Having dumped Javi Gracia over the international break before rekindling their spicy love affair with the dashing Quique Sanchez Flores, Watford will be hoping for the fabled ‘new manager bounce’ (not intended as a euphemism) this weekend.
They may have sleepwalked through the first four games of the new Premier League season, but Watford are still a strong, spiky side with a sprinkle of mercurial stardust across the midfield and attack in the form of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Will Hughes and Gerard Deulofeu. Summer signings Ismaila Sarr and Danny Welbeck are now fully integrated into the team, ostensibly leaving them in a stronger position than they were at the start of the campaign.
In his last season as Watford manager Flores masterminded a shock win against Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals, so Unai Emery should be wary of the majestic silver fox in the opposite dugout on Saturday. The two know each other well from their time in La Liga, with Emery winning only once in seven meetings (Flores won three and three ended in draws).
Despite several high-profile defeats during the late Wenger era, Arsenal haven’t lost to Watford since Troy Deeney famously questioned their “cojones” after a particularly grim loss at Vicarage Road two years ago. Last season’s trip to Hertfordshire was a hard slog, however, and Arsenal will have to be on their toes this time around.
Emery at least has relatively few injury worries going into the weekend. Here’s how he could set up at Vicarage Road.
Though Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin are close to returning to full fitness, neither is expected to feature this weekend. After the departures of Nacho Monreal, Carl Jenkinson and Stephan Lichtsteiner over the summer, that leaves Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as the only real options at full-back.
Though his contribution to the back line thus far has been only moderately better than what Shkodran Mustafi has to offer, David Luiz will likely reprise his partnership with Sokratis in the centre of defence. Though Rob Holding could return to the squad this weekend, he will need a gentle reintroduction to the first team and being monstered by Watford’s musclebound enforcers in his first appearance for over nine months would not be ideal.
Though Emery started a hard-fighting midfield three of Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira in the north London derby just before the international break, he should be looking to set the tempo against Watford as opposed to entering into a royal rumble with them.
With Guendouzi registering an assist last time out and Emery bizarrely committed to Xhaka’s brand of bull-in-a-china-shop midfield malcoordination, Torreira could well make way for Dani Ceballos. Arsenal were much improved when Ceballos replaced Torreira in the second half against Tottenham and he has the requisite final ball to unpick Watford’s threadbare back line.
Probable starters: Xhaka, Guendouzi, Ceballos
Having finally started Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe together against Spurs, Emery will have been relatively pleased with the results. Lacazette and Aubameyang both scored with Pepe assisting the former, suggesting Arsenal’s all-star front three is more than just an impractical Football Manager fantasy come to life.
Against a defence which features the workaday talents of Craig Cathcart and Craig Dawson (there are only so many Craigs a team can field before they start to feel the gravitational pull of the Championship), the Auba-Laca-Pepe axis could be extremely dangerous. Reiss Nelson, still looking to make his mark on the side, could feature from the bench.
BARCELONA — Marcus McGuane looks up from his pasta, a glint in his eye as he remembers the night he became the first Englishman to play for Barcelona’s senior side since Gary Lineker.
“It was quite a big thing,” he tells i, days before completing a surprise loan move to Dutch second division side Telstar last week. “Back home it was on the six o’clock news. I got so many messages. So many. My Whatsapp, my Instagram, you can imagine. It was crazy.”
McGuane, 20, made his Barça debut in the Catalan Super Cup in March 2018. Just 36 days had passed since he had signed from Arsenal, who he made two appearances for in the Europa League. Things weren’t supposed to move so quickly. The idea was that he would spend six months adapting to his new surroundings and learning the language. That blueprint was ripped up when Gerard Lopez handed him his B team bow three days after he arrived.
Ernesto Valverde then called him up to train with the first team, before including him in the squad for the Super Cup game against Espanyol, bringing him on as a second-half substitute as Barca won on penalties.
“Everything was going smoothly,” McGuane adds, before turning his mind back to the moment when things started to deteriorate. “I still hadn’t gone anywhere near my peak but I felt good. I was playing in my natural position and I felt I was getting better. Then Lopez got sacked and [Garcia Pimienta] replaced him.
“I felt the impact straight away. It happened on a Thursday before a game. We were travelling on the Saturday and I wasn’t even in the squad. It was a bit of a shock. After that it was tough. I never had the same feeling that I had during those first few months.”
McGuane was gutted by the departure of Lopez, a coach that he had struck up a rapport with. The change in management was just one of a succession of incidents which would knock the England youth international’s confidence and eventually see him turn down a number of attractive this offers this summer in favour of relative wilderness in Holland.
