Five potential replacements for Mesut Ozil

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Mesut Ozil’s future at Arsenal is just as unclear as fellow teammate Alexis Sanchez and manager Arsene Wenger. The German playmaker has been linked with moves to Turkey as well as a return to his homeland and even Manchester United have reportedly expressed and interest, which would bring with it a reunion with former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.

 

Should Ozil leave Arsenal in the summer here are five potential replacements for the classy creator:

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5.

Mario Gotze

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Cost: £30m – £40m

Currently out injured with a metabolism problem, the scorer of the goal which crowned Germany world champions has many hallmarks of Ozil. Gotze is classy with a deft touch and the ability to spot passes which slice open opposition defences. Another hallmark he shares with his fellow German is his consistency – or lack of as it may be. Gotze failed to impress during his spell at Bayern Munich which lead to a reunion with Dortmund.

 

However, the German would offer almost a like for like replacement for Ozil. With the 24-year-old also keen to play in the Premier League he may well be wooed by Arsenal should they express and interest in the playmaker.

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4.

Ivan Rakitic

Club: Barcelona

Cost: £35m – £50m

The Croatian wizard made Barcelona tick in his early days at the Catalan giants but has since been wildly inconsistent and has fallen out of favour with Barca boss Luis Enrique. Rakitic offered a replacement for long-time metronome Xavi in the heart of the Barcelona midfield along with Andreas Iniesta. That alone speaks to how highly the former Sevilla man is rated.

 

Rakitic has been deployed in a deeper role in Spain but could easily push up the field and influence attacking play more. Arsenal is a club with many similarities to the Spanish powerhouses in terms of their style of play which would suit the Croat perfectly. His elusiveness in between the lines and vision often leaves defenders scrambling and attacking players licking their chops at the service he provides.

 

Rakitic may prove costly but with his pedigree at the top level he would almost certainly be worth the large outlay and with Arsenal making noises that they are ready to throw the kitchen sink at the Premier League next season they may be able to tempt the Barcelona midfielder to London.

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3.

Bernardo Silva

Club: Monaco

Cost: £55m – £75m

This guy is going to cost an awful lot. Silva is being courted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs and a bidding war could soon ensue.

 

With Leonardo Jardim’s side in vogue with young, exciting players strutting their stuff in both domestic and continental competition, Silva is just one of a handful of sort after players.

 

A classic number ten Silva has been highly praised by former Portugal great Deco, who believes the former Benfica product can be one of the world’s best. With the ability carve open a defence with his combination of exception dribbling and passing the young superstar is a difference maker for his current employers. If Manchester United, Real Madrid and other have their way he will soon be a difference maker for them, too.

 

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker has scored six goals to date as well as contributing seven assists this campaign as Monaco continue their charge towards the title.

 

Perhaps a wildcard for Arsenal with them no longer mentioned in the bracket of elite clubs when talking about Europe’s brightest youngsters going elsewhere. However, if they are willing to bid an extraordinary amount and pay the youngster extraordinary wages then they may just get their man.

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2.

Riyad Mahrez

Club: Leicester City

Cost: £35m – £48m

The Algerian made noises at the end of last season that he wanted to make the step up from The Foxes. However, then manager Claudio Ranieri convinced the playmaker to stay at least one more season to spur Leicester on their maiden Champions League campaign.

 

While the English champions have surprised many with their run to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition, their form in the league has been dismal – costing Ranieri his job. Mahrez has often looked disinterested during Leicester’s faltering title defence which could be cause for concern for any club interested in the Algerian’s services. However, much like Ozil, his ability should see perspective buyers overlook some of his inconsistencies.

 

At the start of the season Arsenal expressed an interest in the Algerian playmaker, as well as Barcelona, and it seemed to have turned his head. Should Mahrez leave the champions this summer he could well be a replacement for Ozil.

 

Mahrez is already acclimatised to the Premier League way of playing, technically gifted and with an eye for goal – as displayed during Leicester’s title run he may offer a slight upgrade over Ozil, who is often criticised for his lack of goals for Arsenal.

 

The 26-year-old has certainly see his stock drop from where it was this time last year. Leicester may not be able to command the same fee for the playmaker as they perhaps could have 12 months ago but would still get a handsome amount for their star player. Arsenal would probably be willing to pay the £45m it would take to acquire the Algerian.

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1.

