Why The Mid-Table Battles Are More Exciting Than The Title Challenge

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It is every football lover’s dream to witness a close finish to a season. Nothing beats the excitement of uncertainty and unpredictability when it comes to football teams vying for places in the points table and it also creates a sense of competition that in its intangible way can unite scores of fans across the world. Generally, La Liga matches are believed to be more passionate but the ones who love the English Premier League, feel like the Spanish league isn’t competitive enough.

The Premier League did have a couple of seasons where uncertainty shrouded the winner’s name until the very end but over the last two campaigns, it has been a little too clear. For example, last season, Chelsea were the runaway winners by a mile and this time, Manchester City looked like the winners from day one. Although this time the gap is a lot more, Antonio Conte’s men were in a similar position to Guardiola’s last term and everybody had a fair idea of who was going to win.

Even if a club does not establish itself as winners at the very top, rarely do we ever get a sense of nail-biting and gut-wrenching emotions while witnessing title challenges in the Premier League. At least by the time the season hits the halfway mark, we all have an idea of who is likely to win and more often than not, that team ends up winning. And even then, it ends up being a big team that has won the league title in recent times. Chelsea and Manchester City have both won the titles in the 2014-15 and 2013-14 seasons respectively and they are doing it again. Barring Leicester City’s miraculous win in the 2015-16 season, we have not had any sort of competition when it comes to deciding the winner.

It was only back in the 1994-95 season that Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League title but after that, the Foxes were the first team outside the top six to win the league. Since my allegiance lies with a top-six club, I’m not necessarily complaining but it is human nature to seek competition in the sport. Hence, off-late, the mid-table battle seems to be a lot more intriguing than the question of who will win the league.

Unless another Leicester City-esque miracle awaits us next season, another top six club will dance its way to the title and this is something that is likely to continue. However, the battle for the mid-table spots is something that only keeps intensifying as time goes on.

When the new season started, newly-promoted sides Burnley, Brighton, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United were all expected to be favourites for relegation. And yet, we were all in for a surprise when the Clarets subjected defending champions Chelsea to a shock defeat on the opening day. That seemingly set the tone for the rest of the season in terms of the smaller sides.

Since then, all these clubs have been in spectacular form and even managed to stun some of the big boys in the Premier League. Even Watford, to that extent, have been quite impressive. In fact, Burnley and Watford had even broken into the top six momentarily. The Clarets can still hope for a top six finish, considering they are just 4 points behind 6th-placed Arsenal. Watford are currently in 10th spot and it is a bit of shock since they were also being touted as contenders for the top six.

Meanwhile, the remarkable comeback made by the likes of Leicester City and Everton are truly commendable. Both clubs got rid of their managers and appointed Claude Puel and Sam Allardyce respectively. Although there were a lot of doubts surrounding the capabilities of these managers, the Foxes and the Toffees have managed to climb out of relegation danger and are now sitting comfortably in the top ten. This was, again, unexpected since Newcastle and Huddersfield were doing so impressively that many people assumed they would solidify themselves in the top ten.

However, Huddersfield are not too far away. Currently gracing the 11th spot, David Wagner’s men are just 1 point behind 10th-placed Watford. They cannot afford to get too comfortable since 12th-placed Brighton are exactly a  point behind them as well. Thus, the upcoming clashes will once again change the course of the clubs in this area.
Stoke City and Southampton have to very careful to avoid relegation while Newcastle United and Crystal Palace are slowly climbing their way out of the trouble.

Now, Rafa Benitez brought his team close to the top six but then something went amiss and they started dropping points severely. Lately, their performance chart showed a much-needed upward curve and a hard-fought away win at Stoke City can prove crucial in the relegation battle.

Palace, on the other hand, were bottom of the table for a good majority of the season but then new manager Roy Hodgson managed to bring them out of danger. That said, they are still just 2 points above the danger zone and it will be interesting to see how far they can go. Bournemouth might be occupying the 15th spot now but they have the quality to turn it around in the 2nd half of the season. Besides them, West Brom and Swansea City continue to be relegation-threatened but considering the roller-coasting nature of the league, it might be too soon to say that they are likely to get relegated.

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.

Are Video Assistant Referee (VARs) Good or Bad for English Football?

Are VARs Good or Bad for English Football

Over the coming six months, the Video Assistant Referee will become a regular feature of our television screens and back pages. The FA Cup, Carabao Cup and finally the Premier League will all begin utilising the technology during that time, as will the World Cup finals in Russia next year.

