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October 2016
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Four away games in succession pose Arsenal some problems.

What can we learn in the next three weeks?

Tim Charlesworth

As we head into a tricky looking run of fixtures, us Gooners are torn between optimism and fatalism.  On the one had Walcott is coming good, the team looks solid, three clean sheets, and the form of the second half of last season looks to be returning.  On the other hand, we lost at home to West Ham, we are still short of a striker, our finishing is abysmal, and we are vulnerable to injuries in key positions.  On the whole, I am in the optimistic camp (as most AKBs will be).  But a string of bad results up to the next interlull will make even me anxious.  The fixtures are:

Zagreb Away CL 16 Sept
Chelsea Away PL 19 Sept
Tottenham Away Carling 23 Sept
Leicester Away PL 26 Sept
Olympiacos Home CL 29 Sept
Man U at home. PL 4 Oct


These games come at the rate of two a week for three weeks, and successive away fixtures like this can be draining.  The sequence will certainly test the depth and endurance of our squad.  I suspect we will see the wonderful looking Reine-Adelaide at least once.  Tottenham is a Carling Cup game, so we may see a reserve/youngsters team.  However, defeat in this fixture would be bad for morale.  In order not to fall back too far in the Premiership, we would really want a minimum of four points from the three PL fixtures, and this looks far from certain (we got no points from Man U home and Chelsea away last season – we didn’t play Leicester).

So the shape of our season may well become clearer during these three weeks. Football games are wonderful things (hence their popularity).  There is so much to see and discover on so many different levels.  When I watch Arsenal play, I struggle to see beyond the questions of ‘Are Arsenal going to score?’ and ‘Are the opposition going to score?’  So I have had a little think about the things we should look out for, which will really shape this crucial part of the season:

  1. Can Coquelin keep it up?

In some ways, this is the most important question of all.  If Coquelin continues to be as good as he was last season (and avoids major injury), we have a genuine big time player.  Early signs are good this season.  If he plays 90% of the season, I feel we will be defensively solid.  I am still somewhat mystified by his failure to earn a France call up.  Is this because non-flair players are easier to overlook in the short-term?  Is his game more suited to the Premiership than international football?

  1. Will Walcott go prolific?

This is another big one.  The most obvious potential weakness in our side is at centre forward.  If Theo scores a lot of goals this season, this concern will go away.  The signs are very good here:

  • Walcott is getting a lot of chances. Actually getting into scoring positions is the real test of a striker’s skill and class – finishing rates can be deceptive or ‘cyclical’ as Arsene has observed
  • He has all the attributes of a top class striker: speed, skill, balance, imagination, accurate finishing. He has been a consistent goalscorer for the last three seasons now (despite being massively injury disrupted and generally playing wide).
  • He has missed a few sitters this season. If he had scored two or three of these, we would be raving about his exploits.  All top class strikers miss sitters, and you shouldn’t read too much into a small number of games.  He clearly does not lack the skill or ‘calmness’ to finish sitters, and he doesn’t have a record of doing it, so there is no reason to think that this is a long-term problem.
  • Wenger’s record in moving players to new positions has a lot more successes (Henry, RVP, Lauren, Kolo Toure) than failures (Eboue, Song, Wiltord)
  1. Is Gabriel as good as he looks?

This guy also looks like a big time player.  He is beginning to establish himself in the team, and he has all the attributes of a top class defender (yet to prove consistency).  If I was an attacker, I wouldn’t fancy my chances of getting past a line-up of Koscielny and Gabriel protected by Le Coq and any combination of our full backs.

  1. Ozil

I love this player.  He has wonderful skills and great stats.  However, I still feel there is more to come from him.  He doesn’t seem to ‘dominate’ games, but looks capable of doing so.  Perhaps he never will, and will always just be a great team player.  Instinct however, tells me that he might start overpowering the opposition in the way that Pires, Fabregas, Bergkamp, Viera, and Henry have all done at various times.  If he does, then our rivals are in big trouble.

  1. Is Wenger going to rotate?

Historically our manager is not an enthusiastic rotator.  But this squad is deep, and there are a number of positions where the first choice is not much better than the reserve.

Strikers are the most common position to rotate.  Walcott in the CL, Giroud in the PL sounds good, but can anyone resist the temptation to play Walcott against Terry?  Expect Joel Campbell to get minutes.  Full back looks like a good candidate for rotation, with four strong players.