Under Pimienta, Barca B were relegated. They went from playing in front of crowds of 20,000 at Osasuna to being lucky to hit 1,000 at Cornella in the regionalised third division. There was then an untimely trip back to England for personal reasons after an impressive pre-season in which he had trained alongside Lionel Messi, who was absent from the first team’s tour of the United States. When he returned, after starring in a central midfield position in two friendlies, he found himself out of the team. He wouldn’t play his favoured role again.
When he finally broke back into the team it was a right winger. Then he was ruled out with an injury in October. His season might as well have ended there. When it did end, he’d made just 16 appearances.
McGuane admits there’s frustration at being played out of position — “maybe as a kid I played there, when I was nine or 10, but I am not a right winger” — but he’s not seeking excuses. He’s not bitter about how things turned out as he looks to get his career back on track with Telstar.
“I didn’t play as much as I would have liked, but the training and the level of the boys was good and I had opportunities with the first team,” he reflected. “There have been some once in a lifetime opportunities.
“It’s been good to get away from the distractions you have in London, too. In London everything is so accessible, it’s so easy. For a footballer, it’s so easy to get caught up in the London bubble. Being away from that has been good for me. I’ve matured as a person. You find out the things you like, the things you don’t like. It’s helped me grow in so many ways and come closer to family members. It makes you realise the most important things in life when you don’t always have them around you.
“There have been times when it’s been really hard, but I am strong. I don’t give up easily. I wouldn’t have been in Barcelona for any reason other than football. It didn’t work out with the game time that I wanted, but there are no regrets.”
Familiar face in the Netherlands
Hadjuk Split, Besiktas and Sassuolo all put together attractive packages this summer but they couldn’t offer what Telstar could: Andries Jonker, Louis van Gaal’s former No 2 and McGuane’s one-time youth coach at Arsenal. The Dutchman had been texting McGuane all summer and convinced him he could offer him what he wants: the chance to enjoy his football again, feel valued and play minutes in his best position.
“The most important thing for me now is feeling comfortable,” McGuane explained. “Being happy where I am, in a good environment with family and friends and the people that I love around me.
“Choosing a club this summer has felt like such a big decision. I’m still young, but it feels like a big point in my career. I have just got to get some experience playing. Coming to Barcelona was an easy decision. It felt like the right time. I felt like I was going to have the opportunity to show what I can do.”
His food now finished, McGuane admitted any long-term goals he had of returning to the Premier League or representing England have had to be put on the back-burner.
“With the way football is going, everything is more short-term,” he said. “My mind is just on this season. I just want to play and enjoy football again. Play. I want to get back to the level that I can perform at.”
The results of the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal are in and… well, they’re not the best.
Loaned out to Inter Milan and Roma respectively, Sanchez and Mkhitaryan certainly won’t reflect on the last two seasons as the most impressive of their careers to date. Few (including this writer) would have predicted that Sanchez would have so dramatic a fall from grace at Manchester United, while Mkhitaryan, despite a few flashes of genius here and there, never regained the confidence at Arsenal which once made him one of Europe’s most productive attackers at Borussia Dortmund.
Given their inflated wages and modest returns, the club hierarchies at United and Arsenal will be glad to have moved them on for the season. Their departures represent a challenge for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Unai Emery, however, who now have to recalibrate their squads after late clearouts.
Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian have also departed United in the last few days – the former linking up with Mkhitaryan on loan at Roma and the latter leaving permanently for Parma – while Nacho Monreal has left Arsenal for Real Sociedad and Mohamed Elneny, the lost boy of the late Wenger-era midfield, has gone on loan to Besiktas.
While those departures make sense from a strategic and financial point of view, those players, along with Sanchez and Mkhitaryan, made a combined 159 appearances last season and someone will need to make up the difference. That represents a huge opportunity for the next generation as, with the transfer window now closed, both United and Arsenal will have to look to youth.
Who’s done the best late business?
While United and Arsenal have both cleared out some proverbial deadwood and several high-paid underachievers – with Monreal, a very good player for Arsenal, the exception – there are pros and cons to their late housekeeping. For instance, according to the BBC, Manchester United are still subsidising Sanchez’s enormous wages at Inter, meaning that they have not entirely rid themselves of the heavy financial burden attached to his signing.
They are also, according to Solskjaer, now short in the forward department after the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Inter in early August. “We are one down, to be fair, but we just didn’t find the right one,” he admitted when asked about his strikers last week. Some pundits have suggested that they will now be over-reliant on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, both of whom have a way to go to prove that they are prolific enough to bear the full weight of expectation at United.
