Category Archives: Arsenal

Which club had the best transfer window?

The transfer window slammed shut on August 31, and clubs around Europe finalised their incoming and outgoing signings for the 2021/22 season.

It has been one of the most high-profile transfer windows in recent years, with billions spent on some of the biggest names in world football moving on to pastures new.

Most notably, two of the best-ever players in football history moved to new clubs. Lionel Messi ended his 16-year senior career at a financially stricken Barcelona and joined European powerhouses Paris St Germain. Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo also moved clubs, leaving Juventus and joining former team Man United instead.

With squads across Europe’s top leagues finalised in recent days, we look at who had the best transfer summer transfer window, and who may lead the picks for major titles this season.

Paris St Germain

French giants PSG did not hesitate to move for some of Europe’s big names once they became available this summer. They quickly moved for Euro 2020 Golden Glove winner Gianluigi Donnarumma, signing the former AC Milan goalkeeper on a free transfer. The Ligue 1 side then added Gini Wijnaldum from Liverpool and Sergio Ramos also both on free transfers.

However, PSG business did not stop there, and they produced the transfer coup of the summer bringing in Lionel Messi from Barcelona on a free transfer. The Argentinian superstar will link up with former teammate Neymar, world-class forward Kylian Mbappe and compatriot Angel Di Maria to form one of the most threatening attacking line-ups in Europe.

PSG also signed young wing-back Achraf Hakimi from Inter Milan for £54 million to bolster their wide options for the coming season. At just 22-years-old, Hakimi has already made 179 senior appearances for Borussia Dortmund, Inter and Real Madrid.

With several exceptional additions to their already talented squad, PSG will be a force to be reckoned with this season. After a disappointing 2020/21 season, where they missed out on the Ligue 1 title and exited the Champions League in the semi-finals, expect PSG to be back amongst the major honours this season.

Chelsea

Champions League winners Chelsea left their transfer business late during the summer window. The Blues were linked with top players, including Erling Haaland early in the transfer window. But they didn’t move until the final weeks.

It was worth the wait as the West Londoners signed prolific striker Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for around £100 million. The signing was big business for Chelsea, who sorely lacked goals in the Premier League last season. Lukaku will provide the attacking threat to compliment Thomas Tuchel’s highly organised and defensively astute Chelsea side.

Chelsea then added experienced midfielder Saúl to their ranks on deadline day as he joined on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid. It was another clever signing by the Blues, who added more know-how to a team that lacked experience last season with the likes of Mason Mount, Timo Wermer, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech all finding their feet in English football.

Man United

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has built one of the most talented squads in the Premier League with the additions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho during the transfer window.

The high-profile signings are a sign of intent from the Red Devils as they hope to launch a competitive title challenge against top-flight champions and rivals, Man City.

Sancho and Ronaldo will add an extra edge and provide competition for an already prolific attack of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial. Varane will add world-class experience at centre back to partner Harry Maguire. The French international will also provide further depth with Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly.

With additional depth and competition, United should be more competitive in the 2021/22 season after falling 12 points short of the Premier League title last season.

Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s incoming transfers were overshadowed by the departure of some household names at the Bernabeau. Centre back duo Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane both departed after long-term careers at the club.

However, Los Blancos have made some clever signings to replace their outgoing players. The Spanish giants brought in experienced defender David Alaba for a free from Bayern Munich, and they signed sought-after prospect Eduardo Camavinga for £28 million from Rennes.

The pair bring European experience with them to Madrid. Alaba made over 400 appearances for Bayern, won 10 Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues. Despite being just 18-years-old Camavinga also arrives with plenty of top-level experience in Europe and Ligue 1. The centre-back already made 88 appearances for Rennes across three seasons and will likely continue to develop at the Bernabeau under Carlo Ancelotti.

The two signings show a shift from the Galactico years and the £100 million-plus spending on Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard. Instead, investment in Alaba and Camavinga shows a more frugal approach by Madrid to re-build a new squad with a blend of experience and youth.