Isco

Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £25m – £35m

 

The Real Madrid misfit looks set to leave the Spanish capital this summer with a number of potential suitors trailing the former Malaga midfielder. Falling behind Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the pecking order for manager Zinadine Zidane the frustrated Isco is desperate for first team action.

 

Arsenal would offer the diminutive Spaniard a chance to start games with a void left by Ozil as well as experience the Premier League and – perhaps – be part of a rebuilding process at The Emirates should Arsene Wenger leave the Gunners in the summer, or even if he stays.

 

Isco was heavily linked to Manchester City in 2013 before being tempted to Madrid. Clearly the Spanish international is open to plying his trade in England.

 

Isco may have his inconsistencies but that could be put down to him not getting a run of games in the Madrid team. What is clear, is that when he is on his game he beautifully links defence to attack and can open pick the killer pass which results in a goal.

 

His style of play is very comparable of fellow Spaniard David Silva. If he could replicate anywhere near the standards Silva has set in England then he shall be very well received indeed by Arsenal fans.

 

Weight of pass in the modern game is often overlooked but Isco has the class and technique to perfectly pick out runners without them having the break stride before firing into the back of the net.

 

The price tag may start to rise with rumours circulating that even Barcelona are looking to prize Isco away from their bitter rivals. Arsenal are certainly in the mix, however. A tug-of-war for the 24-year-old’s signature is a likely outcome – in the past Arsenal have often fallen away when the bidding wars start. They did manage to outmuscle Liverpool for the signature of Alexis Sanchez however, so perhaps the Arsenal hierarchy are no longer afraid to go toe-to-toe with other clubs to get their man.

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Five potential replacements for Alexis Sanchez

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Alexis Sanchez’s future is still in the air at Arsenal. The Chilean cuts an increasingly frustrated figure at Arsenal and while his manager Arsene Wenger dances to the tune of ‘He wants to stay’ the consensus is that Sanchez will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.

 

Should the former Barcelona forward leave The Emirates here are five potential players who could replace the dogged Chile frontman:

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5.

Anthony Martial

Club: Manchester United

Cost: £35m – £55m

A bit of a wildcard to start off with. With Jose Mourinho and Wenger’s open dislike for each other it is unlikely that Mourinho would want to sell a talented player to a rival. However, Martial is well out-of-favour with The Special One and could be offloaded this summer. Should Arsenal submit a bid which would recoup a lot – if not all – of what Louis van Gaal paid for the then teenager Mourinho may well be willing to part with the young Frenchman.

 

Martial offers directness, pace and can finish. He is still inconsistent Wenger will no doubt have patience with the former Monaco man and give him the love he looks like he needs.

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4.

Yannick Carrasco

Club: Atletico Madrid

Cost: £51m – £65m

Carrasco will cost a lot of money; the type of money Arsenal have never parted with. However, the Belgian is becoming a star under Diego Simeone in the Spanish capital. The winger has eight goals and four assists this season for Atletico.

 

An explosive winger who can play on both flanks, Carrasco causes nightmares for opposition full-backs who have a difficult time dealing with tricky wide man. Carrasco is still 23-years-old and can get better with the right nurturing.

 

Carrasco would bring with him the directness which Sanchez would leave behind. While the young Belgium international may cost a lot but the windfall Arsenal should receive for Sanchez, should he leave, would go a long way to bringing the Atletico Madrid winger to The Emirates. Having said that, with speculation over the future of Antoine Griezmann, Simeone will be more than reluctant to let two of his star men walk away in the same transfer window.

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3.

Mohamed Salah

Club: Roma

Cost: £30m – £40m

 

After failing to shine during his first brief stint in England with Chelsea Salah has gone on to light up Serie A with goals and assists galore. The Egyptian forward has 11 goals and eight assists this campaign and 27 Serie A goals in total since joining Roma in 2015.

 

Salah himself is still only 24-years-old, although in recent years he has felt like somewhat of a journeyman since his Chelsea move did not work out with stints at former club Basel and Fiorentina before finally settling in Rome.

 

The Egypt frontman has pace in abundance, can play with either foot and finish in a variety of ways. Arsenal are always looking for classy forwards and Salah has shown that he is certainly one of them. His eight assists and 60 chances created this term show he can pick a pick a pass also – perfect ammunition for Olivier Giroud, or maybe a new Arsenal forward.

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2.