While Arsenal will miss Monreal for his versatility in defence, even if they have a direct replacement in Kieran Tierney, they have done well to move on Elneny – an incredibly lightweight presence in the squad – and Mkhitaryan, whose wages are reportedly being covered in full. Having signed Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos earlier in the summer, they have not been left short across the forward line or in the midfield. As such, Arsenal appear to have resolved more of their problems than United with their late business.
Who’s set to benefit most at Manchester United?
In the aftermath of Sanchez’s departure, Solskjaer has been talking up teenage striker Mason Greenwood as a serious successor up front. “He is a natural footballer,” he said last week. “He is enjoying his time on the pitch, he comes alive when he gets closer to the goal, which is great to see in finishing sessions… he’s got proper goalscorer’s goals.”
Only 17, Greenwood has featured in all four of United’s games so far this season – though without scoring – and can clearly expect plenty of game time in the absence of big-money signings ahead of him. Another obvious beneficiary of Sanchez’s departure is Daniel James, who has a free run of the wide positions up front without having to share minutes with him.
Having scored three goals in his first four appearances it is easy to forget that James is only 21 and was playing in the Championship last season, so he may be quietly pleased that there will be no-one to disrupt his early momentum at Old Trafford. Though he is still to make a senior appearance for United this term, Tahith Chong could also benefit from the free space which has opened up in the forward positions.
Who’s set to benefit most at Arsenal?
Having been fast-tracked to the first team after an impressive pre-season, Gabriel Martinelli will see Mkhitaryan’s departure as an opportunity. While the starting spots across Arsenal’s front three will no doubt be heavily dominated by Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan was often used as a go-to attacking sub last season and Martinelli will hope that he is allocated some of those minutes.
Martinelli is still only 18, however, so Emery may look to someone slightly more senior to pick up the slack. Reiss Nelson has already made two starts this season and, at 19, is ostensibly ahead of Martinelli in the queue. Coming off the back of an impressive campaign on loan at Hoffenheim, Nelson has experience on his side and Emery will want to capitalise on his sense of momentum. Bukayo Saka is another young wide man who could benefit, though at 17 he is the youngest of the lot and still has a long way to go with his development.
Mauricio Pochettino believes that uncertainty and a lack of focus from certain Tottenham players may have caused the club’s defensive issues at the start of this season, believing that the European transfer window will ease those problems.
Tottenham ceded a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Arsenal in yesterday’s north London derby at the Emirates, and are yet to keep a clean sheet this season. That run without a clean sheet now stretches back to the 1-0 victory over Brighton in April. In addition to that, Tottenham have allowed shots at a rate of 18 per game in the Premier League this season, a rise of six from last season.
Pochettino believes that could be down to a lack of focus on the part of some players, and the difficulty of managing while the transfer window is still open across Europe. Christian Eriksen has been strongly linked with a move away, with Danny Rose and Serge Aurier two other Tottenham players rumoured to have been departing this summer.
“The team wasn’t settled,” Pochettino said. “I told you from day one when we started the preseason in London and moved to Singapore, that is why I wasn’t happy, I was a little bit worried about the situation, because we knew very well what was going on.”
“I am now optimistic and happy, because what is most important is to all be on the same page, with the club. That players have a clear idea where we want to get to and how we want to move, clear minds.
“Like today Christian and different players, tomorrow they’re only going to be focused on Tottenham.”
It makes sense that taking a figure who is calm personified out of any football team would cause an adverse reaction.
Without Christian Eriksen, Tottenham Hotspur have had an agitated start to the season; a win against newly-promoted Aston Villa, a fortunate draw with Manchester City, a surprise home defeat to Newcastle. They have had an agitated manager, Mauricio Pochettino, who has grown increasingly frustrated at fielding questions about Eriksen’s future, and whether the Dane would move to a bigger club before the European transfer window closes tonight.
With the north London derby beckoning, Pochettino needed an antidote to the storm. He needed Christian Eriksen. And he got the reaction he wanted.
Pochettino has deployed a strange strategy in dealing with the impasse caused by his midfielder indicating he was interested in a move away after six years at Spurs. Pochettino did not ostracise Eriksen, as he has treated uncommitted players in the past, but made a point nonetheless, forcing one of his leading players to spend much of the season on the bench and asking him to salvage games.
But with the early season beginning to creak, only three months on from losing the Champions League final, Pochettino tried to instil some calm. He called for Eriksen.
Who else, then, but Eriksen to score the opening goal, completely against the run of the game’s first 10 minutes? David Luiz could have done with a touch of Eriksen as he ran towards Heung-min Son, allowing the South Korean to bypass him with a simple pass and thus affording Erik Lamela the space for the awkward shot, which Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno spilled. Eriksen had the hunger to reach the rebound, and the celebration was far from a sulky act of a player who does not expect to be playing with these team-mates until at least January.