Arsene Wenger’s Legacy is Intact, But His Reputation is Fading

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Arsene Wenger’s Legacy is Intact, But His Reputation is Fading

It was never meant to end like this. Like a good Hollywood movie, Arsene Wenger was supposed to ride off into the sunset with the grateful townsfolk cheering behind him.

But not like this, where he is the mad scientist, locked in the castle’s turret, babbling about finding the formula as the monster kills him while the lightning crashes outside.

Arsene Wenger created a monster and it’s eating him in front of our eyes.

Football uses terms confusingly. Legacy is viewed frequently from a short-term perspective. We think of it as the state of the squad and whether the youth set-up is producing first-team players. That’s not a legacy, it’s getting things working.

A legacy is something more ingrained in the culture of the club, something lasting. Wenger managed that at Arsenal, leading the transition of the grandest of ‘olde England’ clubs into a modern footballing entity.

One remembered for being the classiest of clubs in the manner in which it conducted business remains the same in the narcissistic world of the Premier League.

London Colney is a state of the art training facility and the Emirates a modern stadium which is the envy of many. Arsene Wenger had a massive input into both; he didn’t do it on his own, but his fingerprints are found on everything which affected the footballing side of Arsenal.

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His legacy is intact. If he feared for its future, he need not. These are the tributes to stand the test of time.

The same cannot be said of his reputation. A man who won two domestic doubles and went a season unbeaten in the Premier League can’t surely be worried about how he will be remembered.

Until ten years ago, nobody would have disagreed. Now, it isn’t so clear-cut.

The Moment The Dream Died

Even when the move to the Emirates happened, Wenger’s sides were remembered as vibrant. They played football as it was meant to be played. A swift passing game which was a delight to watch.

For a while, it seemed he was producing a blueprint and in 2007/08, the Premier League title was in his grasp. But it collapsed under the weight of Martin Taylor’s dreadful tackle on Eduardo. The broken leg broke the young Arsenal’s spirit. When they needed a captain, William Gallas sat petulantly in the centre circle after a 2–0 lead disappeared.

Something died in Arsenal that day, we just didn’t know it at the time. From the peak of challenging for the title, Arsenal slumped into a cycle of fighting for fourth place and losing in the early knockout rounds of the Champions League.

The situation at the club was summed up in 2015/16. Leicester City were being reeled in by the Gunners and arrived at the Emirates on Valentine’s Day. They took the lead, but Arsenal levelled before a Danny Welbeck header in the dying seconds gave them three points and the title race was back on.

One month later, they were out of the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona, out of the FA Cup, and out of the title race after two defeats and a draw saw a ten-point gap open at the top of the table.

Arsenal collapsed; there was no backbone, no substance to the squad as they flattered to deceive. Worse still, they were becoming predictable. Opponents knew how to stifle them and this iteration of Wenger’s Arsenal, even with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in the XI, lacked guile.

They were and remain, a dull side to watch.

A Crumbling Empire

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Wenger’s reputation is being irredeemably damaged by this section of the club’s history. His contract renewal in 2014 in the emotion of the 3–2 victory over Hull City was a mistake; the two-year extension signed last year was pure folly.

The Frenchman is a prickly character when questions are about him and his footballing philosophy. For many of his critics, it’s arrogance and a reason why those critics are growing in number and louder in voice.

2016/17 was pock-marked by protests, demanding the manager, board and owner to leave. Ticket prices don’t represent value for money and the lack of cohesive transfer policy grates. Arsenal’s weaknesses remain unchanged for a decade.

A lack of depth in key positions in the squad, aligned to players who wouldn’t be in a title-challenging club has left Arsenal drifting out of the top four and unlikely to return. Wenger’s touch in the transfer market for defensive players was always suspect, his Achilles heel. It’s not improving as the years pass by.

The club is building for a future without Wenger while he is still there. Sven Mislintat, the new head of recruitment, already found himself on the end of the Frenchman’s public barbs. Raul Sanelhi joins from Barcelona next month as head of football operations – Wenger’s loathed director of football by any other name- while Huss Fahmy is already looking for contracts.

Wenger’s job is becoming isolated, focussing purely on the first team squad and eroding his power base at the club. But he can’t give up; he freely admits he has nothing else in his life. Football is all.