Douglas Costa

Club: Bayern Munich

Cost: £22m – £30m

Douglas Costa is reportedly unhappy at Bayern Munich and is seeking a move away. Now at 26 the Brazilian is at a stage in his career where he needs regular games – which he is not getting behind Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

 

Costa tore Arsenal apart during their 5-1 hammering of the Gunners in the last-16 tie of the Champions League with trickery and pace that neither Hector Bellerin nor Nacho Monreal could handle.

 

Costa’s inconsistency is perhaps what drives Carlo Ancelotti to leave him out of the Bayern first XI but he certainly has the ability to get Arsenal fans out of their seats. Not as direct as an out and out winger, Costa is strong on both feet and can float inside to get involved through the middle as well as beating his full-back down the line.

 

With his unhappiness at Bayern and the German giants seemingly happy to offload the wide man Costa would probably be the cheapest option of the list – which would probably appeal most to Wenger as he is notoriously tight with the  purse strings.

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1.

James Rodriguez

Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £45m – £55m

 

James is maybe the most likely player to make his way to The Emirates on this list. Not so much because he is desperate to join Arsenal or Arsenal are desperate to take him, but because Real Madrid and the Colombian have made no secret about his desire to leave and Madrid’s keenness to offload him.

 

James is typically a number ten but can play out wide. His goal in the 2014 World Cup against Uruguay was the stand out moment that summer and announced James to the world stage – it is also a glimpse of what he can do in a split second.

 

If Arsenal part ways with the £50m sum the Spanish giants are asking for then they will be getting a player that will not hound and harass defenders like Sanchez will, but will give you quality in abundance when going forward. In order for the Colombian to succeed he may need, perhaps like Mesut Ozil, a world-class holding midfielder who will pick up his lack of work ethic.

 

The former Monaco man has the flair that Arsene Wenger loves in a player and the technical quality which the Arsenal boss also looks for in his attacking players. He can float between the lines exposing the gaps in midfield and defence which can carve teams apart.

 

 

James is a different type of player to Sanchez – perhaps more in line with Ozil’s style of play but his quality cannot be denied and if Sanchez leaves Arsenal must replace him with quality – and James is certainly that.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal: match report

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Arsene Wenger endured another humiliating night as his side were soundly thumped 3-0 by Crystal Palace. Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and a first Crystal Palace goal for Luka  Milivojević saw The Eagles add to Arsenal’s woes.

 

For Sam Allardyce he collects his second scalp in nine days as his Palace side started April by beating Chelsea 2-1.

 

Wenger will now face a fresh inquest surrounding his future. In contrast, the Allardyce-effect is in full flight and the future of Crystal Palace looks to be edging closer to playing in the Premier League next campaign.

 

On a night when Arsenal looked half-asleep throughout, Palace were the sharper side from the first whistle with Wilfried Zaha and Townsend tormenting the Gunners’ back four with their lightening pace down the flanks.

 

The game was only 17 minutes old when Zaha burst into the penalty area and, even though he slipped, his cross met Townsend sneaking in between an oblivious Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi to bundle the ball into the back of the net from close range.

 

Arsenal retainined much of the possession but made it count for little. Mohamed Elneny saw a long-range effort tipped wide by Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal and Alexis Sanchez saw his effort trickle wide but Arsenal muster no clear-cut chances throughout the 90 minutes.

 

Granit Xhaka was perhaps the worst player in yellow on Monday night. The Swiss international was sluggish across the ground allowing Cabaye and company to exploit the spaces in midfield and his usually sound passing range was well out of sync.

 

In a bid to claw his side back into the contest Wenger sent on Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in place of Elneny and an isolated Danny Welbeck. Yet, three minutes later, Arsenal found their deficit doubled thanks to a superb finish from Cabaye. The Frenchman collected a pass from Zaha before unleashing a delicious curling shot into the far side of Emiliano Martinez’s goal to send the home support into ecstasy.

 

Zaha continued his rich vein of form, ending the night with two assists and a standing ovation as he was withdrawn from proceedings on 88 minutes. The Ivory Coast winger is now beginning to fulfil the potential Sir Alex Ferguson saw in him when he paid £15m to bring him to Manchester United.

 

The Gunners had no plan B. Persisting to dominate possession of the ball and hit hopeful crosses into the box. The dismal performance continued, Martinez committed himself to a 50-50 ball with Townsend and sent the England winger tumbling – while little contact was made it was enough to convince referee Michael Oliver to point to the spot. Milivojević did the rest to put the home side three to the good.

 

Palace hounded the visitors into mistakes and the bouncing Selhurst Park played its part, too, creating a hostile atmosphere which saw players in yellow wilt.

