An Invisible Man, (Theo) Mr Anonymous (Rambo) and a Rudderless Ship – All Change Please!

Arsenal - A Rudderless ship

Arsenal – A Rudderless ship

Where do I even begin this blog? I haven’t had much mojo for blogging recently, so I have been quiet. After that travesty at Old Trafford, though, I’m not going to hold back. Arsenal need a major overhaul and I am starting to wonder if Wenger is the man to do it, or if he will be like Ferguson was at United in his last 2 years and do as little as possible in terms of signing players to strengthen the squad.

Arsenal were pathetic and rudderless away to a Manchester United squad that was decimated by injury and were fielding a bunch of mostly teenage players. The fact that Carrick and Blind were the two starting centre-backs should tell you enough about their injuries. Yet United still came away 3-2 victors against an Arsenal team who were only missing a few players. It is time to question the lack of squad depth and the overall quality of the players at the Club and I am going to highlight a few whom I feel have been underperforming this season.



Aaron Ramsey had another match to forget and was largely anonymous in midfield. I feel that the Ramsey of the 2013-14 season has gone forever and has been replaced by the current Ramsey, who believes too much of his own hype. Yes, he is a decent player when attacking and can score goals, but his forays up the pitch leave Arsenal defensively exposed, doubly so when paired with Mathieu Flamini in the middle. Ramsey’s goal touch has largely been poor of late in comparison to the recent past, often losing the ball in the final third through both poor touches and no-look passing that allows our opponents to start a quick counter, e.g. twice vs. Southampton in the 4-0 thumping and in other occasions since. My personal feeling is that he should be moved on in the summer as it is quite clear to me that he has no willingness to alter his game to suit the needs of the team.

The Invisible Man - Theo

The Invisible Man – Theo

Theo Walcott was invisible again today. 2 goals in 22 matches now if I’m not mistaken. That is extremely poor for a player who only wants to play through the middle. At 27, Theo is not going to develop anymore and it is worrying that he has been a passenger for much of this season. Most of the clever, bursting runs of old between defenders seem to have disappeared after the knee ligament injury he sustained vs. Spurs. Theo also has very little defensive work-rate and does not really scrap for winning the ball off of opponents so, if he isn’t scoring, he isn’t adding anything to the team. My opinion is that Arsenal should move him on in the summer too – 3 more years on his contract after his extension last July, with Theo offering so little, does not seem like good business sense to me.

Kieran Gibbs is another I’d like to shine a light on. He has been pretty poor this season, seemingly unable to push Nacho Monreal for the left-back spot and performing in a manner to not make Arsene Wenger take notice when he does play, mostly in Cup matches. 213 minutes in 13 matches is a pretty damning indictment, his only saving grace this season being that goal vs. Spurs when he was pushed up into the left-wing spot. Gibbs is 26 now, an age where he should be pushing for a first-team spot with good performances but he has been wilting away for the past 18 months. Gibbs has 2 years left on his contract and it is my opinion that Arsenal should be looking to bring in a younger player to learn from Monreal, as Gibbs clearly isn’t.

Beyond his best

Beyond his best

Mathieu Flamini’s contract is apparently up this summer which, for me, cannot come soon enough. He was very good in his first season back at the Club, the 2013-14 season, where he shined in midfield. However, since Cazorla was moved into midfield from the wider areas, Flamini seems to have suffered and tries to do too much on the pitch and, as he is a fairly limited player in terms of ability and even fitness at this point due to his age, this really does not work. Yes, Mertesacker left him exposed vs. Barcelona on Tuesday night but, as soon as you saw Messi sprinting in, you knew Flamini was going to give away the penalty with a rash tackle, as he so often gets yellow-carded for poor tackles. He has been left to do too much work by Ramsey a lot of the time when the two have been paired together, but Flamini’s decision-making on the pitch leaves a lot to be desired and, at 31 years of age (32 next Monday), is not likely to improve.

Time to go?

Time to go?

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another player that Arsenal should move on in the summer. The Ox has shown no improvement in the last 3 years as a player and that is worrying. Some of that may be down to injuries (he’s injured again now too until the end of the season), but some is down to the player himself. Oxlade-Chamberlain seems quite unwilling, like Walcott, to do the defensive work required when Arsenal don’t have possession and loses the ball quite often in and around the opponent’s penalty box, again much like Walcott and, to a lesser extent, Ramsey. The Ox can be exciting to watch, with a willingness to take on players, but that comes to nought when he keeps losing the ball in promising positions. Just 2 goals in 33 appearances this season is not good enough and, with 2 years of his contract remaining, it is my opinion that he should also be moved on. Arsenal are not currently short of players who can play on the right, with Alex Iwobi, the impressive Joel Campbell, Serge Gnabry and the currently-away-on-loan Chuba Akpom all with the skills to play there next season.