While it may be at Arsenal until the end of this contract in 2019, it seems unlikely he will be at the Emirates after that as anything other than managing the opposition or an interested spectator in the stands.

Arsene Wenger and his legacy – Why the world will miss him when he retires?

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When one talks about teams in the Premier League, many come to my mind. There are a few that stand out though and one of those continue to be Arsenal. The Gunners are an English powerhouse side by every measure and if they have reached such great heights, it all comes down to one man – Arsene Wenger.

Right now, a good majority of the Arsenal fans have turned against him and to be very fair, one cannot blame them. Match after match, the Gunners have put up lacklustre displays and they continue to struggle despite having some of the biggest stars in the team.

Their midfield contains seasoned Premier League players like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey and their defence boasts of some of the sturdiest defenders in the league. And yet, Arsenal have not found their groove this season.

Unfortunately for the club, their situation has just been worsening over the last few years and this time, it has reached the saturation point. Consecutive defeats to Manchester City have filled even the most passionate fan’s heart with dismay and anger and it seems like they have come to a point of no return.

Chants of ‘Wenger Out’ continue to grow louder across the world and speculations were rife that the French manager would be sacked after Arsenal failed to secure a Champions League qualification spot last season. However, the management decided to keep him on for another two years but once more, his questionable tactics and lack of judgement of the constantly-evolving modern game of football have landed the club in hot water.

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In fact, the chances of Wenger exiting the club continue to increase as the days go by. For many of us who grew up watching football in the early 2000s, it is honestly unimaginable to fathom an Arsenal side without the familiar sight of Wenger on the sidelines. With his perfectly tailored suit and the hairstyle he has donned throughout the years, the Frenchman does make for a powerful presence.

However, in a post-Wenger era, Arsenal might do well and improve as a team but there is absolutely no doubt that a lot of us will miss the manager.

After all, he is the one to have developed so many superstars while reaching and creating new milestones on a regular basis. How can anybody forget Wenger’s Invincibles? That was a season that will forever remain etched onto the minds of Premier League fans and not just people who support the club. To have gone an entire season unbeaten is unthinkable and yet, Wenger managed to do it at a time when there were no hefty price tags or inflated player values.

We are living in a time where price tags are as inflated as player’s egos and somewhere in between all the glitz and glamour of big endorsements and flashy cars, a manager like Wenger does not fit anymore. His strict emphasis on routine and discipline and the gentlemanly aspects of the game continue to be a necessity – but as managers like Julian Nagelsmann and Marco Silva emerge, there seem to be newer traits that are being employed while coming up with tactics and formations.

That said, people like Wenger hold a special place in the history of the game. Even the most passionate Arsenal fan might disagree with his decisions and tactics in most matches but one thing is for sure – the day he announces his retirement, there will be a lot of silent tears shed among the Arsenal faithful.

wenger

Yes, the previous season and current one have been rather chaotic and terrible but is that enough to erase the legacy he has built so meticulously over the years? Most definitely not. Wenger will always be a legendary figure for Arsenal and there is nothing that can change that. Famous for his dry humour and steely looks, every single person associated with the Premier League will miss him when he leaves.

When it comes to iconic managers, Sir Alex Ferguson’s name will always remain eternal but Wenger is definitely quite close to that place. Even though watching him leave would be quite saddening, one cannot deny that it is high time for him to leave. It is quite evident that the fans are livid and they want to see some positive changes pronto. If Wenger continues like this, he will be at risk of destroying the reputation he built since more than the last decade.

Hence, although we are all aware that Wenger should be on his way out of the glorious Emirates Stadium, there is no doubt that we will lose one of European football’s most reputable characters.

Top 50 Young Footballers – Part 3 (30-21)

dayet-upamecano

Top 50 Young Footballers – Part 3 (30-21)

As price tags of footballers continue increasing, a lot of clubs are turning their attention to younger players. These players boast of an unfiltered energy with raw passion and watching them play is often a delightful affair. In fact, over the last few seasons, a lot of young stars have come to the fore and amazed us with their sublime skills. After already engaging in Part 1 and Part 2 of our Top 50 countdown, here is our list of 30-21.

