There is nothing more frustrating for most football fans than an international break right in the middle of the most crucial part of the season, but it is made even worse when the break is for meaningless friendlies. For some players, the brief respite is no doubt appreciated, but for managers and fans, the pause is a disruption to the weekly routine and a good way to halt any momentum the team may have been building before most of the players departed. With no club football to turn to, fans are forced to dig deep to get their football fix, and some amusing stories rise tend to the surface as a result. This week, it was news out of Manchester that Alexis Sanchez is struggling to integrate into his new team that had Gooners chuckling, especially given the instant impact Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had in North London since the swap. Thankfully, however, the Premier League returns this weekend, with the Gunners getting back at it on Sunday at the Emirates Stadium against relegation fighters Stoke City, something which will have busted the Pinnacle Coupon Code as many saw Arsenal potentially slipping up.
Ramsey And Lacazette Back In Contention For Sunday
Whatever the “minor surgical procedure” that Aaron Ramsey had last week on his troublesome hamstring/ groin, it was indeed very minor, as the Welshman has been back, participating in training. He was joined this week by Alexandre Lacazette, who has by all accounts looked fit and sprightly in training in his return from a minor knee operation. Both players are absolutely essential to the Gunners’ Europa League plans, as Ramsey has a tendency to come up huge in big matches, and Lacazette is a clear step up in quality from Danny Welbeck.
Stoke on Sunday might be a bit too soon for Lacazette to go 90 minutes, given he has been out for a month recovering from his surgery, but a place on the bench and an end of match cameo could be in the cards for the Frenchman. His form had cooled off before going under the knife, and while some of that might have been related to his knee injury flaring up, he still could use some time to build up his confidence again. He went from the unquestioned top striker in the team and club record transfer signing to number 2 on both fronts in just 7 months, and fans will be anxious to see how he responds to the increased competition in training. As for Ramsey, who missed virtually no time at all, he is in top mid-season condition, and should have little problem starting and going the distance on Sunday. However both players end up featuring over the next 2 matches, Arsene Wenger will almost certainly be relieved to see both back on the carpet-like pitches at London Colney.
A Chance To Send The Potters Packing
Perhaps it has to do with nearly 2 decades of having almost diametrically opposed footballing philosophies (we’ve given up on the whole Stokelona thing, right?), or maybe it was Ryan Shawcross brutally snapping Aaron Ramsey’s leg in half and the shockingly wicked response of the Stoke fans to the Welshman, but whatever it is, Arsenal and Stoke City do not get along. The matches between the two sides never fail to be rough and competitive affairs, and Sunday figures to be more of the same with Arsenal fighting like hell to get back near the top 4 and Stoke City in a dire relegation fight for the Premier League future.
A win against the Potters on Sunday will not only give a boost to the Gunners, but it will seriously kneecap Stoke City’s chances of staying up in the top division of English football. Currently sitting on 27 points from 31 games with a Premier League worst -29 goal difference, it has been a truly disastrous season for the Potters. What initially looked like a promising evolution into a stable mid-table side with a creative attack turned sour as Mark Hughes’ tenure progressed, and by the time his team had lost in the FA Cup against lowly Coventry, he was far beyond his expiration date at the club. Stoke City face an uphill battle to stay in the league they have made their home since the 2008/09 season, and Arsenal can make it that much more difficult by taking all 3 points from their struggling opponents. Something tells me most Gooners won’t be that sorry to see them go…
Midfielder Gets a New Deal
Arsenal made news this week by signing one of their centre midfielders to a new contract, but it wasn’t either of Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey. Instead, it was Egyptian Mohammed Elneny that put pen to paper on a new deal, re-signing with the club until 2022. Though wage figures have yet to be released, he likely earned a moderate improvement on the £55k per week his last deal paid him.
Elneny is one of those players who receives few of the accolades from fans and the press, but is essential to helping a club get through a season. He has the versatility to feature almost anywhere back of the forward line, and is the closest thing to a rangy holding midfielder left in the team since Francis Coquelin departed for Valencia in January. He may get criticised for his lack of attacking contribution and overly safe distribution, but his role is a simple one: play responsibly positionally, win the ball back, and move it on to his more offensively gifted teammates. He is almost never injured, possesses an indefatigable motor, and is a positive and loyal presence in the dressing room. He may not have been the contract news that everyone wanted to hear, particularly in the Arsenal midfield with 2 long-serving Gunners in contract negotiations themselves, but he is a quality depth option, and now he’s an Arsenal player for the foreseeable future.
