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Arsenal, Villa, Man Utd: Is there a blueprint for the summer squad rebuild?



Jack Wilshere got in a bit of hot water this week after going full Andrew Flintoff – as its known when a sporting star is clearly experiencing a Category One hangover on an open top bus – and then leading a crowd in a rousing rendition of a slightly, but not really, offensive song about Tottenham Hotspur.

Wilshere was celebrating Arsenal’s retention of the FA Cup, following their 4-0 coast to victory over Aston Villa at Wembley. Six weeks ago, Wilshere was praising Wenger for successfully rebuilding the squad at Arsenal – who prior to last season’s FA Cup win, were without a trophy in nearly ten years.

Wilshere’s teammate Theo Walcott, who scored the opener against Villa, called this Arsenal team the best one he’s been a part of – while last season’s marquee signing Alexis Sanchez scored a firecracker second goal as Arsenal began to cruise out of reach.

Walcott and Sanchez represent the opposite polarities of Wenger’s recruitment policy. Walcott joined Arsenal in 2006, just prior to his 17th birthday, and was a raw talent signed with the future in mind only four months into his senior career with Southampton. Sanchez, just four months Walcott’s elder, was the finished article, signed in the midst of a World Cup where he scored twice, and after a successful three year spell at Barcelona.

The other dressing room at Wembley was a less happy place, and manager Tim Sherwood a less happy man. Asked in the post-match press conference when he would begin the squad rebuild at Aston Villa, he replied that it would begin immediately, and that several of the players already knew they would be looking elsewhere for employment this summer.

Few would argue that Arsene Wenger has successfully turned this Arsenal team into a winning outfit once again – although he took some time to achieve it. And few would argue that Aston Villa could do with some work, particularly if Christian Benteke is to move on.

The crucial thing with a squad rebuild is the integration of players – both with the existing squad members and with each other. Teams are very lucky to transition seamlessly from one generation of players to the next without losing much momentum, but the very best managers, the ones with longevity are masters of this.

Wenger is one of those masters. His successful Arsenal team of the late 1990s transitioned into his Invincibles side of the early 2000s almost without breaking stride – the next transition, as those players past their peak, was a tougher one. Wenger was forced to go with a slow burn, to build season by season, piece by piece, his hands tied by limited transfer funds as a result of the move to the Emirates. When the purse strings were loosened, Wenger’s plan was already in motion, and he stuck to it, despite howls from the Arsenal faithful desperate for silverware.

Sir Alex Ferguson was another master – he built perhaps four title-winning sides during his time at Old Trafford. The first, in themid 90s, typified by Eric Cantona. The second, which followed swiftly in the late 90s, was the team of the Giggs-Keane-Scholes-Beckham midfield. The third, in the mid 2000s broke Arsenal’s dominance, with Rooney and Ronaldo. The fourth, a rag-tag bunch led to the title by Robin Van Persie’s goals.

What Ferguson left behind was a swaying Jenga tower of a squad – Vidic and Ferdinand looking worn down by injuries, Giggs and Scholes still turning in performances to prop up a light-weight midfield. In hindsight, it is no surprise all the pieces fell on David Moyes.

It is telling that this summer talk is, if not of rebuilding, then certainly of strengthening the Manchester United squad under now manager Louis van Gaal. Money alone does not cure the problem. Manchester United spent £145million this season, bringing in Herrera, Shaw, Blind and Di Maria. Not to mention all the money spent on monogrammed tracksuits for Radamel Falcao.

Doing it all quickly is expensive, and risky if it doesn’t come off and you can’t recoup your costs. Manchester United’s spending and approach last season was comparable to Arsenal’s spread across the last three. Sanchez this year, Mesut Ozil the season before, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud the season before that. They’ve also successfully moved players out at good fees in recent years: Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie, Vermaelen, amongst those leaving for significant sums.

So, the slow burn, multi-season rebuild could be the one which pays dividends. The problem, however, for managers that aren’t Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, is that they are judged on immediate results. Not everyone has that trust from their board or the fans and can say: ‘be patient, I’m doing something here’.

Because of that, chances are we’ll remain stuck in the cycle of clearout-spend big. Clearout. Spend big. Clearout… Spend big…


Arlen is a Reading fan. Which means he knows a lot about losing in play-off finals, 0-0 draws, and disappointing FA Cup away ties.


Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive

Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.



Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.

But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.

Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.

Tottenham Hotspur’s English midfielder Dele Alli (2L) is booked for a dive during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.

Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.

But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.

After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:

“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.

“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”


“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”

With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.

When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.

Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.

But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.

Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…

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AC Milan

Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.

They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.

These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.

Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.

The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.

Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.

Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.

The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.

It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.

When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.

If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.

There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.

Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.

It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.

It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.

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Brighton 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Amex

Arsenal lost for a fourth successive game as Brighton & Hove Albion bullied their opponents into submission.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions as Brighton & Hove Albion took a giant leap towards Premier League survival.

The pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, which has intensified since the turn of the year, looks set to reach new heights after another dismal day at the office for his charges.

Goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put the Seagulls in control before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.

Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Arsenal were unable to muster an equaliser.

For Brighton, this was a huge result that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Is beleaguered Wenger’s position now untenable?

It lurches from one disaster to another for Wenger.

He probably thought the nadir had been reached after last weekend’s limp performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, when his future became the main topic of debate.

The Frenchman would have hoped for a reaction from his players in the subsequent fixtures.

Instead, his side were brushed aside against City in the Premier League before producing another sub-standard display here against Brighton.

Added to their shock Europa League reversal at home to minnows Ostersunds, it is the first time Arsenal have lost four successive matches since 2002.

After last season’s FA Cup triumph, Wenger penned a new contract that takes him through to the summer of 2019.

Now, however, it’s difficult to see how he can last beyond the end of the current campaign.

Perhaps only by lifting the Europa League, which would automatically qualify Arsenal for the Champions League, could Wenger realistically remain in situ.

Even then, it may not be enough. His players look devoid of any confidence and need an injection of new ideas.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Brighton take a massive step towards safety 

The focus will understandably be on Arsenal, but Brighton’s display should not be overlooked.

This victory extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to four games and has all but banished thoughts that they might be dragged into a relegation scrap.

Yes, it was a good time to face Arsenal, but Chris Hughton’s side made a fast start with two early goals that went a long way to recording their first win over the Gunners since 1982.

Brighton’s performance bore all the hallmarks of their season so far.

Despite being one of the lowest scorers in the division, they took their chances when they came, exploiting Arsenal’s weakness from set pieces and aerial balls.

In the second half, the home side remained very organised defensively, which was key when the Gunners upped the tempo.

Modest and unassuming, Hughton has done a terrific job on the south coast.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Defensive shortcomings continue to haunt Arsenal 

Wenger has regularly spoken of his belief that Arsenal cannot compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester City.

And while his side’s record against fellow ‘Big Six’ clubs is regularly scrutinised, the Gunners’ results against the lesser lights have not been good enough for a club with Champions League aspirations.

In 2018 alone, Arsenal have been beaten by Swansea City, Bournemouth and now Brighton in the Premier League, while losing to Nottingham Forest and Ostersunds in cups.

A lack of leadership has long been an issue on the pitch and it’s an area Wenger has consistently ignored.

Defensively, the Gunners are too easy to bully.

Take Shkodran Mustafi’s defending for the first goal in the Carabao Cup final last weekend, for example.

Particularly away from home, Arsenal are prone to imploding.

Despite the attacking talent Wenger has at his disposal, his failure to invest in proven defenders at the top level looks set to cost him dearly.

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