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Will Arsene’s returning stars fire the Gunners to Europe?

The Boot Room

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For Arsenal fans, the 2014/2015 season has been somewhat of a mixed bag. The Gunners suffered an indifferent start to the season, their early form dotted by several draws and a handful of losses, the low point coming in late November after a loss at home to Manchester United left Arsene Wenger’s men stuck in eighth position in the Premier League table. However, these results were affected heavily by injuries to key players, including Mesut Özil, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott; a trio of players who, back in contention for the Gunners in recent weeks, have helped turn the season around. Additionally, the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Francis Coquelin and David Ospina have all made a difference to Arsenal from a defensive standpoint, making the Gunners a much tougher opponent in the process.

Arsenal have won nine of thirteen matches in the Premier League since they hit their lowest ebb in that loss to Manchester United, and have enjoyed a relatively painless run to the FA Cup Quarter Finals with wins over Hull, Brighton and Middlesbrough since the turn of the year. Furthermore, the Gunners’ good recent form puts them fourth in the form table, marginally above some of their direct rivals in the race for Champions League football during 2015/2016, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Their other rivals in the European race, it seems, are Southampton and Liverpool, who are both – according to the form table – in excellent form. However, question remarks perhaps remain over both Southampton’s attack and Liverpool’s defence, while Arsenal seem to be getting continually better thanks to the return of their key attackers.

Equally, Arsenal have a relatively kind run-in; of the remaining thirteen games, they play two direct rivals, Liverpool (at home) and United (away), as well as league leaders Chelsea, but the further ten games are all fixtures which one would realistically expect Arsenal to be winning. Spurs, meanwhile, face a gruelling Europa League campaign – assuming they can beat Fiorentina – which could feasibly force a down-turn in results, while Manchester United have to play the majority of the top half between now and May. Interestingly, the re-match of the game which provided Arsenal with this season’s current low-point – with the Red Devils – could ultimately decide a lot in the race for Europe.

However, this is all pure conjecture about football teams and their respective formbooks; as we all know, that is subject to a great deal of change, and it’d be churlish not to expect a raft of surprises between now and the end of the season. It is much more productive to look at the reasons for Arsenal’s upturn in form in recent weeks, and how this could continue.

Firstly, dropping Wojciech Szczesny has proven an incredibly productive step by manager Arsene Wenger, with Colombian custodian David Ospina providing a more than capable replacement; looking far more steady than the at-times hapless Pole in goal. Having played each of Arsenal’s last five games in the Premier League, Ospina has conceded a miserly three goals, keeping three clean sheets in the process. Szczesny started against Middlesbrough in the cup at the weekend, and Wenger maintains he’s “not yet chosen a number one”, but it’s quite obvious as to who the jersey should belong to. Ospina has missed much of the season due to injury, and it’s unclear whether he’d have played if fit during his spell on the sidelines, but should the Colombian stay fit between now and May, and barring a series of terrible mistakes, Arsenal fans should probably feel safer with Ospina in goal.

Arsenal’s recent strength in defence has also been helped by the re-emergence of the Koscielny/Mertesacker partnership which was so lauded last season. Mertesacker hadn’t quite looked himself without the French defender, but the pairing have finally managed to get a run of games together and, as a result, Arsenal’s defence has sharpened, only conceding five in the league in 2015 thus far.

Also useful has been the emergence of Francis Coquelin as a useful defensive midfielder. Given Flamini’s erratic performances since his return to the Emirates last summer, Arsenal have been short of a player to break up the play, and Coquelin has finally provided someone to play this role. Much like Lucas at Liverpool, Coquelin isn’t a particularly brilliant player – people who saw any of his loan spell at Freiburg last year should attest to this – and while Arsenal have vastly better players, the Frenchman can, it seems play his role better than anyone else. His excellent performance against Manchester City at the Etihad in January showed a player whose presence alone can help Arsenal in the big games; it will be interesting to see how Coquelin’s position in the team develops over the run-in.

On a similar note, Arsenal’s attack has been bolstered since the Christmas period by the return of the aforementioned trio of Özil, Walcott and Giroud. The trio have managed just 31 games between them this season, but have provided vital goals and assists since their comebacks. Giroud’s goals have proven crucial at times since his return, scoring seven since the Manchester United game (including his goal that day). His petulant sending off against QPR proved costly when the Gunners played Southampton and lacked any bite up front, but it has perhaps been Giroud’s absence which has shown just how important he is in Arsenal’s all round play – as well as, obviously, being Arsenal’s main goal threat. Giroud was, at points of last season, perhaps taken for granted – even then, arguably rightfully so, given his poor runs of form at points – but has proven the difference in a few games since coming back into contention, and with goals against United, City and Liverpool, among others, the French striker has proven himself as a big game player, which could become useful for the Gunners during the run in.

Özil has been something of a revelation in recent weeks and, despite his return from injury still being at an early stage, having only played three full Premier League fixtures, appears to be in the best form of his still-relatively-embryonic Arsenal career. The German has two goals and three assists in the last three league games, and arguably pulled the strings for Arsenal against Leicester, creating both goals. A player of his calibre, finally in the form which earned him a move to the Emirates in the first place, will prove incredibly important come the end of the season. Walcott, too, has impressed – often in tandem with Özil – but the England winger is yet to complete ninety minutes following the rupturing of his cruciate ligament. As his return from injury continues, expect him to continue the lethal form he was in prior to his injury in the FA Cup third round last year – even while returning to full fitness, he’s managed a return of three goals.

Everything, it seems, points towards a positive few months for Arsenal; if they can keep their key players fit for a few weeks, they’ll be in a brilliant position with regards to qualifying for the Champions League, something which, a few months ago, seemed to be a tough ask. This, too, is without even mentioning the excellent seasons of Cazorla, Sanchez or Rosicky; Arsenal are arguably still in with a shout in the European race because of that particular trio. Everything depends heavily on their head-to-head matches with rivals in the race for Europe, it must be said, but crucially, Arsenal’s form is on an upward curve, and this can only be good for Arsene Wenger, his squad, and the club’s fans.

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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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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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