 

Palace and their supporters enjoyed the game thereon in. ‘Ole’ chants greeted every completed Palace pass while Arsenal fans commenced their ongoing witch hunt for Arsene Wenger’s head, chanting “Arsene Wenger, we want you to go.” Perhaps this may be the straw which finally breaks the camel’s back, only time will tell.

 

Down the years, Wenger has often been the architect of the tactical masterclass. On this night, he found himself on the receiving end of one from long-time nemesis Big Sam.

 

Palace could have extended their advantage further with Christian Benteke having half chances to add a fourth goal, and, but from a credible performance from Martinez between the sticks for Arsenal, they may well have got it.

 

The autopsy of Arsenal has now reached new heights. The futures of key members of the squad still way up in the air, their once masterful manager, increasingly looking a caricature of his former self, yet to decide his fate and now Arsenal’s Champions League hopes hang by a thread. Currently seven points off the pace for fourth spot perhaps their lacklustre season looks ever more like marking the end of two decades of Champions League football, and perhaps Arsene Wenger.

Leicester City vs Arsenal: Match report

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during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Arsenal at The King Power Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Leicester, England.

Leicester City and Arsenal played out a tense 0-0 draw leaving both teams still searching for their first win of the season. Mark Clattenburg was the centre of attention at full time after failing to award a penalty to Ahmed Musa after Hector Bellerin fouled the striker in the box.

 

Both teams had chances to win it in the second half with England duo Jamie Vardy and Theo Walcott both having their efforts thwarted by great defensive interventions.

 

The King Power Stadium rocked with chants of ‘We know what we are, champions of England.’ as the side traded jabs in an opening 20 minute stalemate.

 

Arsenal saw a lot of the ball early on but Leicester were content to defend with nine men behind the ball. The visitors often worked the ball out wide only to look up and see no sign of their burly centre forward Oliver Giroud. Only deemed fit enough for the bench, ‘He is still behind physically’ said Arsene Wenger in his pre match comments – how Arsenal will be desperate for him to get up to speed quickly.

 

Alexis Sanchez continued with his role as the lone striker for Arsenal and looked very isolated throughout often coming deep to receive the ball and get involved with play.

 

It took 25 minutes for the game to throw up its first half chance as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cut inside from the left hand side and hit a shot which whistled past Kasper Schmeichel’s goal.

 

Santi Cazorla almost caught the Danish keeper out as his free kick evaded everybody but he displayed the cat like reactions we come to expect from somebody barring such a name to push the ball wide.

 

Arsenal restricted to shots from distance failing to break down the wall of blue parked in front of their attacks.

 

Leicester grew into the first have with Jamie Vardy hassling Koscielny and Holding but the Arsenal back four looked much more composed with their French defender returning to the heart of defence.

 

The game suddenly burst into life in the closing stages of the half. Riyad Mahrez played a delightful ball to set Jamie Vardy free, Petr Cech smothered the effort loose ball fell to Danny Drinkwater who went down under a challenge from Koscielny before the ball was scrambled away. Mark Clattenburg waved away the penalty protests and the debate still could not be settled by the trio in commentary.

 

Leicester looked to grab the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half with much more attacking intent with Petr Cech seeing the ball more often than he would have liked to. Mahrez tested the former Chelsea shot stopper with a wicked free kick with the Algerian’s influence on the game growing with every minute.

 

Still Leicester asked questions of the Gunners pressing high and winning the ball in the final third drawing rapturous applause from the packed out home support and their Italian manager on the touchline.

 

Leicester almost made the visitors pay for their sluggish play with 20 minutes to go. Andy King stole the ball in the Arsenal half for Vardy to run on to. The England striker pulled the trigger only to see the excellent Koscielny streaking in to block the attempt with some superb last ditch defending.

 

With that huge let off Wenger duly made his first two changes with Ozil and Wilshere introduced for Cazorla and Xhaka. Still no sign of Giroud although it seemed desperately obvious that they needed him to relive Sanchez of centre forward duties.

 

Giroud was finally introduced with 15 minutes to play and freed up Alexis Sanchez to operate in the wider positions.

 

Both teams pushed for a winner with just ten minutes to go. Theo Walcott spun and let a shot rip from 12 yards only for Morgan to throw his body in front of the effort.

 

Arsenal began taking the game to Leicester with Sanchez looking much more comfortable out wide with Giroud taking up responsibilities through the middle. Ozil helped pick up the tempo of an often lifeless Arsenal attack but the Leicester door stayed shut.