What calmness he brought again, in the 18th minute, when Spurs were still pinned back. From virtually left-back, Eriksen sent the ball, left-footed, to Son on halfway, who used decoy runs as he burst up the pitch and produced a shot towards the far right of Leno’s goal that the German tipped around the post.
And it was Eriksen calmly slipping free of markers inside Arsenal’s penalty area, who provided the target for Son’s pass, when the forward nipped the ball towards his team-mate before Granit Xhaka caught him late for the penalty, which Harry Kane converted.
Eriksen was thriving in that unique kind of madness of a north London derby in a stadium full of hundreds of grown men waving imaginary cards at the referee after every foul from a player in a white shirt, with Davinson Sanchez playing as right-back.
Perhaps the decision to start Eriksen was in part subconsciously counteracting the decision and necessity to play Sanchez there, with extra calm needed to balance out the out-of-position Colombian’s chaos. The defender, prone enough to erratic decisions as a centre-back, booted the ball out of play with only his second touch, and was roasted several times by whichever Arsenal forward – Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé rotating in a front three – wanted to have a turn. Then, in the second half with Spurs under endless pressure, Sanchez was dribbling out of his own penalty area and giving the ball straight to Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Spurs needed calm in a game fast slipping from their control, and there was Eriksen, when a mob of players from either side confronted each other with five minutes remaining, strolling over to the edge of the pack, imploring them all to calm down and get on with it. And then, as the group broke up but set off again, Eriksen jogged over to retrieve the ball down pitch, to remind them once more that the score was still level.
There he was, in the final minute, juggling the ball with chest and head. There he was, making late full-pitch sprints again and again as Spurs counterattacked against tiring opponents, creating space for his team-mates, or for the final pass not to reach him.
If Spurs can keep Eriksen and carry on, they have a promising season ahead.
The turnaround in personnel at Arsenal over the last two years has been remarkable. New manager, new off-pitch structure, new players. Of the 18-man squad selected for the FA Cup final in 2017, only four players remain. Only one of those started in yesterday’s north London derby. The vast majority of Arsenal supporters might be happy to keep that revolving door turning.
Granit Xhaka, Arsenal captain and liability. It’s testament to the resolve of a man that he can be surrounded by constant flux and remain true to his ideals. But Arsenal could really do with Xhaka changing his spots.
Arsenal saved themselves from ignominy. They might even have snatched victory during a ragged, fatigue-fuelled last 15 minutes in which both teams surged forwards and defended frantically. But they cannot expect to come from so far behind the starting line.
Unai Emery may consider that he got his initial team selection and shape wrong; the outward anger in the concourses of the Emirates at half-time may persuade Arsenal’s manager if he is unsure.
Picking Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe as a front three demonstrated some attacking intent, but by allowing all three to stay high up the pitch Emery forced the central midfielders up the pitch to join them. The pressing wasn’t intense enough to break Tottenham’s rhythm, and that left vast swathes of space into which David Luiz was only happy to charge into nonsensically.
But if Tottenham’s first goal owed much to systematic issues, the second was an individual error of judgment from Arsenal’s midfield clot. Xhaka lives to his own mantra: act first, think later. His wretched lunging challenge on Son Heung-min conceded a penalty, but it could easily have provoked a red card.
When Xhaka first arrived in England we excused his tempestuous nature and reasoned that he was desperate to impress. Even in his second season, Xhaka was trying too hard, having struggled to hold down a place.
There are also times when embracing chaos is the best option. If you don’t know what is going to happen next then there’s no chance your opponent can. But the first half of a local derby is not the time for chaos. And diving into your opponent in the penalty area isn’t chaos theory, it’s stupidity.
Xhaka is now in his fourth season at Arsenal, and there can be no more excuses. In a midfield trio with Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, he is the senior member. If a lapse into hot-headed frustration on derby day is hardly unique, it’s also exactly par for Xhaka’s course.
That petulance might just about be permissible were Xhaka the pace-setter of Arsenal’s midfield, his penetrative forward passes into midfield creating as much danger as his loose tackles inflict.
But Xhaka’s off-ball indiscipline too often combines with a safety-first passing strategy. Guendouzi does Xhaka’s job, better. His assist for Aubameyang’s equaliser was magnificent, and he ran the midfield after half-time.