There’s no doubt that the three officials on the pitch need help; they always have. No official has previously called every decision correctly. An interesting documentary on BT Sport “Ref: Stories from the Weekend” underlined how much of the job is guesswork.

 

It should come as no surprise that decisions are given on the balance of probabilities. How can an official be expected to keep up with play when footballers cover the pitch at speeds close to Olympic sprinters? The only surprise is how many they get right under those circumstances.

VAR was decided upon as the best solution to the problem. The question for everyone involved in the game is whether it is the right answer. Until Europe’s major leagues and tournaments, along with the World Cup and other international championships, have run with VARs for several seasons, we won’t know.

Some object to technology in football, full stop. However, with clubs using more and more themselves in monitoring and assessing players, it’s only natural that we will see the authorities increase the on-pitch presence. Goal-line technology came first and to date, no major controversies have arisen. No ‘goals’ have proven to be phantoms nor has a ‘goal’ been ruled as not crossing the line.

The issue of speed might be better solved by having a referee in each half, along with two more assistant referees running the line each side of the pitch. That’s an extra six eyes on the action and enough to pick up most transgressions.

No experiments were carried out on any significant scale to see if that proved the case, not least because no solution could be found to the problem of subjectivity. Two referees will interpret the rules differently with a genuine concern about the even-handedness of this scenario.

But subjectivity hasn’t gone away with VAR’s. Now you have a second official off the pitch with the benefit of television replays interpreting the information from the screen. There’s no guarantee they will make the right decisions; a bad refereeing call is still a bad refereeing call no matter how many tv screens flicker in front of you.

Inevitably, as the VAR makes more decisions, the authority of the on-pitch official diminishes. It won’t be tough for a player to question the official’s decisions if the VAR is continually over-ruling them.

One thing we can’t allow is the match officials confidence to be sapped by the presence of the VAR. There can be no ‘copping out’ of decision-making; referees cannot avoid decisions in the four designated areas by thinking ‘that’s the purview of the VAR, let them make the call’; it can’t work with the abdication of responsibility.

With more eyes on the game, foul play from both teams might be expected to fall. No more will

there a ‘Hand of God’. If VAR works properly, purists will lose out on iconic moments in football’s history and in this instance, any England fan alive at the time won’t shed tears.

Where VAR may score highly in this sense is diving. ‘Simulation’ or whatever the authorities classify it as, is a blight. In the Premier League fixture between Burnley and Tottenham, Dele Alli attacked the Clarets penalty area. As he strode through, he hung out his leg so that it made contact with the defender rather than the Burnley player instigating a foul.

It’s diving pure and simple. Subtler than one where a forward deliberately dives over a leg or feigns contact but still diving. That con-trick can be eliminated if the VAR is brave enough to call it every time. Few match officials are, so it represents something of a watershed moment for the sport if the problem is solved.

Ultimately, the VAR will be judged on their accuracy of their calls. With the sums of money currently swirling around the game, not using the available technology almost borders on criminal. If we get the right decisions consistently, we’ll wonder why VARs weren’t introduced before.

While we all love to argue about whether the referee’s decision cost us the game, we would rather they got it right. VAR is aimed at taking the guesswork out of the equation and relieving the almost unrelenting pressure on referees.

Who knows where we will go from here. Maybe hearing from referees after a game? Let’s not push it too far; we took a long time to get to this moment in time…

Liverpool’s Forward Salah the first player to reach 20-goal mark

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Egyptian International, Mohamed Salah, is now officially the first player in the Premier League to reach the 20-goal mark this season, after scoring in his last premier league outing against Bournemouth. Regarding an earlier published article by Salah was one of the played that would be worth it’s money value. And he clearly is.

Mo Salah has continued his outstanding form last Sunday to set a record for any Premier League player this campaign especially for an Egyptian.

Salah was seen to have found the net in the first half of Liverpool away match against the cherries to move the score-line 3-0 up, as Bournemouth succumbed to defeat in that very half.

Following his incredible form for the Merseysiders, the Egypt forward was confirmed as one of the productive active forwards currently in English football.

The former Chelsea player is now currently on 20 goals in all competitions being the first Premier League player to do so this campaign. And also, the first Liverpool player to reach the mark before Christmas since Ian Rush in 1986.

Speaking on the signing of the Egyptian Klopp said: “The scouting department did a fantastic job about him, they didn’t get out of our ears. It was 100 percent, ‘he is ready, he is ready.’ At one point, we were all sure he was ready. And that’s how it looks now.”