One of the biggest stories that just refuses to die during this international break is the rumour that Arsenal is in discussions with former Borussia Dortmund and Mainz boss Thomas Tuchel over his alleged interest in becoming the next Arsenal manager. To be clear, with his combination of tactical astuteness, preference for possession based attacking football, and creative training methods, there are few managers out there who are better equipped to succeed Arsene Wenger than Tuchel. However, there remains one enormous problem with the whole situation that doesn’t seem to be mentioned enough by the press in these reports: Sven Mislintat.
The former Dortmund chief scout and manager quite simply do not get along. Tensions between the two reached a boiling point last season as an argument over the signing of Oliver Torres (who, according to Mislintat, was his preference but was quashed by Tuchel) ultimately resulted in the prickly Manager banning Mislintat from the training ground. For Mislintat, a Dortmund boy from birth who had worked his way up through the club’s backroom staff with his hard work, unrivalled eye for talent, and familial bond with many of the players he helped recruit to the team, this was a difficult insult to stomach. The situation became so untenable, Tuchel was fired in the summer despite another promising season, and Mislintat was wounded enough to consider leaving the only club he had ever known, which he did in the autumn when Arsenal came calling with a project too exciting to pass up. Thomas Tuchel and Arsenal are a match made in heaven that was rendered nearly impossible when the Gunners hired Sven Mislintat, so as difficult as it might be for fans to stomach, fellow Londoners Chelsea look the most likely English club to land the manager this humble writer believes is Europe’s next true great.
Big Names Continue To Be Linked
One of the stories out there sure to make Gooners salivate is that of Ousmane Dembele’s alleged interest in joining Arsenal. The 20-year-old French star exploded onto the scene last season following a move from St. Etienne to Borussia Dortmund, where he developed a brotherly relationship both on and off the pitch with new Arsenal man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He moved on to Barcelona in the summer for around £100 million, but already Aubameyang has reportedly (time to reach for the salt and take a big pinch) asked the club to pursue his friend this summer. That could be a pricey decision for Arsenal, as despite having a less than stellar season at the Camp Nou, Barcelona will be determined to at least recoup their investment in Dembele should they decide to move him on this summer. For Arsene Wenger, who has been chasing Dembele for at least 3 years, the opportunity could be to irresistible to pass up, even if it would likely require one or more players be sold on to scrape up the funds.
Elsewhere, it appears the Gunners maintain an interest in shoring up the defence, with young Turkish defender Caglar Soyuncu of Freiburg. The 21-year-old has been turning heads in the Bundesliga this season with his rock-solid performances at the back. He has made a combined 4 tackles and interceptions this season with nearly a block per match to go along with his 3.4 clearances per 90. Soyuncu is still relatively raw, but his combination of on-ball comfort and awareness with his 6’2 frame and rangey play at the back make him an ideal defensive prospect for many teams. With Calum Chambers and Rob Holding already in the squad, some might question why the Gunners would splash out the estimated £30 million it would cost to land him with 2 other young centre-backs already vying for playing time, but he is considered a top young talent at the position, and he profiles like a typical Sven Mislintat type target.
The final rumour comes not in the form of a player, but rather a kit sponsor. Adidas, who have recently lost some of their marquee Premier League sides to Nike over the last couple seasons appear to be aggressively pursuing a deal with Arsenal, to begin when their current deal with Puma expires. The Gunners currently earn £30 million a season with the kit supplier, but Adidas look prepared to blow that out of the water with an offer of £50 million per season to add them into the fold. Aesthetically, the move would be a mixed bag, as Adidas have some of the most boring shirt templates going, but Puma has been a mixed bag for some fans, with their home shirts generally acknowledged to be poor, but their 3rd choice kits have been inspired and creative, which suits a club with Arsenal’s historical but modern identity. Judging by the reaction on social media however, this is a no-brainer move for fans; a classic shirt supplier with a classic English club for more money than before is too irresistible for some to ignore, so while this is just a rumour at this point in time, there is a lot of hope out there that it comes to pass.