Guendouzi was ably assisted by Dani Ceballos, whose ball retention and forward passing is far more of an asset than Xhaka’s ticking time bomb. For so many seasons Arsenal were supposed to be looking for their new Patrick Vieira. Perhaps in this Emery system, replacing Santi Cazorla was as important. Ceballos looks every bit the new model.
But Xhaka is the old model. There has been so much change at Arsenal over the last three years, but that only makes those who are soaked in old Arsenal all the more conspicuous. It is now time for Guendouzi, Torreira and Ceballos to welcome in the new age. Patience has run out; Xhaka’s nine lives have been used up.
Spurs took a two goal lead in the north London derby on Sunday, capitalising on Arsenal defensive errors before the Gunners salvaged a draw with some neat and clinical attacking play.
Christian Eriksen took the lead in the match, pouncing on Bernd Leno’s fumble after David Luiz flew out of position to create the chance. Harry Kane then netted the second for Mauricio Pochettino’s side with a penalty, after Son Heung-min was cut down in the area by a haphazard Granit Xhaka.
However, Arsenal dug in. Alexandre Lacazette produced a moment of individual brilliance to dribble through the Spurs area and hammer one home with his left before half-time. Lucas Torreira was taken off, as Unai Emery identified Arsenal’s midfield was stagnant and devoid of a creative influence, bringing on Dani Ceballos to remedy it.
It was Matteo Guendouzi who provided the spark, however. Curling a ball to the penalty area from range, he found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who poked it past Hugo Lloris at a sprint to draw the sides level.
Both teams got a few chances late in the second-half, Nicolas Pepe in particular popping up with a number of chances, but neither were able to capitalise and the match ended 2-2.
Tottenham Hotspur player ratings
Hugo Lloris (c) 8/10
His communication and passing with his defenders was a bit awkward at times, but he made some stunning saves. Not much to be done about either goal he conceded.
Davinson Sanchez 5/10
Shakey from the start. From poor positioning to awful clearances, it is clear he was not capable at right-back today and Pochettino should reconsider his options in future.
Toby Alderweireld 6/10
Dealt with a poor Lloris kick well early on and was very composed throughout.
Jan Vertonghen 6/10
Was looking in fine form until Aubameyang left him sprawling for his goal. Some concentration and pace issues but he was collected with the ball at his feet.
Danny Rose 5/10
A great block started his first half well, but made a mistake for Lacazette’s goal. Some good interventions to prevent Pépé at times, but certainly not an assured performance.
Moussa Sissoko 7/10
One comedically poor shot aside, he was quietly assured, winning dangerous free kicks and recycling possession. Couldn’t play in Kane at the death.
Harry Winks 8/10
Win the ball, pass the ball, repeat. A sublime midfield showing with excellent passing and pressing.
Erik Lamela 7/10
Good movement and chance creation, and his interplay with Son in particular was promising. Lacked a bit of physicality, but continued his strong preseason form here.
Christian Eriksen 7/10
Back to starting, and on the scoresheet. Tracked the rebound well and tucked home. Hit a good first-half free kick and showed good link-up play with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.
Son Heung-min 8/10
At his evasive, belligerent best. A constant nuisance to the Arsenal defence and an excellent transition outlet for his side as well as a threat on the counter. Nearly assisted Lamela too.
Harry Kane 7/10
Took the penalty well. Nearly finished a neat turn in behind the defence with a strike that found the post. Lucky not to be booked for a dive.
Dele Alli 6/10
Full of energy but lacked the precision to imprint himself on the match.
Arsenal clawed back a two goal lead to take a draw against Spurs in the North London Derby they hosted on Sunday afternoon, with Alexandre Lacazette an inpsired influence on his side’s comeback.
The Gunners conceded a 0-2 lead thanks to a rebounded Bernd Leno save tucked home by Christian Eriksen in the absence of a defence, after which Granit Xhaka slid two-footed through Son Heung-min in the box to concede a penalty. Harry Kane tucked the penalty home, naturally.
However, Lacazette struck before half-time, deftly dribbling with a bouncing ball through the area before blasting home a shot with his left foot. In the 71st minute, shortly after Lacazette was bizarrely substituted by his manager Unai Emery, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalised with a touch on Matteo Guendouzi’s curling strike.
The match finished 2-2, despite a number of end-to-end counterattacks and long range efforts on both goals.
Arsenal player ratings
Bernd Leno 6/10
Spilled a simple shot to provide Eriksen with a tap in before denying Son excellently in the first half. Not much he can do about a Harry Kane penalty. Produced some stunning saves throughout to mitigate the error a little.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles 6/10
Wasn’t in the right place after Leno’s fumble, but it was because he was covering the errant Sokratis. Good with the ball in attack.