30. Kai Havertz – Bayer Leverkusen

Likened to Mesut Ozil a lot of times, Havertz is a midfielder by trade but he is known to display impeccable attacking quality. He has been with Leverkusen since he was 11 years of age and has managed to cement a spot for himself in the first-team despite being just an 18-year-old. Although he played in the central midfield area as a youth star, Havertz has often been deployed wide right for the first-team. If he continues to develop this way, there is no limit to what the young German can achieve.

29. Ben Chilwell – Leicester City

The 21-year-old Englishman has found himself playing a starring role for Leicester this season. Having come through the ranks of the Foxes, Chilwell has done exceedingly well at left-back. In fact, he is now being regarded as one of the best in the country and is also understood to be close to breaking into England’s senior team. Consistent, reliable and solid – these are some of his most admired attributes and the fact that he has managed to keep Christian Fuchs away from the starting lineup for Leicester is quite commendable.

28. Alex Iwobi – Arsenal

An Arsenal academy product, Iwobi boasts of sublime talent and ball control. He is one of those players who can dictate the game with his effective passes and dribbles while also providing adequate support to the attack. Arsene Wenger often deploys him across a variety of positions and more often than not, Iwobi does quite well. The 21-year-old’s versatility is one of his biggest strengths and although he has not been consistent enough this season, there is absolutely no doubting his potential.

27. Serge Gnabry – 1899 Hoffenheim- on loan from Bayern Munich

Currently on loan at Hoffenheim, the 22-year-old is actually a Bayern Munich player. He was initially with Arsenal and even impressed for the first-team but the club eventually let him leave. That is probably something the Gunners regret even till today since Gnabry’s performances since then have skyrocketed. The Stuttgart-born sensation was particularly incredible in the 2016 Olympics and there seems to be no stopping him. Regarded as a bright prospect for Bayern, Gnabry can go a long way.

26. Carel Eiting – Ajax

Eiting is yet to break into the first-team but his performances for their youth sides have been truly scintillating. He is a ball-playing defensive midfielder by trade and rose through the ranks quite rapidly, after having joined the club at the tender age of 9. In fact, the now 20-year-old was a driving force in Ajax’s journey to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Youth League and there seems to be no limit to his potential. His next goal will be to break into the first-team and if he continues to develop at this pace, nobody can keep him out.

25. Leon Bailey – Bayer Leverkusen

The Bundesliga is often renowned for producing some of the best talents in the world and Bailey is understood to be the next superstar to have emerged from the German top-flight. At just 20 years of age, the young star has managed to attract attention from some of the best clubs across the world for his spectacular attacking instinct and technical skills. Leverkusen will be fighting tooth and nail to fend off attention but when a player is as gifted as Bailey, that will be a tough task.

24. Vinicius Junior – Flamengo

The 17-year-old teenage sensation has attracted attention from Real Madrid and one look at his performances is enough to understand why. A midfielder by trade, Junior has put on some remarkable displays for the Brazilian side. He knows how to use his physicality to his advantage and his technical intelligence is quite mature despite being so young. Junior can effectively control the pace of the game in the final third and has put in some stunning attacking runs for his club.

23. Vitor Eduardo – Palmeiras

The 18-year-old has earned rave reviews for his performances as a centre-back for Brazilian club Palmeiras this season. He even captained the Brazil Under-17 side to victory in the South American Championship last year and his team was renowned for having the best defence and he played a vital role in that. Known for being a natural leader with solid defensive skills, the young star can definitely achieve a lot in the near future.

22. Timo Werner – RB Leipzig

At 21 years of age, Werner is reckoned as one of the brightest young German talents and is expected to put up quite a show in the upcoming World Cup as well. Currently playing for RB Leipzig, Werner has blossomed into a mature and skilled striker and has been a constant figure for the side this season. Having already smashed 15 goals and provided 3 assists so far in the ongoing campaign, Werner has attracted attention from elite European clubs and it is only a matter of time until he leaves Leipzig for pastures new.