Talking about his Chelsea spell, Klopp said: “He was a kid”

“We all need confidence. Going from Basel to Chelsea is a brave decision but [struggling there] didn’t make him think he wasn’t good enough. He wanted to prove it. And so, he went to Italy and proved everything. That is another difficult league and he did well. So we are really happy we could convince him to come here.”

Meanwhile, other Premier League forwards the likes of , Sergio Aguero, Romelu Lukaku and others will probably hit the mark sooner or later, but Liverpool’s player has beaten them to it, when it comes to hitting the back of the net.

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.

Can Leeds Return to The Glory Days or Is It Just a Pipe Dream?

Can Leeds Return to The Glory Days or Is It Just a Pipe Dream?

 

Leeds United fell hard and fast. In the blink of an eye, they went from Champions League semi-finalists to League One. Unlike Wolves, they stopped the rot on the pitch, only for an infestation in the boardroom to erode the club’s soul.

The fans never gave up, for which the club should be grateful but rarely show any appreciation of. They believed better times lay ahead, even with storm clouds permanently stationed about the West Yorkshire city.

Elland Road, a seething cauldron, spoiled on glory, refused to bow under the pressure as the lunatics ran amok in the asylums. And now, the faithful may be rewarded with a run into the promotion play-offs. Can 2017-18 be the year when the Phoenix rises from the ashes?

To return to the glory days, you must know when they were. Dominant in the late 1960s through to mid-70s, Leeds were champions twice and runners-up five times. FA Cup winners, League Cup winners (when it was a trophy worth winning), Fairs Cup winners and losing finalists in the Cup Winners Cup and Champions Cup.

At once, they were one of England’s most feared and despised teams.

Twenty years on and they were champions again; still hated outside of their home city but the last champions of the Football League. The Premier League brought with it reflected glory as David O’Leary’s vibrant team became a fixture in the European places.

Leeds United Team in Champions League Semi Finals vs Valencia
Leeds United Team in Champions League Semi Finals vs Valencia

He led them to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and Champions League, the former overshadowed by tragedy when two Leeds fans were callously murdered in Istanbul. A year later, Valencia ended the fairy tale with a crushing win in the Mestalla.

That’s real glory. Can Leeds return to those heights or is glory now becoming a permanent fixture in the Premier League?

If promotion is hard, staying in the top flight is harder still. Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle are all struggling to do that with arguably better squads than Leeds currently have. Youth and enthusiasm are on United’s side but there’s a gap to top of the table Wolverhampton Wanderers which doesn’t lie.

The current squad, a mix of enthusiastic players and loanees but is it Premier League quality? If you look at the players brought in, on permanent deals or just for the season, the test is how many would make it in the top flight? How many are coveted? While that isn’t by any means a definitive benchmark, it’s an indicator of quality.

Standing them in good stead is the way Thomas Christiansen integrated a high turnover of players into the first team. Leeds will need the same next season if they reach the Premier League, leaving the XI almost unrecognisable from that which takes the field now. They can win promotion but almost certainly face the drop immediately.

Goals are an issue, but the weakness is also a strength. Kemar Roofe is their leading scoring with six this season in the Championship. As a number, it’s at the level where a team in a division higher is generally struggling.

However, Roofe is part of a multi-pronged attack, with goals coming from all areas of the pitch. Alioski, Phillips, Lasogga, and Saiz all have five goals each in the league. Leeds strength is that they are not reliant upon one player for goals; they have a number who can score, making them difficult to defend against.

If only they were so tight at the back. Conceding more than a goal per game on average will slow progress, as it is now. Four of their defeats this season have been by a single goal margin; scoring once might have been enough to win a game in Revie’s era but the current group are not modelled to defend that way.

Despite reaching seventh, there’s a feeling Leeds have yet to hit form. The seven-match unbeaten start to the season is very much a distant memory. Since then, two three-match runs of defeats punctured the promotion balloon, allowing the air to seep out.

Deflating as they were, hope is once more rising. The draw at home to Aston Villa was the prelude to back-to-back wins over QPR and Hull; Leeds are coming again and face a Christmas programme which will surely see them take a maximum twelve points from the four games.

The Championship is a division in which the promotion race changes fast and a strong run in the second half of the season could secure an automatic place. From thereon in, they need the owners to develop deep pockets if the visit to the Premier League is to be anything but a short stay.