 

Mahrez almost won it for the home side after breezing by the Arsenal midfield and defence before his shot was hit straight at the sprawling Cech in the Arsenal goal.

 

While only the second game of the season the clash had a tense feeling with both teams content with a point.

Wenger’s move for Vardy shows his desperation

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In the last 24 hours Arsenal have thrown all forms of social media into a meltdown. With the story developing that they are closing in on signing Leicester City and England forward Jamie Vardy the move signifies just how desperate Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have become.

 

Short term success has never been top of the order for Wenger when planning out his transfer business but not this time. Looking at the two entities side by side they simply do not match. Arsenal chasing a  29-year-old striker, who will be 30 in January, and willing to pay around £20m for his signature. With one high profile signing in Granit Xhaka already in the bag Wenger looks to bolster his front line with a man who, let’s be honest, has only had one truly outstanding season.

 

So does  the move represent one of Wenger’s biggest gambles should Vardy become and Arsenal man? Absolutely. But Wenger clearly feels it is a gamble worth taking after the 2015/16 season saw his men fall short once again in a season where all of the so called ‘big teams’ struggled and the minnows of Leicester City reigned supreme.

 

Perhaps this was the season that finally made the Frenchman snap so to speak and now, in the final year of his contract, wants to go out the way of his great rival Sir Alex Ferguson in a blaze of glory.

 

Ferguson also made a very uncharacteristic signing in his final season after suffering final day heartache in the 2011/12 season. Ironically he went to Arsenal for his man Signing Robin van Persie for £24m in a move that would see Ferguson topple Manchester City and win the league by 11 points in his final season. Van Persie, by all accounts, had 18 months of pure prolific goal scoring for The Gunners before heading to Old Trafford but timing is everything and Ferguson struck with the Dutchman at his peak. He went on to score 26 goals in his maiden season for United.

 

The Vardy to Arsenal deal draws up similar comparisons. Scoring just five goals in 2014/15 season and mainly deployed on the left hand side of a front three Vardy was nothing more than a squad player. Vardy scored his first goal in Leicester’s famous 5-3 win over Manchester United before going on a 22 league game drought before scoring four goals in the final ten games of the season to help The Foxes retain their Premier League status. By enlarge that return was considered a success for such a small outfit.

 

Now, Wenger looks to be striking at peak time when Vardy has had a season play through the middle and show what he can do. 24 league goals later and the England striker took the Premier League by storm and even smashed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record by scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League games. Wenger seems poised to capitalise on the man in form and act quickly to bring him to The Emirates.

Always a man for showing faith and loyalty the move also signifies Wenger’s loss of faith in Theo Walcott. Wenger has always prioritised winning with players he believed in – his desperation to recapture his glory days of winning the league title seems to have reached a point where his patience with many players is beginning to wear thin.

 

Walcott has insisted he can be the striker Wenger has been looking for. However over the last two years the former Southampton wonderkid has failed to live up to expectations and now looks highly expendable in the Arsenal team.

 

Wenger’s move for Vardy paints a picture that the once revolutionary Frenchman has no time for players to prove themselves to him. Vardy and Walcott have some small similarities – mainly their pace and directness. Other than that Vardy is everything Walcott perhaps should have been – hard working closing down defenders, confident finisher, efficient in taking his chances and, above all else, consistent.

 

It also symbolises that Wenger’s faith in fellow Frenchman Olivier Giroud may be starting to fade. While Giroud scored 16 league goals last season his dry spells and inefficiency in taking his chances often cost Arsenal games. For the past two years people outside the club have been screaming for Wenger to bring in another forward help Giroud. Edinson Cavani, Falcao, Karim Benzema and all of the above have been linked with a move to north London but Wenger has diligently stuck his French front man. Should Vardy join the ranks as a Gunner then Giroud’s place in the side is no longer automatic – in fact he almost certainly becomes the second choice striker.

 

The move is perhaps the biggest indicator that Wenger will relinquish his hold on the Arsenal managerial position sooner rather than later and this summer represents the final time he will bring in players. If so then he is really going for it, £30m for Xhaka, £20m+ for Vardy and perhaps more to come.

 

His greatest failing may be that in a season when nobody wanted to win the league Arsenal could still not get the job done over 38 games. Every man has their breaking point and perhaps last season Wenger found his. Arsenal have not been slow to show the door to players surplus to requirements and their recruitment process has been speedier than usual.