21. Dayot Upamecano – RB Leipzig

Another player from the same side, Dayot Upamecano, was subject to a lot of attention in the recent transfer window. He was linked to a couple of Premier League sides but he ultimately chose to stay put. The 19-year-old has been in blistering form and has been one of the reasons behind the club’s strong defence this season so far. With every game, Upamecano seems to be getting better and he is known to make some much-needed tackles and interceptions to help his team.

End of an era: Olivier Giroud, the modern-day Arsenal legend

olivier-giroud

End of an era: Olivier Giroud, the modern-day Arsenal legend

When Arsenal announced that Olivier Giroud has joined Chelsea on a permanent deal in the dying hours of the January transfer window, it pulled at the heartstrings of every single Gunners’ fan.

The towering Frenchman joined the club at a time when the fans were fuming after Robin van Persie’s infamous transfer to Manchester United. Since then, the player struggled to make room for himself in the hearts of the Arsenal faithful. Although he acted as a regular starter, the player failed to score that often and it led to greater frustration among the fans.

However, despite the many setbacks he has faced during his time with Arsenal, Giroud has still managed to leave as a hero. Over the years, Arsene Wenger utilised him solely as a backup option while strikers came and went. To be fair, the Gunners have struggled with finding a solid centre-forward for quite some time now. At present, they have the clinical Alexandre Lacazette and the lethal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but back when it was just Giroud, things were quite different for the club.

No matter how hard Giroud fell, he always managed to wrestle back into the first-team and perhaps more than anything else, his fighting spirit is what the club will miss. There was no setback too big for him to overcome and he always provided a lot of competition to whoever played ahead. In fact, over the last couple of seasons, in particular, the French striker not only displayed consistency but also proved to be an extremely reliable option from the bench.

The biggest complaint that the fans had about him was that he is not speedy enough to surge forward and net goals on any given day. While the pace part is true, many people failed to realize that Giroud is a natural poacher. Every team needs a poacher – somebody who may not start regularly but is utilised more as an impact sub to come in during the dying minutes of the game and net a goal or two.

And to that end, Giroud is arguably one of the best in the Premier League. His soft touches and movement around the penalty area make him a delight to watch. In the last couple of seasons, the fans started looking at him as a vital figure of the team and he took that reputation up a notch in the initial few months of the current season. Fellow Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette’s arrival meant that Giroud would have lesser time on the field and his form would crumble. While the first part was true, the towering striker simply rose like a phoenix from the ashes.

giroud

He did not let Lacazette’s inclusion affect his game time. Instead, he used every single minute on the field to prove everybody watching that he deserves to be on the field. It is almost as if the less he played, the more he improved and started delivering results in important games throughout the season. However, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the team, it would have been tougher for him to appear regularly – even as a substitute, perhaps.

To be a player who primarily comes on and makes an impact towards the end of the game is very tough. Sir Alex Ferguson used Javier Hernandez that way and it yielded effective results for the longest time. More accurately, Edin Dzeko and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were the ones who made it a trend and since then, the quest to find an impact sub has been a priority for many teams. One reason why this method works so well is that all these players enter the game with fresh legs and full of energy. Unlike the others whose energy starts wearing off, players like Giroud enter the field just with the sole agenda of scoring goals.

He can confront opposition defenders quite directly and is skilled in one-on-one situations as well. In addition to that, he can compete for the ball in the air while also displaying some elegant skills on the field. He is definitely no Thierry Henry but Giroud has managed to carve out a niche for himself as a modern-day Arsenal legend. There is no doubt that the Gunners will miss an influential player like him but he has given everything he can to the club and perhaps it is now time for him to experience newer pastures.

giroud

His new job at Chelsea will include similar requirements as well. The Blues already have Alvaro Morata but with Michy Batshuayi out on loan to Borussia Dortmund, they were in dire need of an experienced back-up striker. Moreover, they have been in need of a poacher for quite some time now and who better than Giroud to do the same?

Strikers may come and go at Arsenal but what Giroud has done will definitely stay on forever and it is time for him to write a new chapter at Stamford Bridge.

