Is three at the back for Arsenal now a thing?

Date published: Tuesday 18th April 2017 4:50

A fine Mailbox to start the working week. Keep them coming to…


Arsenal away win summary: To the point
1. Did Arsenal just win an away game? Yes.
3. Did Arsenal win the away game by using a different formation? Yes.
3. Did the “old dog” showed his tactical capability and “learned a new trick yesterday”? Yes.
4. Did the win felt good? Yes.
5. Is the morale now on the rise? Yes.
6. Two more years? No.
Syfq Amr, a bias Gooner


Are we going to see more of the 3-4-3?
I’d wanted to see how Arsenal would play in a 3-4-3 since it became en-vogue earlier this season, making what might have otherwise been viewed a pretty drab first half, a fascinating watch. Was this a trial run of what we could see in the upcoming series of very big games, for both club and manager?

It’s easy to suggest the amount of chances low scoring Boro were able to create showed weakness from Arsenal, be that with the formation or simply the performance but these were two teams equally desperate for points. It’s this stage of the season where the teams at the bottom become some of the hardest to play, all credit to Middlesbrough who came out and played a really combative game, putting players under pressure and making themselves known from the start. They may not have enough, but based on that performance they aren’t going down without a fight.

There were some very promising performances from the Arsenal players, particularly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Playing in an unfamiliar position, he busted a gut up and down the right flank all game and looked absolutely exhausted at the final whistle. Whether it was aided by Fabio’s injury or just a slow start we can only guess, but he definitely grew into the game after a slightly unconvincing first 15, looking all the part as the game went on. Rob Holding also impressed in a physical game, holding his own well and for the most part looking pretty assured in his first PL start since August.

Arsenal came into the game low on confidence and this was a much-needed morale boost, you could see the positive effect on the players at full time. However culpable you may feel Hector Bellerin is at this point, it was great to hear the travelling support echoing his name around the stadium in unison after what must have a tough time at Palace last week. He’s a young player that’s been thrust into the first team very early on as a result of his talent, a dip was always likely at some point and that show of support will have done him good.

Sanchez and Ozil looked all in all happy players at the whistle and it was a classy touch giving his shirt to one of the kids in the crowd. Most likely this is just wishful thinking, but maybe the papers are actually all just making sh*t up to sell copies?
Joe, AFC, Manchester


A long defence of the Granit Xhaka signing
There are admittedly many sticks with which to beat Wenger but Stewie Griffins’s assertion that Wenger is at fault for spending £36 million for Granit Xhaka is not one of them.

It was in the midst of June that quite a few Arsenal fans decided to tune into their first ever Albania match; and who could blame them? Having spent a hefty £30+million on a centre midfielder from Switzerland, fans were eager to see what awaited them. There was a glimmer of his passing range, a few poor tackles and a lot of sideways passing – but not a lot else. In fact, assessing Granit Xhaka on a single performance against Albania is akin to judging a man’s proficiency in bed by the size of his flaccid penis – sure you’ll get a look at his equipment but you’ll be hard pressed to really learn the extent of his, erm, talents. Awkward metaphor aside, it’s clear that it has taken time to get a measure of the Swiss central midfielder.

Since his arrival, much of what we suspected has subsequently been confirmed. Xhaka is an excellent passer of the ball: metronomic sideway passes, delicate chips, Hollywood style cross field thumps and the seldom seen but delightful defence splitting through-ball. Unfortunately we’ve also been able to confirm that Xhaka is a horrendous tackler. He can’t harry, he can’t hassle, he can’t be inconspicuous – he can be cynical but has generated such a reputation that any foul often results in a booking.

This became apparent to me only recently when I witnessed N’Golo Kante foul a number of Manchester City players last Wednesday night and receive nothing more than a telling off from Mike Dean. I can only speculate but I believe if Xhaka had replicated the Frenchman’s masterclass in fouling, he would have found his name scribbled in the referee’s book a lot sooner than his midfield equivalent.

I am not however trying to evaluate Xhaka as a player. I feel at this point, it’s fruitless. He’s a young guy, playing in a new league with no regular partner. What I would like to address is the considerable money that Arsenal were required to fork out for the Swiss midfielder. Wenger has been criticised in the past for his frugality. However, recently there have been rumbles regarding the money spent on both Mustafi and Xhaka. Whilst the financial landscape continues to fluctuate and transfer fees are often dependent on a club’s need and the scope of alternatives available to the purchasing team (see Mustafi deal), criticising Wenger over the money spent on Granit Xhaka is a bit rich.