Can Wenger bear to rest Ozil?  Can we afford to play Arteta instead of Coquelin?  Can we afford to work Coquelin into the ground?  Will we try Ramsay in the middle again and give the ageing Cazorla a rest?  Will we rotate the top three centre backs? – is it conceivable to rest Bosscielny?  Will Wilshere and the Ox be important?  Is it possible to rest Sanchez and does he know the meaning of the word?

Or will too much rotation disturb the team?  If we don’t see rotation in this series of matches, we can probably look forward to the ‘rotation by injury’ policy that we have enjoyed in the last few years.  If we do see rotation, it could be a sign of things to come.  The success or failure of that rotation could determine our season.

Of course there are many other important players at Arsenal, and their performances will also make a big difference to the team.  Questions of secondary importance, seem to me to be:

  • Can Sanchez maintain last seasons form?
  • Is this the year that the Ox finally establishes himself?
  • Can our fullbacks keep up the good work?
  • Will Cech make a real difference?
  • Will Koscielny be as good as ever?
  • Can Cazorla keep it up in the new position?
  • Will we get the 13/14 Ramsay back?
  • Will Giroud do well?
  • Will our BFG have an Indian summer?

All in all, I expect the next few weeks to start answering some of these questions.  We are now into the season proper.  There is no more ‘early season form’, and this is our first big test.


  • 16 September 1912: Arsenal lost 0-3 at home to Villa, their fourth consecutive defeat from the start of the season.   With the word spreading that after waiting for three years to find local buyers from the club, Henry Norris was moving the club, it was not surprising that the crowd was just 6805, although that was not the lowest during this first and only relegation season in the club’s history.
  • 16 September 1937: Arsenal v Arsenal Reserves was the first live game ever on TV.

The Untold Books

28 comments to Four away games in succession pose Arsenal some problems.

  • Although I am delighted to publish this article, that doesn’t mean I agree with every word!

    And there is one phrase I would pick up on “we are still short of a striker, our finishing is abysmal”.

    I think there is a difference between that view and the thought that “Christiano Ronaldo would make a welcome addition”. The fact is that leaving aside Ronaldo and Messi, strikers generally blow hot and cold, and although last season could have been better from the goal point of view, we were the third top scoring club, just two behind Chelsea. The fourth top scoring club (Man U) was 9 behind us.

    My view (and of course it is nothing more than that) is that actually sitting fourth with our goal scorers not performing as well as before suggests there is a lot more to come – which is why I don’t feel any trepidation about the upcoming series of games.

    Of course I might have egg all over my face by 10pm but then egg on face is my normal modus operandi.

  • nicky

    On this day 78 years ago, Arsenal played their Reserves in the first live TV game.
    Not many could have watched ( no-one outside London).
    But another coup for the publicity-minded manager George Allison. 😉

  • collins elechi

    I agree with Tony on this. It is a good article and the author raised some pertinent questions however I don’t think our strikers are anywhere near ‘abysmal’ it is just not true. Giroud for all the rubbish being written about him has scored more goals than most including a superb goal against Palace. and Walcott is a big threat against any team and is expected to hit his usual lofty strides soonest.

    let’s just take it game after game. Am sure we will shame a few people yet with the Manchester teams losing last night. I have a feeling that youngsters like Adeliade will stand up and be counted this period to dispel that rubbish about arsenal failing to sign a single outfield player.

  • When we ask questions we discover (Tony , do u agree?)

    I believe in the team and Wizard Wenger The Humane.I pray fresh wisdom to juggle the team for optimal performance and premium results be given him from heaven.

    Your article is positively provocative for us to embrace objectivity in out optimism .

  • nicky

    @Collins elechi,
    Agree with you about Giroud.
    Especially his headed goals for a team not noted for them.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Hi all. I don’t seem to have expressed myself very clearly. At the start of the article, I am trying to represent two different sets of opinions which are prevalent amongst Arsenal fans at the moment. Personally, I do not think we are a striker short (I obviously didn’t make this clear enough). I have written a number of articles on UA to this effect. I even go on to postulate that, if Walcott scores a lot of goals, the striker issue will go away. At the start of the article, I was trying to contrast the views of the optimists and the pessimists. The ‘one striker short’ view is one that is held by many fans, and therefore should be given some consideration.