Bidding Adieu To The Little Mozart – A Look At Tomas Rosicky’s Life And Career

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Bidding Adieu To The Little Mozart – A Look At Tomas Rosicky’s Life And Career

When it comes to football, the fans feel very strongly about two sets of footballers – the ones they dislike and the ones they love. As far as the first group is concerned, a good majority of people tend to dislike a lot of things about them. Be it their aggression or style of play, there is always something that does not bode well for a lot of people. The second group, however, includes players that every single person loves and admirers. The likes of Gigi Buffon, Pele, Ronaldinho, Totti and Kaka have been a few names to grace that list so far. News of their retirement affected millions of football fans worldwide, regardless of which club they support.

It was only about a month or two back that Buffon announced his retirement and now, Tomas Rosicky has joined in on the list.

Very few times do players get to achieve cult-status at two different clubs across leagues. And yet, Rosicky is considered an iconic figure for both Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal. There is no denying that things are very different in the Bundesliga and Premier League. Sometimes, switching leagues can hamper a player’s skills. Take a look at what happened with Radamel Falcao, for example. When he made the move from Monaco to Manchester United, he failed to make much of an impact and was dubbed a failure even though he was spectacular at Atletico Madrid.

Unless a player is already a modern-day legend like Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it is very tough for them to establish and build a reputation in a different club in a foreign league. But Rosicky came through in both situations and is still widely recognized as a Dortmund and Arsenal superstar.

Nicknamed the ‘little Mozart’ at a very early age, Rosicky embarked on his football career with his hometown club Sparta Prague. He spent 3 seasons playing in the Czech First League and then joined Borussia Dortmund in 2001 for an estimated sum of £18 million, which at the time was a record fee for a Bundesliga club.

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In his debut season itself, Rosicky’s influence and playmaking skills came up to the fore, which eventually helped the German club to win their first Bundesliga title of the century. He even reached the 2002 UEFA Cup Final with Dortmund that year and after spending 4 more years at the club, Rosicky switched to Arsenal in 2006.

Since then, the player went on to spend a decade at the club. In total, he made 247 appearances for the club, even though his tenure was affected by several long-term injuries. In fact, Rosicky actually learnt how to play the guitar during one of his injuries! It was in the 2009-10 season when he was injured and had to spend quite some time being sidelined. That was when he started playing the guitar and eventually became so good that he even played live on stage with a Czech rock band called Tri sestry in March 2010.

Rosicky is known to love being centre-stage, so it comes as no surprise that he enjoyed performing with the band. While he was playing with Dortmund, there was this one incident that probably continues to live on in the hearts of many of their fans. The year was 2006 and the season was coming to a close. There was a battle between Hamburg and Bayern Munich in terms of winning the league and mid-table Dortmund were playing a decisive match with Hamburg. The fact that a goalkeeper should never leave his net was a lesson learnt quite harshly by Hamburg’s goalkeeper Sacha Kirschstein.

He darted up the field and after a moment of confusion, Dortmund snatched possession and Ebi Smolarek sent it Rosicky’s way. Even though he was still about 40 metres away from the empty net, the midfielder knew there was no way any of Hamburg’s defenders would get to him and neither would their visibly frustrated goalkeeper. Rosicky broke into a celebratory dance as he surged ahead and neatly slotted the ball into the net. His celebrations continued and that was a truly iconic moment in his career.

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Known for his technical wizardry, passing accuracy, speed and vision, Rosicky boasted of all the qualities a playmaker must have. Much like a lot of other prolific players, his career was stunted by a series of injuries. Despite that, what he has done for Prague, Dortmund and Arsenal remain unrivalled.

Maybe if he had managed to stay fit, he could have established himself as a player with greater accolades. However, that is the beauty of the game. At the end of the day, it does not matter how many trophies you win as a player. As long as you manage to strike a chord with the fans, you will live on forever in their hearts and that is something Rosicky has managed to do in abundance.

Is Maitland-Niles Signalling The Dawn Of A Forgotten Era At Arsenal?

In the early 2000s, Arsene Wenger revolutionized the English Premier League by creating a system that propelled several youngsters to international fame and glory. Right about the time when he scripted history with his ‘Invincibles’, the French manager was renowned for signing and developing youth talent and that was a practice that every fan appreciated with pride. In a rat-race where everybody is trying to outbid each other to see who can splash more cash, Wenger trodded the path less taken and that became a major part of his legacy for the Gunners.