 

With every club around them bringing in world class managers and already making world class signings desperation has set in for Wenger. Call him what you will but the Frenchman is defiant and the 2016/17 season may see his last act of that.

 

The Inside Story Of Arsenal Under Wenger: A book review

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It has taken a while for me to finally finish the Arsene Wenger biography written by Daily Mirror Chief Football Writer John Cross. It has not been for the lack of great tales or nostalgia bait but simply due to a hectic schedule. However After powering through the second half of the book in a night and a half here we are, a review of the book at last.

 

While I have read several books centred around Arsenal in the past (see my review of Thierry Henry’s biography Lonely At The Top) This is the first one I’ve read that gave me almost an all access look into press conferences with Wenger, away day journeys to all kinds of places with all manner of interesting tales and tensions behind the scenes. As an aspiring sports journalist myself it was genuinely mind-blowing.

 

I think my biggest take-away from the book was Wenger’s emotion. Having worked in a few sporting environments by now I am well aware that what is said in front of pressing BBC or Sky Sports cameras is not always the prevailing feeling away from the prying eyes. However, throughout the book there are constant tales of Wenger’s emotions playing a part in his press conferences, interviews with the newspapers, his players – past and present, board members and rival managers. Wenger is very much a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. His outbursts on the touchline and in the immediate post match interviews have mellowed in recent years and long gone are the days of explosive scenes and quotes like the ones given in 2005 in response to an interview Sir Alex Ferguson gave with the Independent. Wenger lashed out saying:

I have no diplomatic relations with him. What I don’t understand is that he does what he wants and you [the press] are all at his feet. The managers have a responsibility to protect the game before the game. But in England you are only punished for what you say after the game.

 

There are of course examples of Wenger’s emotion being seen in a joyous occasion and you don’t have to dig far into his Arsenal career archives to find it. When referee Lee Probert sounded off his whistle for the final time at Wembley on Saturday May 17th what washed over Wenger was relief as well as champagne. As Cross put it: “Wenger celebrated like never before. The players tried to soak him in champagne and then almost the entire squad lifted him up and threw him in the air.” His emotions make up a large part of Wenger’s DNA as manager of Arsenal and Cross details the Frenchman’s feelings expertly throughout the biography. When Wenger receives abuse from the stands while he looks oblivious to it all Cross makes it clear that he can hear it and it does hurt him to hear fans react so viciously when things are not going well on the pitch. One emotion that rarely crops up, and is therefore much more noticeable when it does, is anger. The two instances that stick out in the book are when his years at Monaco are explored and in 1993 they were consistently finishing second best to Marseille only for southern France team to be embroiled in a match-fixing scandal. The book details how Wenger felt betrayed by the Marseille hierarchy as well as officials and opposing players too. The other instance, which is chilling to the bone when reading the pages, is that Wenger faced a media storm when rumours about his private life started to circulate. Cross, via an interview with then press officer Clare Tomlinson, recalls how angry Wenger was:

All I remember is his reaction. I remember him going very still, very white. He was furious. It wasn’t like a Fergie red mist – he went white cold, just disgust, and I often wonder how close he was to just going outside, getting in a taxi and going back to Heathrow and giving up.

 

While many managers loath the press the book depicts Wenger as a man who enjoys their company, will crack a joke, offer sharp-tongued quips in response to questions and is even sharp when responding to text messages from more trusted members of the media. Throughout the chapters we see his relationship with the media get increasingly frosty especially when Arsenal and Wenger where under the cosh for: their lack of silverware, his future and big players leaving for rivals. However in his early days as the boss at Arsenal Wenger was often jovial with the media – even after disappointing results. After a 1-1 draw to Middlesbrough in 1998 Cross inserts a Wenger quip: ‘If you eat caviar every day, it’s difficult to return to sausages.’ Such a result today has often prompted the Frenchman to give longwinded answers about togetherness, to keep fighting and so on. Yet in this instance Cross paints the picture of a man who was under no pressure from the fans or media after the wonders he worked with the Gunners in such a short space of time. His caviar vs. sausages comparison is the type of one-liner that became synonymous with Wenger amongst the press however such humour in public dwindled as the years went by, swapped out for answers drawn out of tension or annoyance – especially when being pressed to respond to comments made by one Jose Mourinho. It’s a fantastic look into the mindset of one of the Premier League’s most respected managers.