 

The Art Of Finishing – A Look At Alexandre Lacazette’s Meteoric Rise

Alexandre Lacazette
Alexandre Lacazette

The Art Of Finishing – A Look At Alexandre Lacazette’s Meteoric Rise

Over the years, Arsenal have been starved of a strong finisher up front. It is certainly not easy to find a forward who is strong at finishing. Take a look at Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, for example. He is excelling on all fronts for the Reds but he has struggled majorly when it comes to connecting the dots seamlessly. It is one thing to shoot on target but it is an entirely different thing to be able to score while running and when under pressure. These are two qualities Arsenal’s summer acquisition Alexandre Lacazette seems to possess in abundance.

The Frenchman was a part of Lyon’s academy and he rose through the ranks rapidly to establish himself as a mainstay for the French side. He spent about 8 years with the club, during the course of which he blossomed into one of the best players in Ligue 1. His magnificent displays attracted attention from foreign clubs and Arsenal were interested in him for around 2 summers, following which he finally joined them earlier this year. The move to join the Gunners was undoubtedly a big one for the player and it seemed like his years of hard work were starting to pay off.

He arrived at Arsenal with sky-high expectations from a set of fans desperate to see some quality new faces at their club. Manager Arsene Wenger has been subjected to a lot of criticism for his lack of activity in most transfer windows but he truly made some promising signings over the summer. One was Sead Kolasinac, who arrived on a free transfer. The other was the spectacular Lacazette, who was signed for a club record fee. Initially, there were doubts, since the fans were cautious about how quickly he would be able to settle into the demands and rigours of the Premier League.

However, from the first time he set foot on the ground in an Arsenal jersey, Lacazette displayed glimpses of the quality which prompted Wenger to target him for about two seasons and then ultimately sign him. He went on to score in his first 3 Premier League games at home for the Gunners and displayed ruthless predatory instincts – and that was something Arsenal fans were dying to see. Lacazette’s movement and influence in the final third is perhaps the most splendid quality about him.

Manchester City v Arsenal - Premier League

Over the last couple of seasons, a lot of strikers came and went for Arsenal but none of them managed to create as much of an impact as Lacazette already has. They struggled in all the areas that the Frenchman is excelling in. A look at his stats only further strengthens the fact that he has been a force to be reckoned with at Arsenal, with his sublime finishing and work-rate in the final third.

In 15 appearances in the league, Lacazette has already scored 8 goals and provided 1 assist. He has managed to do all this even though there have been times when he has been restricted to the bench during important games. Quite unsurprisingly, the Gunners have struggled in those matches where Wenger chose to set him aside.

In the last few matches (exceptions do exist), Arsenal have displayed a vintage style of attacking football that has truly impressed their fans. There’s still a lot of debate as to whether or not Wenger should quit as the manager but as far as the attacking trio of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Lacazette is concerned, the fans hardly have any reason to complain.

Sanchez brings about an innate sense of trickery and pace while Ozil makes things work with his creative advances. Lacazette – the darling of Arsenal fans, uses his enviable finishing skills to slot the ball into the net. Regardless of whether or not Sanchez and Ozil continue with Arsenal beyond this season, there is no denying that the presence of Lacazette has amplified their performances as well.

A look at Lacazette’s many YouTube video compilations is enough to deduce that he does not lack variety when it comes to scoring goals. For example, he can do a simple tap-in, a sublime side-foot finish and even strike from a distance. A naturally right-footed player, Lacazette is also quite adept at cutting in to take advantage of whatever the situation has to offer. An out-and-out poacher, the Frenchman has taken up a role up front for the Gunners that very few have been able to do before him.

sanchez-lacazette-arsenal

That said, when the transfer rumours were swirling around, there were concerns regarding his physique. It is quite evident that the likes of Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck offer greater physicality. Although that was a potential area of concern, the fact remains that the Gunners rarely ever use mere physical strength in terms of scoring goals. Lacazette’s movement is calculated and economical. He prefers to make tiny and subtle movements to get through tight spaces unscathed and that has worked in Wenger’s favour so far.

The manager brought him in to score goals and Lacazette has delivered so far. There is the age-old pearl of wisdom which suggests that good defences win the title but truth be told, the Premier League has been won more times by teams with a blistering attack with a goal-scoring machine leading the line.

Take a look at Manchester City, for example. Nobody has even spoken about their defence since everybody is so hypnotised by their electrifying attack. To put things in perspective for Arsenal, they have not come close to being the league’s top goalscorers since 2004-05. That does paint a worrisome statistic but with Lacazette up front, they do have the potential to restore their reputation as deadly attackers.

All this while, Arsenal had Giroud and Welbeck but neither of the two was strong enough to be the striker up front. Giroud can finish well but he is slow during counters whereas Welbeck can run but he is weak at finishing. In that sense, Lacazette seems to be the ideal amalgamation of the duo and there is no limiting as to how far he can go if he continues this way for the Gunners.