    As for our abysmal finishing, I’m afraid this is a matter of fact. The blogosphere is full of observations that Arsenal have created more chances than any other team, yet only managed to score three times (excluding ogs), two of which were against a very weak Stoke at home, in the last game. By any measure, we are creating a lot of chances and scoring few goals (unless I am missing something, this is the definition of poor finishing!). This statistical fact is supported by the evidence of our eyes. We have seen a number of poor finishes (mostly by Walcott) from very short range. I’m all in favour of ‘supporting the team’, but however you look at it, our finishing has been abysmal. This doesn’t mean it will continue to be abysmal, or that our strikers are abysmal. Such things are ‘cyclical’ as Tony and Arsene have observed, and I try to argue in the article that Walcott is not usually a poor finisher, and there is no real reason to think that he will continue in that vein. However, the abysmal finishing makes our fans nervous, especially the ones who are concerned about our striking options, and doubly so for the ones who don’t believe that Walcott is a ‘real no. 9’ – and if you don’t believe that Walcott is a real no 9, you also think we are ‘a striker short’.

    The longer the poor finishing goes on, the more anxious such fans will become. As an optimist (and AKB), I would encourage everyone to be positive about the abysmal finishing. If we move from abysmal finishing to ‘average finishing’ (as I believe we will), we will be scoring a lot of goals.

  • Sam Sayyed

    On a slightly different topic, horrendous injury to Luke Shaw yesterday (double fracture) and always sad to see a young player’s leg broken.

    However, what made me boil with anger was the BT Sports pundits starting explaining the FIFA definition of “careless”, “reckless” and “excessive force” to describe Hector Moreno’s tackle. Rightly so! However, when Ramsey’s leg was broken by a much worse tackle (Hector atleast got the ball, the damage was done by his trailing leg, whereas Shawcross was very late and had no chance of coming near the ball), the pundits were busy making a victim out of Shawcross!

  • Dazza64

    Walcott singled out for missing sitters whereas Alexis has zero return from 22 shots this season (source :who….I believe the goals will come and that it is only a matter of time until we absolutely took a number of teams.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    I mention Walcott because he is a hot topic of debate (will he make it as a no.9 etc). Alexis has not scored (although he deserves a lot of credit for the Palace og). He has also hit the post at least twice and his chances have been less clear cut than Walcott’s (as you might expect when comparing the chances earned by a striker and a wide player).

  • Dazza64

    Typo-Tonk a number of teams

  • Marcus

    I actually think the away games are a welcome – as it means there is less pressure. we have seen this.

  • Dazza64

    Walcott’s return of 11 in last 11 starts is top drawer, if he wasn’t scoring any then that would be a concern. Alexis may start out wide but he is a striker a la TH14

  • ARSENAL 13

    If anything that Luke Shaw injury has done, is to expose the hypocrisy of the pundits, media and ManUtd fans.

    The ones who shout now are the ones who celebrated Wilsheres ankle injury by their own player. sic.

    Its sad to see a player down that way. I dont have the same feeling as I had when I saw Ramsey go down. But its sickening nevertheless.

  • andy bishop

    I think this is the year Walcott will score bundles. Many fans witnessed him appearing to be “too relaxed” when the chances came against Stoke. It is clear to me that Wenger and Henry are encouraging him to ” relax” in front of goal and not to snatch at the chances. Whats important is he remains injury free… has a run in the team…and chances will come.

  • apo Armani

    @Sam Sayyed
    September 16, 2015 at 9:19 am

    I had exactly the same thought last night when listening to the idiots (thats the new name for them pundits).

    I also made a comment on a previous article here on UA – wandering what the biggest idiot of them all, one Gary Neville will have to say about the injury/tackle – surely he can’t change his tune about the way tackles should be!

  • apo Armani

    @ARSENAL 13
    September 16, 2015 at 10:01 am


  • Rich

    Exciting times. I like the fact runs of games like this provide a chance to see a few different players getting game time.

    Intriguing one for me is the Tottenham game. I hope to see a lot of changes for that one. One change in particular is a must for me- Coquelin must be nowhere near the stating eleven that night.

    You guys here are rightly proud of talking up Coquelin’s potential early, so my hope for next week is that Glen Kamara is involved. With Hayden loaned and Arteta and Flamini being older different players, Kamara might be the closest match in the squad.

    Only seen glimpses but they’ve encouraged me nonetheless. I’d say Spurs are guaranteed to play it as they did in the league last year- lots of youth and legs in midfield, lots of bite in midfield, so I’d love to see how Kamara fares against that. In two disappointing fa youth cup semis against Chelsea he was the man who stood up well as we lost the midfield battle.