As close to the action as usual

As close to the action as usual

Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are another two who, this season, have not been able to add anything significant to the Club due to injuries (both players) and lack of form when appearing for the club (Arteta). I think it is a foregone conclusion that both players will leave the Club. Arteta has been in a steady decline for the past 18 months, the emergence of Cazorla as a deep playmaker next to Coquelin, in addition to persistent calf muscle injuries, has made his decline rapid. Those 2 goals he gifted away to West Brom, when we were in a winning position, cemented him in leaving as a player at the end of the season in my opinion. Rosicky, who is still a fine player and one of my favourites, has a body that is just not up to the rigours of Premier League football anymore and has, sadly, spent far too much time of his Arsenal career on treatment tables. I really hope Rosicky is able to continue his career for another year or two (he’s 35 now) in another league, one that is less physically imposing, as he is a joy to watch. However, should he retire after the European Championships, I don’t think many will be surprised.

What of potential replacements? That depends on who will be in charge next season. If Arsene Wenger is still in the manager’s seat, then I can’t see many changes forthcoming. If Wenger is still in charge, I’d expect Flamini to get another 12 month contract, with some or all of Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley and Jon Toral joining up with the senior squad to fill gaps left by departed players as Wenger has not shown a willingness in the past to sign enough in one year to fill all of the gaps in the squad that exist. Serge Gnabry and Carl Jenkinson will likely also re-join the first team squad, with the strong possibility of Chuba Akpom doing the same.

Toral one for future?

Toral one for future?

If the Board takes the view that this season has been one of a seriously missed opportunity in the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League and Wenger gets replaced, then I can see a new manager coming in and immediately stamping his place on the squad by getting rid of players like Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who, on the whole, simply do not offer enough end product, in addition to removing fringe players like Isaac Hayden (I think Wenger may sell him on in the summer too). As for that replacement, I suspect Diego Simeone and Frank de Boer are high up on that list, as both have shown willingness to promote players from within if they demonstrate the required quality, which is something Wenger has always tried to do to his credit, with mixed success. Simeone and de Boer are of the age where retirement will not be on their minds for some time, so the Club can build for long-term success around their next appointment. Remi Garde is another possibility, but he may stay at Aston Villa to help them get back into the Premier League – relegation for them is now a foregone conclusion really, as there simply aren’t enough fixtures left to turn it around.

Dream team?

Dream team?

Whomever is in charge next season must sign one more centre-back as Gabriel seems to not have big match temperament (e.g. complacency in the match away vs. Manchester United, getting into an altercation with Diego Costa earlier this season at Chelsea that got Gabriel sent off, etc.), another striker to take some workload off Giroud due to the ineffectiveness of Walcott and one more defensive midfielder to replace Arteta and Flamini.


Right. Phew. That’s all from me until next time.


Tim Hargreaves


Tw: @timjbharg

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6 Responses to An Invisible Man, (Theo) Mr Anonymous (Rambo) and a Rudderless Ship – All Change Please!

  1. Shubham February 29, 2016 at 8:37 am #

    We have a lot of rebuilding to do..At least 6-7 players will need replacement. Arteta, Rosicky, Flamini, Ospina, Ox/Theo, Gabriel, Mertesacker…

    Knowing our gaffer, we will bring in academy kids and 2nd rate players on the pretext that the club is building for the future. Crazy situation. God help Arsenal.

  2. David James February 29, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    Walcott made his name as aright winger. he will never be a central striker. AW is ready to lose a game to please walcott. Ramsey would rather we lose and he sore a goal. He is not disciplined enough to play as a box to box midfielder. If Wenger cannot see this obvious problems, he should go.

  3. Tim Hargreaves February 29, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    Hi David and Shubham. Thank you for your comments.

    I think Ospina will put in a transfer request, as he will want to be playing football every week to keep his place in the Colombian team. However, I agree with what Nick Birch said in his blog recently that Emi Martinez will likely be the number 2 if Ospina leaves (he’s shown to be capable, already kept some clean sheets in the League and UCL for us) with Matt Macey and possibly Ryan Huddart going out on loan.

    I wouldn’t get rid of the BFG just yet though – he is perfectly capable of playing against teams with slower forward lines or who throw in frequent high crosses. However, he does need a good midfield screen in front of him, like Cazorla and Coquelin together, to be most effective. It is when he has to run out to clear the ball or pushes up the pitch that we have a problem usually.

    However, some of those kids, the ones I mentioned, have all been doing very well lately out on loan, especially Jon Toral at Birmingham City. Zelalem has been doing very well at Rangers, scoring a few goals and assisting many more – I think they will try to extend his loan for another year as they try to establish themselves in the SPL again next season, as they are certain to be promoted. Crowley was sent back by Barnsley as their manager felt he was too good for them! Crowley needs a loan at a good Championship club though, like Derby or Ipswich, who are known for bringing through youth talent.

    I agree completely with your points re. Walcott and Ramsey, David. All the stuff you mentioned about Ramsey I pointed out myself before in my previous Blog here back in December and that is still something I stand by and agree with. AW had the whole of January to sign someone, yet he only brought in Elneny who has largely not played at all. I also agree about Theo except that he has lost his effectiveness and now offers nothing.

    I am considering doing a follow-up piece on who we could bring in to replace all those mentioned in my blog. Thoughts?