Positionally adrift as the first goal developed, chasing a header he couldn’t reach, and lacked the pace to get to the rebound. Some poor communication between himself and Luiz. Bundled in a shot on the end of a low cross, but it was ruled out due to VAR.
Pushed forward to put pressure early on Son for the first goal and failed. Looked too casual on the ball frequently and created chances for Spurs with his poor decisions.
Sead Kolasinac 6/10
Looked nervous of his defensive responsibilities and unable to put in a threatening ball. Should have left the back post ball at a corner for Aubameyang, stretching to toe-poke it out for a goal kick.
Granit Xhaka 4/10
Slid in two-footed in his own area to concede a penalty, giving Spurs a 0-2 lead, presumably attempting to block a Son shot. A decision beyond comprehension. A player of his experience should not be hampering his side with such abandon.
Matteo Guendouzi 7/10
Dictated tempo well and covered Xhaka frequently when the Swiss wandered off. Put in a testing low shot in the second half and was nearly rewarded. A nice assist for Aubameyang looked suspiciously like a shot.
Lucas Torreira 6/10
Didn’t look at his best out wide, and the trio didn’t provide sufficient cover for the defence. Had his pockets picked and lacked a shade of sharpness, but he was not the obvious issue.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 7/10
Consistently threatening deliveries into the box. Took his goal well with a prod into the corner of Guendouzi’s curler, but the timing and pace of the run was the impressive part.
Alexandre Lacazette 9/10
Dropped deep to assist in transition when he saw the midfield trio were struggling. Pulled off an excellent finish after some stunning footwork at full tilt in the area. Tirelessly brilliant until his substitution, which was booed in some corners of the ground as nonsensical.
Nicolas Pépé 7/10
Looked bright in the first half, getting into good areas and forcing defenders to think about his movement. A shame he couldn’t put some of his efforts into corners – he had more than enough chances to imprint himself on the game.
Dani Ceballos 8/10
Changed the urgency of the Arsenal midfield and tested Lloris with a fierce, but central, long-ranger.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan 5/10
Couldn’t bring down a ball with an open goal and seemed to dawdle off the ball. Struggled to create or put away chances, in harsh contrast to the man he replaced.
That old trick. Suspending betting appears on the first page of the bookies’ marketing manual under the chapter “How to get media attention”, the industry equivalent of “get stuck in son, let them know you are there”. A new contract, new stadium, new players, new dawn after a first Champions League final, just the kind of conditions that breed disquiet in a manager, right?
An anomalous home defeat to Newcastle was not helpful. Neither is the continued disruption fostered by a skewed transfer window that could yet see two of Pochettino’s most important players, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld, leave White Hart Lane to a rival in France, Spain or Italy. And he could have done without traveling to the graveyard that is the Emirates without two of the three additions to the squad, Tanguy Ndombele and Ryan Sessegnon.
Spurs only win at Arsenal in this Emirates era came 3,208 days ago in 2010. Since Arsenal left Highbury the clubs have met 13 times in the league, Arsenal winning eight and outscoring Spurs 34 to 19. Add all that statistical weight to the sense of renewal raging about Arsenal following the signing of Nicolas Pepe, David Luiz, Kieran Tierney and loanee Dani Ceballos, and you can see how Spurs might be nervous.
Against that, it is worth remembering we are still in August. Like a round of golf that begins with a birdie or a bogey, the scorecard often takes a different direction to change perspectives entirely. Arsenal lost their opening two fixtures last year, then went 17 unbeaten. Spurs opened with three straight wins, then lost consecutively at Watford and at home to Liverpool.
The rush to reach emphatic conclusions after each match prevents us from breathing, cuts the oxygen path to the brain, kills all rational thought. You might think Arsenal had signed Messi and Ronaldo such is the fanfare that has greeted Pepe’s arrival. Though he has yet to start alongside Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the trio is being touted as dangerous as any in the Premier League by pundits of a Gunners persuasion.
Cue eye rolls at Liverpool, where Arsenal were handed an early corrective last week, and Manchester City, the two teams that continue to set the English agenda. Liverpool have yet to drop a point. City are one gross misappropriation of VAR at home to Spurs from their own full house.
Nothing we have seen from the field suggests the season will be anything other than a repeat of the last, with Liverpool and City in a lane of their own.
The tension for Unai Emery is whether to roll out his fantasy front three or risk being picked off by a Tottenham team set up to counter. “Be calm,” he advised. “With Pepe, he came here later than the others but he is getting better in each match. [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang is very important for us, he scores two goals in the first two matches, he had two or three good actions in Liverpool. The most important thing for me is to have chances.”