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It was a good set-up but ultimately even Wenger had to succumb to the pressures of signing big players in transfer windows. As the league became more money-oriented, competition grew and Arsenal had to step up their game to keep pace with the rivals. At a time when other clubs were spending exorbitantly, Arsenal focused more on using their resources to develop and train but a process like that takes time. With pressure increasing every day to perform better, the London club slipped up majorly on what made them so unique. In fact, after Jack Wilshere, there have been very few young stars that emerged out of the club.

Wilshere was set to become a young prodigy with scores of clubs chasing for his signature but a slew of injuries brought about a tragic halt to his growth. Now, at 25 years of age, his prospects do seem limited and Arsenal did not produce any notable young players after that. However, fast-forward to the 2017-18 season and we have two names that have stood out. Young stars Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have made an immediate impact on the fans with their performances and they seem to be heralding a new era of talent at the Emirates Stadium.

Slowly but steadily, Wenger is allowing them chances to shine and both of them seem to be grasping at every opportunity to prove themselves. For the Gunners’ faithful, this is undoubtedly a deja-vu moment, even though it comes at a time when chants of ‘Wenger Out’ keep growing louder every day. After his contract extension over the summer, the fans have not been happy with him for a variety of reasons but the emergence of Nelson and Maitland-Niles seem to have subdued the frustration to an extent.

While it may seem like a mighty statement to make for a 20-year-old, who has been playing out of position with merely two or 3 league starts, it is important to note that the youngster has shown tremendous potential in his limited appearances. However, it remains to be seen if Wenger is truly able to bring the best out of Maitland-Niles in the years to come. After all, can anybody forget how things turned out with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?

Much like Maitland-Niles, Ox was also destined to play in the central midfield but for major parts of his Arsenal career, he was used as a wing-back and even as a fullback last season. Maitland-Niles has also played in all these positions over the past two seasons which does paint a worrisome prospect. When a player is young, being versatile is a good deal but there is a fine line. Being too flexible in terms of positioning can truly hamper one’s career in the long-run. Although the current Liverpool player was a fine Arsenal talent, he ultimately had to leave the club to play in his preferred position. Arsenal cannot afford for something similar to happen with Maitland-Niles – not after the way Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s careers at the club fizzled out.

As of now, it seems like Wenger is keen on deploying Maitland-Niles as a defender – primarily as a left-back. There is nothing wrong in that and could actually help him garner defensive awareness in the future. That said, his work at the back had some spectacular moments and some not-so-spectacular ones. For example, in Arsenal’s 0-0 draw against West Ham United, the youngster proved to be no match for Marko Arnautovic, who gleefully exploited all his shortcomings. Regardless, one big sign of encouragement for Maitland-Niles will be the fact that the Gunners maintained clean sheets in the two of 3 league games he started in so far. What makes him such a good player is his speed, well-timed runs and the fact that he loves taking on challenges.

In fact, he possesses a lot of fresh energy and that is something Arsenal have been lacking on the field. Wenger seems to be particularly impressed with the youngster since he actually let summer acquisition Sead Kolasinac grace the bench during times when he chose to deploy Maitland-Niles at left-back. It is an interesting situation considering how impactful Kolasinac has been since day one.

Perhaps Wenger wants to create a solid defensive awareness for the youngster before deploying him higher up the ground but after a long time, Arsenal have an exciting young talent to watch out for. Both the club and the manager cannot afford to mess it up now and it all comes down to how Maitland-Niles wants to take it from here. He could go on to become a future Arsenal legend or go down the same road as Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain. However, he is doing great at the present and the youngster deserves full credit for the same.

English Premier League – An Era Of Underrated Players

Shaka Hislop
Shaka Hislop

English Premier League – Rating The Underrated Players

Ever since the Premier League began, we have had the good fortune of watching some of the best footballers play against each other. These players were famous for their many talents on the field and even today, there are so many players in the league that are worshipped and idolised by their fans across the world. Love and support for them only seem to be increasing as commercial factors like merchandising and advertising have come into play. They are endorsing some of the biggest companies while also proving to be marvellous on the field.