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Throughout the book Cross writes about Wenger’s interests away from football. Politics, culture and business are all hot topics Wenger enjoys discussing at length and in terms of culture Wenger enjoys engrossing himself in the culture of whichever country he is in. This has been evident since he started managing in England but it was something he learned in his early days the slender, well spoken manager embraced the culture of Japan and what Japanese football brought with it as Cross explains:

Japan seemed to reinvigorated Wenger and, in a rather understated way, seemed to help shape the way he is today. His experience there, the adulation of the fans, helped him realise the importance of embracing the culture of the country you are in, thus preparing him for his transformation into an adopted Englishman.

 

Details of the move to the Emirates has always been well documented in the public eye. Yet what Cross writes so poignantly about is how the move to their new home in 2006 took the best years of Wenger’s managerial career. The book mentions clubs such as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich trying to charm Wenger away from the Gunners during their baron spell. How would Wenger’s CV look had he taken one of the no doubt lucrative offers? When reading about the sums of money available, the measures taken to help pay off the £390m stadium and how the stress and boardroom unrest you get a real sense of overachievement on Wenger’s part and in hindsight – while the lack of trophies was an obvious frustration – a top four finish was often a remarkable feat considering the revolving door nature of the squad from 2006. The penny pinching did see Wenger lose out on key targets such as Gary Cahill as Cross explains that in the summer of 2011 when Arsenal refused to pay over six million for the England defender only for Cahill to join arch-rivals Chelsea six months later for just one millions more. Nobody knows what Arsenal’s squad could have looked like and achieved had Wenger been prepared to pay the extra million here and there but finishing fourth under such restrictions has to be seen as a success, to a degree at least, especially as Arsenal’s purse strings were forced to tighten around the same time Chelsea were becoming free spending. According to Cross, former vice-chairman of Arsenal and a close personal friend of Wenger said: “He had arrived, parked his tanks on his lawn and was firing £50 notes.” The expert detail in which Cross delves into Arsenal’s move to the Emirates and their finances paints a real picture of constantly fighting an uphill battle in every transfer window when it came to keeping hold of their star players as well as recruiting.

 

Wenger has always spoken about bringing players through the Arsenal academy. Nurturing young talent and giving them a platform to develop has always been one of Wenger’s top priorities and not just on the pitch but in life. The book articulates Wenger as a father figure who cares about the future of young players away from the football pitch. Cross writes about a Q&A seminar in 2013 while in Japan in which the Arsenal manager answered willingly and insightfully about all things football. When quizzed about nurturing young talent this was his response: “I believe one of the best things about managing people is that we can influence lives in a positive way. That’s basically what a manager is about. When I can do that, I am very happy.” It’s a common thread through the book that Wenger is always striving to win but wants the club to produce players that are not afraid to express themselves and will give any young player the chance if he thinks they are ready.

 

While so many clubs are obsessed by instant success and buying ready made superstars Wenger has moulded Arsenal into a club that will develop not just football players but young men. Throughout the book Cross writes about how Wenger is a very well liked man and how no players ever leave the club on bad terms with him. Such is the nature of Wenger that for many of the young, fragile players – many of them experiencing an entirely new culture for the first time – he doubles up as a father figure to them. Through listening, wisdom and protection from the media Wenger builds strong bonds with budding players who get the ultimate backing from a manger who has the upmost faith in their ability. Perhaps the most written phrase in the entire book is: “He is a very nice man.” Out of the wide range of ex players Cross interviewed about the Arsenal manager it is a common occurrence. This explains why it hurts Wenger even more when he has to sell players such as Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry as he developed almost a father-son relationship with them watching them blossom from a rough-round-the-edges, enthusiastic starlet turn into a match winning superstar. 

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There are 389 excellent pages about one of the most complex men ever to grace the Premier League. Themes such as his discomfort when dealing with confrontation thus creating a feeling of disillusionment towards his players are often countered with honest interviews with respected members of Arsenal’s past saying he always made them feel involved and appreciated. While managers will often dictate the nature of half time team talks Wenger is a man who would rarely be heavily involved, often leaving the players to discuss it amongst themselves before delivering a concise message about how they play for the rest of the game. There is much more I could write about the book discussing how Wenger enjoys attending international tournaments and soaking up the culture or how he truly believes in his squad using a sports phycologist but the best tale I can tell is the one I endured of nostalgia, intrigue and remarkable discoveries. Over his 20 years of management we have all seen and got accustomed to Wenger the football manager but Wenger the man is a subject so brilliantly dissected that a much rounder image of the man as a whole is formed. Emotions are a large part of Wenger’s make-up while an unshakeable belief in his player’s and his own ability is what keeps him firmly at the helm of the north London club.