After criticism over his formation at Anfield, where his diamond shape afforded too much room out wide for Liverpool’s flying full backs, Emery might well be persuaded to go all out, though he does not accept his selection accounted for the Liverpool defeat.
“The consequence of the result on Sunday was not the diamond, but really we are ready to play with different tactical decisions. We are more rich tactically with different formations and tactics, and can change in each match and each moment. We will decide the best possible system for us, thinking of our game plan and to adapt for Tottenham.”
Unai Emery has made finishing above Tottenham at the end of the season a priority ahead of Sunday’s north London derby.
The Spaniard’s English has improved since he succeeded Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager for the start of the 2018-19 campaign.
Whether the concept of ‘St Totteringham’s Day’ – the earliest date when Spurs cannot mathematically finish above their rivals – has been explained to him remains unknown, but Emery certainly wants to reverse a trend that has seen that celebration by Gunners fans consigned to history by Tottenham placing themselves higher up the table for the past three seasons.
Spurs and Arsenal also went head to head in the transfer market twice over the summer – and on both occasions it was Emery, not Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, who got his man.
The Gunners secured a £27 million deal for Saint-Etienne teenage defender William Saliba and then beat their rivals to a loan arrangement with Real Madrid for midfielder Dani Ceballos.
“We signed the players we wanted and we are very happy with those players,” Emery said.
Mesut Ozil could feature for the first time this season having missed the first three matches of the season through a combination of illness and the security implications of a car-jacking incident near his home that also involved team-mate Sead Kolasinac.
Emery’s relationship with the £350,000-a-week playmaker came under plenty of scrutiny last term as he flitted in and out of the team.
The 30-year-old was left out of the squad for the corresponding fixture last season, which saw the Gunners win 4-2 in December, but Ozil could feature in this one.
Emery, having ruled out any sale or loan out before the European transfer deadline, insisted Ozil could yet play a more significant part this season.
“With Mesut Ozil it’s the same message to him that I can say to you: we need him,” Emery said.
“We need him because he is a different player in our team. We have different ways to prepare one match thinking to win and different qualities with the players, different characteristics from them. We need him to be available and he can help us with his quality.”
Bernd Leno will start in goal for Arsenal as the established first-choice goalkeeper, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac are near certainties to start on each wing in defence. Maitland-Niles has shown early season improvement in the role as cover for the injured Hector Bellerin, who is still recovering from a cruciate ligament injury. Meanwile, Kolasinac will likely start given Nacho Monreal’s upcoming transfer to Real Sociedad and as Kieran Tierney continues his recovery from a groin injury.
Rob Holding’s recovery from injury continues with starts in the u23’s, while Konstantinos Mavropanos is expected to be waylayed until later in September with his groin issues. Given Shkodran Mustafi’s poor form, it is likely Sokratis and David Luiz will continue their fledgling partnership of chaos at centre-back, with Callum Chambers likely to remain only an option from the bench.
Possible starters: Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac
Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka are likely to start at the base of Emery’s midfield, given Lucas Torreira’s struggles with fitness and Mohamed Elneny’s falling out of contention. Joe Willock is also an option in the deeper role, but is more likely to deployed further forward and from the bench.
Emery dropped the rather large hint in his Thursday press conference that he was considering playing star signing Nicolas Pepe alongside his potent strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in a 4-2-3-1. “They can start together and they can play also during the match as all three, it depends how we decide our game plan,” Emery said.
“My decision in each moment is thinking about how we are. For example with Lacazette he had a problem with his ankle. This week he’s getting better and feeling better, it’s very positive.
“With Pepe, he came here later than the others but he is getting and feeling better in each match Aubameyang is very important for us, he scored two goals in the first two matches, he had two or three good actions in Liverpool.”
Emery also suggested he was contemplating deploying Ozil behind the three in the No 10 role, denying that the club were looking to offload the German before the end of the transfer window. However, given Dani Ceballos’ strong start to his first Premier League campaign, it is expected the Spaniard will be pulling the strings instead.
Gabriel Martinelli, Reiss Nelson and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are also likely to be advanced options from the bench.
Possible starters: Pepe, Ceballos, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Forty-eight teams from across the continent have been divided into four pots of 12 based on their Uefa coefficients and will be drawn into 12 groups of four.
What time is the Europa League draw?
The draw for the Europa League group stage begins at 12pm (BST). It takes place at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco.
Is the Europa League draw on TV?
Yes. The Europa League draw will be shown on BT Sport 2 and can be streamed via the Uefa website.
Which teams can Arsenal, Celtic, Man Utd, Rangers and Wolves face?