Be it a Beckham or a Ronaldo, there appears to be no end to the list of companies wanting them to endorse their products. However, amidst all the glitz and glam, there are some players who get lost. In every field, there are a number of people who do a fair share of the work and walk away with accolades while there are also others who do the real work but get lost somewhere in the middle. Football is no different and even more so in Premier League. Calling them the underdogs seems rather unfair given their contribution, so let’s stick with calling them underrated.

Underrated. That is the favourite word of many pundits to describe a player who does his work on the field but seemingly ends up receiving less credit for it. So, what really makes a player underrated? Is it the lack of endorsement deals or the lack of recognition for their hard work? To understand the answer to that question, one must keep in mind that players have been dubbed ‘underrated’ from a time when the commercial aspect of football hardly mattered.

To take you back in time, Shaka Hislop was one such player. Newcastle United were expected to win the 1995/96 Premier League season but an injury to their goalkeeper Hislop changed the course of their fortune and they failed to make it. Hislop may have won two runners-up medals but he was of pivotal importance for the Magpies as well as his country Trinidad and is arguably one of their best goalkeepers till date. Hislop was not a celebrated player but he was crucial for his teams in an unparalleled sense.

Ray Parlour of Arsenal
Ray Parlour of Arsenal

When it comes to defenders, Bobby Moore is undoubtedly touted as one of England’s best defenders. However, Nottingham Forest fans may disagree. A central defender by trade, Des Walker was famous for making his well-timed surges to manoeuvre the ball away from even the toughest of opponents. In fact, very few central defenders have been able to match his level of craftiness and speed, which further establishes his credentials. And yet, he is not one of the more popular names in football.

Cut to not-so-long ago and you have Emile Heskey. Now, a lot of Liverpool, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa and Leicester City fans might get put off by the mere mention of his name but the fact remains that his contribution was necessary to every club he played for. He lacked self-belief to a large extent and one cannot really blame him for that. Playing in the Premier League is a tough job as it is and to have scores of fans hating you makes it all the more difficult. However, very few players lacked his creative vision up front and for all that he did, Heskey truly deserves more appreciation.

As long as we are talking about Liverpool forwards, names like Dalglish, Rush and Aldridge come to our mind. And yet one of their most prolific strikers till date continues to be Peter Beardsley. To be honest, he was the one who kept creating scoring outlets for Rush and Aldridge. Without him, could the duo have proven to be as effective? Most likely not.

Speaking of making contributions, we all know of players like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Pires and Bergkamp. After all, they were all crucial parts of Arsene Wenger’s stunning ‘Invincibles’ side. But how many of us rate Ray Parlour? The midfielder often filled in for either Vieira or Gilberto Silva and often lit up the stadium with his unlimited energy. He always boasted of an important eye for the goal and was truly one of Arsenal’s finest.

Fernandinho
Fernandinho

This trend of overlooking players making important contributions seems to have continued until today. Unless a player is snazzy enough with blue hair like Tiemoue Bakayoko or possesses the goal-scoring skills like Harry Kane, it seems quite tough for them to shine through and make a name for themselves. One such player in our present crop of the Premier League’s unsung heroes is Harry Arter. He is one of Bournemouth’s most influential players and his energy has been key to a lot of their good fortune this season. He may not score flashy goals but he is the glue that holds the Cherries together.

Even Manchester City’s Fernandinho is underrated in a similar fashion. He does play for an attack-oriented team with some of the best players like Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling, which often sees his fame get lost amidst all the power up front. But his influence in terms of holding the defence and the attack together has been spectacular to watch this season. Adept at making a mean, tenacious tackle and boasting of smoothness while in possession, Fernandinho can even be regarded as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League right now.

It seems unfair for them to not receive their share of credits but it is what it is. Perhaps even a decade or two down the line, we will have these underrated players who work tirelessly for their team and yet their contributions would not be celebrated as such. Regardless, what makes these players all the more remarkable is the fact that they continue to do their job despite this sense of unfairness.