There are many reasons in which to criticise Wenger (none more so than the idea that he has reinvented himself as Captain Ahab as he teeters on the edge of sanity) – but the Granit Xhaka transfer fee is not one. Wenger is a strong advocate for value for money. He rarely pays above what he believes to be a true representation of the talent on offer. With that in mind, it is interesting that Wenger originally pulled out of the deal to sign Xhaka when the £36m price tag was bandied about. Only the intervention and the insistence of the board persuaded Wenger to open the purse strings.

There are two aspects to this that I find fascinating, firstly – there is obviously a willingness amongst some board members to see the club succeed on the pitch. This may seem like a given but for Arsenal football club it is not. Many of the board have been happy to achieve 4th place, accrue vats of money and allow the ship to steadily carry on but there seems to be a few that recognise a need for investment; they may only be doing so to appease fans in order to allow their positions to remain tenable but at least it is an acknowledgement that recruitment is necessary.

The second aspect revolves around the fee itself. There is no science to transfer dealings. You cannot measure a player’s ability through some formula or equation. Nor can you truly predict whether a player will be successful at your club, in your league or in that stage of their career, much of it is down to the know-how of scouts and months and, even sometimes, years of assessing a player’s qualities. Alongside the variable nature of ability is the growing TV market and the money that comes with it. All English clubs now face an uphill battle to sign players from foreign leagues without being held to ransom. However, I almost feel as if these are second as to why Wenger refuses to pay above the odds for a player – it is not down to being a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone nor is it that he is a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner but rather he has a duty to protect the player from the burden of expectation.

In years gone by we have seen Andy Carroll, Raheem Sterling, Fernando Torres, John Stones, Paul Pogba and David De Gea suffer at the hands of huge transfer fees. Fans have written off said players as failures or players have endured a tough bedding in process due to the inflated nature of their transfer fees. So why have so many journalists, pundits and fans used the transfer fee as a barometer in which to measure Xhaka? Sterling cost £50 million, an astronomical price during his first season for City but one that he looks to be justifying given his age and ability. Paul Pogba is ridiculed weekly and often compared to players who have cost a fraction of the price – yet this is a player who United will look to build their squad around and probably stand to make millions on from marketing and merchandise.

Comparatively, De Gea joined United for a hefty fee yet has probably paid for himself three times over given his importance to the club. Yet the price of these players makes no difference to the impact they have on the pitch. A goal from Paul Pogba has the same effect that a goal from Adam Lallana will have. A penalty save from De Gea is just as valuable for United now as it was when it was van der Sar in nets – who cost a great deal less. It is important to remember that price is reflective of a clubs needs as well as a player’s talent, hence why Torres was deemed to be worth £50 million pounds despite being a shadow of his formidable self.

Fans have bemoaned Arsenal’s lack of spending for years. Pundits are now questioning the money spent on two of Arsenal’s most recent signings. Whilst it is not contemptible for either views to be aired, the barometer of a player should be his performances on the pitch and not the size of the fee that comes along with him. Xhaka may not look like much at the moment, but it’s quite possible that the man’s a grower and not yet a show-er. Time will tell whether he was worthy of such a heavy price tag.


Everybody loves Chris Hughton
I hope there are many, many BHAFC fans who write in to express their joy and happiness at being promoted. I would love to hear some more stories about the club. I am as chuffed as they are and partly because I hope that Chris Hughton gets to spend an entire season with them in the PL. I still believe he is an underrated manager who quietly goes about getting his business done without creating any fuss. He got a raw deal at Newcastle, and I still believe that had Norwich stuck with him, they’d be in the top flight.

He probably may not be the most astute or tactically sound but he’s a solid manager who deserves a run for a couple of seasons in the PL just like Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis got with their first clubs.


Monday Night Football: The best analysis
It’s a good thing Match of the day don’t have a Monday show. We tune in on a Saturday or Sunday to catch the action padded with some questionable punditry but then on a Monday night the heavyweights give us some brilliant insightful punditry which makes an average game worth the watch. Watching MOTD afterwards would be torture.