What we learned: 5 things from the F.A. Cup semi final

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A late Anthony Martial goal sent Manchester United into their first F.A. Cup final since 2007. At the expense of Everton, and an under pressure Roberto Martinez, Louis van Gaal will now compete for his first piece of silverware as Man United boss. Here are five things we learned from the pulsating semi-final.

 

  1. Roberto Martinez is almost certainly leaving Everton this summer

In what was a pivotal week for the former Wigan Athletic manager Martinez saw his side played off the park in the Merseyside Derby in a 4-0 drubbing which only got worse as the game went on. The rotten cherry on top of this stale cake is Martial’s late winner in Saturday’s semi-final. With fan patience now at the end Martinez is walking a tightrope and looks almost certain to lose his job this summer with underperforming stars, an inability to defend and lack of tactical flexibility.

 

Everton face four more games this season against: Bournemouth, Leicester City, Sunderland and Norwich City. Even if Martinez manages a clean sweep and collects 12 points from the remaining fixtures it will surely be nothing more than a last act of defiance before the Everton board pull the trigger on the Spaniard.

 

  1. Martial, Rashford & Lingard are the makings of a fearsome front three

Be it by managerial brilliance or luck – be that good or bad – Louis van Gaal has integrated Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard into the Manchester United side with great success. Add the superstar in the making that is Martial and they have the makings of a truly terrifying front three. Not since Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez have United had an attack so full of pace, directness and trickery. The chances are this will not be the permanent front three of The Red Devils going into next season – especially if Jose Mourinho takes charge. The trio clearly have a bond on the field which sees them bring the best out of each other and the sample size is becoming larger to show that it is not fluke that they are quality players together. Against Everton’s back line they constantly ran at them forcing the defenders to back off and created the lion share of Manchester United’s chances.

 

  1. Lukaku and Stones need new voices

This could go for the entire Everton team but no players need a new voice in their head quite like Romelu Lukaku and John Stones do. Both have had their heads turned by potential moves to bigger clubs in England and abroad and the inconsistencies of The Toffees has not helped matters. On a day when Everton needed their big players to have a big game they were left disappointed – particularly in the case of the big Belgian. Lukaku saw his penalty saved by David De Gea and that summed up what was an overall poor performance, Lukaku has had attitude problems in the past and they surfaced again today with the former Chelsea hitman not being at his terrorising best which has seen him find the net 25 times this campaign.

 

Stones by contrast had a mixed bag but his regression throughout the season is clear for all to see. He needs a new coach and manager before he forever lingers in the bracket of looking better than he is. Stones failed to steal the ball from Rashford in the build up to United’s opener and then allowed Marouane Fellaini to steal a yard on him giving the Belgium international a goal against his former employers. Perhaps this summer will see the pair shipped out of Goodison Park and for their sake they may need it.

 

  1. Semi-finals can be amazing

Often semi-finals can be dull one goal affairs with both teams often looking not to lose the tie before going on to win it. Not the case with this one, attack was the best form of defence and, although van Gaal’s men bossed the opening 45 minutes, we were treated to a mouth-watering clash with bags of chances and barely a moment to send a tweet out before the next bit of drama unfolded. Martial’s goal was a fitting finish to 90 minutes of rollercoaster action.

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during the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014 in London, England.

 

  1. The F.A. Cup still matters

Of course it still maters and it always will. The F.A. Cup is part of the very fabric of our culture in England. However, the reason it matters is changing greatly. The cup now represents buying managers a time. Arsene Wenger saw fans keep patience with him after back-to-back F.A. Cup wins in 2014 and 2015. Van Gaal could now see his position safe should he guide Man United to cup glory – the same could be said of Alan Pardew and Quique Sanchez Flores who are also under huge pressure to keep their jobs.

 

The F.A. Cup in recent times has come under more scrutiny as the perception grows that the bigger teams in the Premier League do not treat it with the same respect as they once did with Premier League and Champions League honours top of their list of priorities. Now it can be seen as a life raft keeping managers afloat. Perhaps the prestige has taken a knock but the drama has certainly intensified, you only have to go back and look at a champagne soaked Arsene Wenger clenching his fists to see what victory in the F.A. Cup can mean.