Can Harry Winks Handle And Rise Above The Jack Wilshere-Esque Hype?

The world of Premier League football can be a harsh place for any youngster striving to achieve their dreams. More than anything else, it is tough to even get the chance to make a mark but even after you do that, there are very little chances of maintaining that momentum due to lack of opportunities. And then there are some youngsters who are immediately thrust into the spotlight and are dubbed ‘the next so-and-so’, even as they struggle to get used to the glare of the harsh lights.

Harry Winks
Harry Winks

Players like Marcus Rashford, Harry Winks and Jack Wilshere are few of such examples in modern times. While Rashford has managed to stay grounded and cement his position, Winks rose to prominence for Tottenham Hotspur this season after a series of spell-binding performances, which saw him earn appreciation from fans and critics alike. What truly catapulted him to centre-stage was his brave performance against reigning European champions Real Madrid. While all the praise he is receiving is well-warranted, this does seem similar to a time when another English youth went through the same – only to fizzle out in the end.

When the world first got a taste of Jack Wilshere at Arsenal, he was immediately dubbed ‘the English Iniesta’ or ‘the English Xavi’. Very few English midfielders are able to replicate – if not better – the form shown by most midfielders in Spain. Intricacy, technical knowledge, pace and physicality are some of the attributes associated with them but not many in England are able to play in a similar fashion. However, there are times when the mould is broken and a youngster comes up with the promise of playing beautiful football in the middle of the park.

Wilshere was a product like that for Arsenal. He rose through the ranks rapidly and became a sensational figure for the North London club. The fans loved him and so did the pundits. In fact, the player’s then-fledgling career rose to greater heights after he had the last laugh against Barcelona when he had to play against Xavi and Iniesta. It seemed like a mighty task for a 19-year-old but Wilshere stood up to the challenge and dominated the famed Catalan duo, much to the astonishment of everybody watching. He was destined for greatness and the English fans and media were delighted with this new maestro.

Unfortunately for the player, the sweet taste of success did not last very long. A dip in form coupled with a slew of injuries ate up all his time on the field. Considering how intense the Premier League is, there’s no scope to take risks when it comes to awaiting a return from injury. The Gunners had to find out the hard way and they eventually moved on to different players while Wilshere got stuck far behind. Despite being one of Arsenal’s most celebrated young players, it might be best for him to move on from the club to avoid stagnating his career.

It is indeed a tragic end to his time with Arsenal but it is these unavoidable circumstances that make every minute on the field so precious. And now, it does seem like Winks is the latest player to be subjected to such pressure and hype. He did gain recognition in the Premier League after his exploits for Spurs but Winks received far greater appreciation after he stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the likes of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Isco in a Champions League encounter. The first leg ended in a draw but the second leg was his ticket to fame. He completely dominated the midfield area and played a splendid game of football that was astounding to watch. Real Madrid’s midfield greats were left baffled by the wizardry of Winks.

Tottenham ultimately won that game and one can majorly attribute their successes to the 21-year-old. What makes his display all the more impressive is the fact that he seemed like the only one in the middle to ward off threats posed by the midfielders while his partners Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele seemed pre-occupied with either supporting the attack or guarding the defence.

The road from here on for Winks can go in any direction but he must be vigilant enough to differentiate between what he should do and what people expect him to do. More often than not, these lofty expectations are the reason behind the decline in players’ forms. Wilshere succumbed to the pressure and failed to live up to the immense hype surrounding his every move but it will be of utmost priority for Mauricio Pochettino to ensure Winks does not endure a similar fate. Shielding Winks from the harsh glare of the spotlight might be tough but it is necessary to salvage his career.

It has been ages since an English midfielder has caught the fancy of the footballing world. Yes, Harry Kane is clearly doing wonders for the national team but he is a striker. Even in the game against Real Madrid, Kane was dependent on Winks to create spaces to ease himself into the play. That said, there is no undermining Kane’s brilliance. They are more like a co-existent pair of players right now and to succeed in the front, the Spurs hitman can benefit from having a player like Winks in the English team.

It will be quite a task but perhaps Pochettino and the English media can prevent Winks from turning into a Wilshere. There is a certain amount of pressure on the youngster right now but he is a bit more mature than what the Arsenal man was back then. Knowing that all of this can vanish in an instant is likely to keep him grounded. At the same time, it is also important for people around him to feed his talent and not his ego.

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