If you haven’t seen G Nev’s analysis of Sanchez’s free kick, go watch it now. On Match of the day they’ll say ‘Great free kick Gary, that technique is second to none’ and that’s that. Neville isn’t impressed though. The way he focuses on Guzan before the free kick, panicking about his wall and saying Sanchez’s technique is irrelevant because of Guzan’s preparation is what pundits SHOULD be doing. Not simply summarising a goal like many of his peers do, over and over. Carra then pips in with an excellent spot of how Guzan moves left to try and see through the wall making a save to the right very difficult.

It’s a seriously high level of quality on MNF. It’s what other football shows should aspire to be but don’t seem to want to achieve.
Damo, Dublin


Hughes, Pulis, Mourinho and expectation management
In response to Kiwi’s letter ‘In defence of Mark Hughes’ which contained some good points, it’s been interesting reading about the ‘issues’ with Stoke having no identity, West Brom playing ‘with their flip flops on’ to use my favorite quote from Gary Neville and whether Jose Mourinho is actually United’s savior (I am in the US, damn you auto-correct) or not. Let’s face it on Sunday morning the jury was still out on the last point but now look at him…….

I think the basic premise comes down to fan expectation management. The key is to not do too well (and obviously not too badly either) too early on as this artificially raises fans hopes and expectations. Tony Pulis was lauded at Stoke as they were ‘new’ to the Premier League, contained some fairly standard British players and got a reputation for roughing up the top 4 when they came to town. It was a classic British underdog versus the international Goliaths of the game and there was a feel good factor to bringing the ‘fancy Dan’s’ back down to earth with a good old fashioned hard working, high tempo team performance.

Quite rightly pointed out by Kiwi was the fact that Stoke got tired of Pulis and in my opinion it was a simple matter of they had seen the same thing for several seasons and wanted to kick on to bigger and better things. I too think Mark Hughes is doing a good job and will probably look to try and refresh the squad in the summer. Please don’t forget he persuaded Xherdan Shaqiri to come to Stoke. He signed Muniesa and had Bojan but it just hasn’t quite worked out.

As for Pulis, it is important West Brom keep him and allow him to do his stuff. If West Brom could find a solid striker and a creative player to support him that would help give them the extra points and panache to both kick on to better things and to also please the fans.

And that brings me to the master of expectation management Jose Mourinho. He has wanted to manage Man Utd for a few years now. He let Moyes be the initial fall guy and allowed Van Gaal to help solve a number of problems before wandering in, spending 150m and then telling everybody how bad Man Utd are and how much work needs to be done. I think when you look at it, the general consensus is that he has not got the best out of the players at his disposal. Granted he could well rescue the whole season and if he does he will claim it’s a miracle only he and that other fella’ who once walked on water could.

It’s also the reason why Everton get so frustrated. They are still classed as a ‘big club’ but have never really pushed the big 4/6 as they didn’t quite have the resources to do it and have not won anything for over 20 years. Now it seems they do but if Koeman cannot push on from this season he will probably be next in the firing line.

And of course I deliberately left the ultimate example until last. There is an Italian gentlemen sitting somewhere reading the papers, sipping at his espresso wondering how as a reigning Premier League winning manager and his team still in the Champions League he is not still in a job.
Ian ‘I have overdone the commas again’ Williams


Top work, Johnny
Thank you Football365 and John Nicholson (note I did not shorten in a PFM way) for the great article on The Sun and football writing in general.

It is no surprise that media platforms like Football365 are producing more interesting, more relevant or more thoughtful commentary on the game than the tabloids. It would be a stretch to call any of their writers journalists. As the internet dominates how people access information, the tabloids have decided on a path of being more base, more controversial, more hate-filled and divisive than the worst internet troll. Rather than upping the ante in terms of quality content.

What is surprising is how even at better papers top writers resort to articles with no fact basis. Even people classed as Senior something or other (sports writer, football writer, etc) do no research, provide no insight, simply playing the game that websites play to get clicks to advertise.

Why does someone like Kelvin Mckenzie think he has the right to comment on someone else in the first place? He knew nothing really about Barkley yet trashed him. He claimed Barkley was unintelligent, yet his writing showed he is no brains trust. The Sun really has just become a platform to disseminate vitriol and hate and Mackenzie just another of their hate mongers. And where were the editors who allowed this?

Hopefully other cities get on the bandwagon and start banning The Sun.
Paul McDevitt

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