when I moved to Germany, I had the perfect base to have an OK career.

“Jack Wilshere was there before he finally broke through to the first-team. We had Wojciech Szczesny now second goalkeeper for Juventus. Many of the players are having big careers.  

“For me and a lot of the players we were quite lucky to have this opportunity.”

But Nordtveit still remembers his time fondly. He still follows the club, where good friend Granit Xhaka is also playing.

The Gunners have been unable to put a smile on the face of Nordtveit by picking up the Europa League trophy in Arsene Wenger’s final year.

However, with London outfit set to compete in the competition again next season, under a new manager, the two could well come face-to-face. 

That would be an opportunity Hoffenheim’s intrepid Norwegian would relish.

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