    Thing is, I’d keep Sanchez, Ramsey and Ozil and maybe Walcott away from it,too, so I’m not sure who that leaves. Campbell definitely, as well as one of Flamini/Arteta. Debuchy, Gibbs and Chambers should be in there, hopefully Iwobi as well.

    Spurs noticeably have a lot of players who make dodgy challenges these days- including that classic ectomorph Mason and that classic twat Rose- so while no one’s expendable, let’s not let that cost us a a key player in a carling cup game.

    Anyway, one game at a time. Tonight’s big, Saturday’s massive, then, hopefully, a chance to see at least one or two young players. Exciting times.

  • Mick

    Vertonghen isn’t averse to a bit of the nasty stuff either, but very crafty with it.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    At least the Chelsea and Tottenham games don’t require plane flights.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    I imagine Leicester doesn’t either 🙂

  • Menace

    In the words of Wenger ‘lets take one game at a time’.

    Hoping for a truly good win tonight. It will send out a message.


  • proudkev

    Afrernoon all, nice article.

    In my opinion, we have not witnessed dismal finishing but dismal reporting. This is because the media have been harping on about Arsenal needing a striker and need to justify their position. I appreciate this is a narrative that is repeated constantly but I prefer to base my opinion on what I see and not on what sometimes appear to be attempts to ‘condition’ the mind.

    Take Saturday. I read abouit our appalling finishing but what I saw was Alexis Sanchez very unlucky with two good efforts off the post. Giroud did miss one he should have buried but he scored one too, despite coming on as a late sub. Theo too missed one good chance, another not so good and scored one exceptional effort.

    Despite what the media would have you beleive, NO striker scores every chance they get; irrespective of ability. They all miss chances, in fact they miss more than they score. Wayne Rooney is never criticised but he misses loads he should score. This is why a goalscoring ratio of 1 goal in 2 games is celebrated and not 6 goals in 2 games. The most important fact is that strikers get in the right position and make good runs. If they don’t do that, then they wont get ANY chances. Our finishing will improve, so I am happy with what I have seen. My criticism is that I wish we would take more chances to shoot from outside of the box.


    Gary Neville is a dinosaur who seems to specialise in hypocrisy. You only have to look at the highlights of the 50th game where Neville, his ugly sister Phil, Rooooooooooooney, Keane, Scholes and Nistelrooy attacked Reyes at every opportunity – and the rest of our players. With Rileys permission of course. After the game Neville was telling anybody that would listen how they went out to get physical ‘within’ the laws of the game. He wears that game like a badge of pride. Well the ‘laws’ Neville appears to be such an expert on are the laws as interpreted by Mike Riley on that day. IMO most of those ‘tackles’ were not attempts to take the ball. There should have been at least 3 sending offs,

    What is a reckless tackle? It seems that none of the pundits know, along with most fans, pundits and dare I say, referees. All they still go on about is whether or not the ball was taken, failing to understand that is now irrelevant. In the old days players could go in deliberatley knowing they were going to take the ball and the player, with an emphasis on hurting the player. This is what the dinosaurs still seem to beleive is fair. As we saw with Luke Shaw, the defender may have taken the ball but he was not in control and the results are that his follow through with his other foot, resulted in breaking Shaws leg. Reckless tackle, with excessive force that endangered the opponent = red card. Whether he took the ball or not is irrelevant.

  • Mandy Dodd

    The finishing maybe has not been the best in terms of chances created, but it will pick up. At the moment, our strikers seem to be missing the…relatively easy chances, I dont want to call them sitters…..and scoring the more difficult opportunities

  • apo Armani


    Thats why I am now very very interested to hear the analysis of this leg break from Neville!!!

  • john

    Still waiting for Neville et al to say “he’s not that kind of player”

  • proudkev

    The referee was Romanian. Why was an Eastern European referee given a game in Zagreb? Any person that ever had the misfortune to watch the Eurovision Song Contest will know how they support each other. The Giroud tackle was never a booking, when Zagreb players made worse fouls they weren’t booked, which speaks volume.

  • Vince

    How earth can the FA put the match vs Chelsea at noon Saturday when Arsenal has a long distance away Champions League game on Wednesday night.
    Already happened a couple when we played City after a away match vs Napoli (and obviously if it wasn’t enough, Atkinson made sure that Arsenal had no chance to win or even draw that match…)