  4. Victor Thompson February 29, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    Hi Tim, If you read my comments yesterday, you will see that I agree with your analysis completely. I have been a Walcott fan since he arrived but I have to admit that he currently contributes nothing. Ramsey is another example of a player who has great character and skill but no positional discipline. he is non productive and lacking in passing ability. The BFG is a solid defender if he sticks to his job which is to control the penalty box. I would love to be able to say something optimistic about The Ox but unfortunately everything you say about him is spot on.

    Worryingly, the form of Sanchez is of great concern. Compared to his pre- injury form, he is not even a shadow of that player. He gave the ball away yesterday more than any other player. His ball control was awful. I lost count of the times that his first touch was hopeless. He consistently offered a chance to the defender to nick it off him and they mostly did. When he did manage to control the ball he mostly put his head down and ran into brick walls instead of passing it. When you consider the effect the failures of all the above players, it is not hard to understand why Ozil is less effective than usual. Who has he got to pass to who will take advantage of his touch?

    One has to look at Wenger for most of these failures. If he was a world class coach, top players would respect him but when BFG ignores his instructions repeatedly ( according to Wenger, he calls it naivety ) and ventures into the opposing penalty box leaving us with a gaping hole in our defence, why can he not insist that he sticks to his prime task? Sanchez clearly needs an extended rest as he appears to be burnt out. There is a problem for Wenger because apparently Sanchez wants to dictate when he should play. There can only be one boss and Venger does not seem to be able to impose his will on the players.

    Does anyone really believe that the faults associated with Walcott and The Ox have not been obvious to him? Of course they have, but what has he done to correct them? In Walcott`s case, he must have been involved in negotiating the terms of his new contract. It is clear that Walcott`s demands were concisely put to him, but what terms did he demand of Walcott? For £140, 000 per week I would have expected that he would play to order, which would include tackling back and supporting the defence. In The Ox`s case, he simply needs coaching in the art of using the ball constructively. He has no lack of effort and he can be devastating when he charges at defences but his final touch lets him down.

    Campbell produces more end product than either Walcott or Ox with less talent than either of them but as good as he can be,he will never be a first choice premiership player. he is a good squad player. Is that the quality of player we need?

    The weaknesses, described above are the subject of many comments from fans since yesterday as are the tactical decisions made by Wenger ( Flamini for Coquelin when we were 1 down to Barcelona ). Taking Welbeck off when he was the only forward who posed any threat? He has made similar gaffs all season. Yesterday all of the above faults were patently obvious in the first half but he sent the same team out at half time. There was no change to the performance but Wenger could not make up his mind what to do until he took Walcott off in the 65rd minute. His changes should have been made at half time which would have let the other players in general and Walcott in particular understand the consequences for such poor performance but more importantly he needed urgent action to change the flow of the game. He was not up to it.

    It is an old adage that the team reflects the character of the manager ( look at Fergie, Shankly, Guardiola etc. ) but unfortunately it appears that the Arsenal teams of the last 10 years have simply reflected Arsene`s lack of balls. He can`t control his players. He can`t coach them. They don`t fear him. Courage should not be confused with obstinacy. He will not buy better players. He will not make substitutions at the right time He does not recognise repeated mistakes or if he does, he will not change his ways. Some people admire him for sticking to his beliefs but that does not require courage. It simply amounts to blind adherence to failure. 10 years ago he might have had the answers, but clearly he does not have the answers now.

  5. Alex lee February 29, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    I started following the Arsenal same with you in the year 1998 , the AW’s team had changed to be totally a coward styled team now . extreamly disappointed with the unlike to improve wilshere\theo\ox , all of your opinions agreed .

  6. DEW February 29, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    I was strong fan of Welbeck walcott Alexis front three, but Walcott performance yesterday was not good generally. He was wasteful in dangerous ares, lack of communication etc.

    Arsenal was better team till the first goal. Apart from walcott and the boring love story between Welbeck and Alexis. After the first goal they get confidence and they deny us spaces etc. and then the famous fatigue comes in and kills some of our players afterwards. I am thankful for the two goals scored by Arsenal.

    Yes Arsenal should find better players at some positions. Wenger should find promising talent on the market and buy them competing with other clubs, instead of going for inexpensive hidden talents.

    However, the real problem at arsenal is not this for me. It is our defense system that is costing us a lot. I am not football expert but I want to say this. I think any player with dribbling skill can run at arsenal players and cause a lot of problems. At some point in the game 5-6 arsenal players were bullied by 2 manchester players. At arsenal defensive errors are transferable from one player to another all the time. You may argue it as it is nature of collective defense system, but in collective defense system everyone will act together to block any threat coming. Instead what we are doing is we retreat or run together with opponent player until he passes the ball and it continues this way. This is not an easy task, it draws a lot of energy from the players. The other is I think the players are not trained more often to make tackles and take the ball off the opponent player as quickly as possible. My biggest frustration on Arsene is this. I think he has to look the defensive techniques and tactics of the team very carefully. We have reached a point where we can not defend without parking a bus.

    The other is the famous final third game is disappearing from Arsenal, due to several reasons. One is The big players coming to arsenal used to play different style of final third game in their respective ex clubs, so they are not correctly implementing the Arsenal way. Arsenal counter attack and final third game were on par with any best club in the world.

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