Here is a list of the 48 teams involved in this season’s group stage divided into their four seedings pots.
Teams in the same pots cannot face each other in the group stage and nor can those from the same league – therefore Celtic and Rangers cannot be drawn in the same group although they could face one of the three Premier League teams.
Manchester United (ENG)
Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
Sporting CP (POR)
CSKA Moskva (RUS)
PSV Eindhoven (NED)
Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Young Boys (SUI)
Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)
Standard Liège (BEL)
İstanbul Başakşehir (TUR)
AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Vitória SC (POR)
Slovan Bratislava (SVK)
CFR Cluj (ROU)
Mauricio Pochettino has had plenty to ponder over the last week. Tottenham‘s unexpected 1-0 home defeat at the hands of struggling Newcastle turned heads, as Spurs struggled to find a way to squeeze their way through a resilient five-man defensive line.
Calls for Christian Eriksen to play a bigger role and climb the midfield order have only become stronger since another 90 minutes rolled by without the hosts building consistently from midfield to attack.
The north London derby is always a competitive affair. Arsenal have made promising progress over the summer, bringing in the likes of David Luiz, Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe to try and ensure that there is a technical, attacking edge to how they go about their business in possession – but off the ball they can be hurt.
Spurs travel to the Emirates under less pressure than their opponents. Arsenal will be required to make a statement after falling considerably short against fellow top-four opponent Liverpool last weekend.
Here’s how Pochettino’s side are expected to line-up:
Kyle Walker-Peters picked up a hamstring injury against Newcastle which saw the young full back substituted just after the hour mark. Given that Juan Foyth is still recovering from an ankle problem and Serge Aurier is heavily linked with a move away from the club before the end of the transfer window in Europe, Pochettino is likely to go with a make-shift option at right back.
Moussa Sissoko filled in at right back in the second half against the Magpies, but Eric Dier is another player who could plug the gap given his past experience at full back and centre back. Spurs could also revert to three at the back if required, a move that would give more defensive security in behind a make-shift full back. Jan Vertonghen still waits on the sidelines, but did return to the club’s most recent match day squad – a sign of progress after some controversial omissions. The Belgian should come back into the starting eleven, as things haven’t been solid without him.
Probable starters: Lloris; Sissoko, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose
Ryan Sessegnon will be out with a thigh injury until mid-September, as the youngster continues to wait until he is fit enough to make his competitive debut for the club. Tanguy N’Dombele also picked up a minor hamstring strain ahead of last weekend’s defeat against Newcastle and is therefore a doubt for featuring at the weekend. Eriksen could play in a deeper role as a result, given that the likes of Erik Lamela, Dele Alli and Giovani Lo Celso can play in attacking roles further forward.
Dier could be an option to stiffen up the base of midfield should N’Dombele fail a fitness test, while Eriksen should help to bridge the gap between midfield and attack that has been lacking so far in the Premier League for Pochettino’s side. Given that Arsenal will likely go with a midfield three of Dani Ceballos, Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka, the introduction of a more defensively-minded and reserved presence such as Dier may be the intelligent route to go in a big away game.
Probable starters: Dier, Winks, Eriksen
Dele Alli picked up an injury during Spurs’ pre-season preparations but should be fit for action this weekend after a long spell on the sidelines. Given that the start of the league season has led to suggestions that Tottenham are lacking penetration and a direct goal threat from deep, the hard-to-pigeonhole style of Alli could be key to helping break down an Arsenal rearguard which has been leaky and error-prone of late.
Harry Kane will lead the line, while Heung-min Son‘s work rate and explosiveness on the break should see the South Korea international preferred to Lucas Moura. The Brazilian’s form has been inconsistent, but he could be an interesting option from the bench. If Alli is fit enough to make the squad, the Englishman should offer a new dimension to Spurs’ attack – while Lo Celso will likely be eased into action as a substitute once again as he adjusts to life in London.
ANFIELD — As the ball is delivered into the area, there is danger. There always is at Anfield, when Liverpool’s front three are passing and moving and Liverpool grooving. At their best, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané exist as one mass, a whirl of touches, feints and sprints. Firmino has the ball on the edge of the box, and Salah is already moving. Of course there is danger.
Meanwhile, David Luiz is in trouble. Not only has he allowed Salah to move a yard away from him in the penalty area, he has done so before he has even turned to face his opponent. Turning round, Luiz is left with two choices: try to stop the ball if he shoots, or try to stop Salah.
These split-second decisions are why Luiz has been signed. The one defining negative of Arsenal’s last three years has been defensive incompetence founded on poor decision-making. Dive in or stand up; attack the ball or stay put; play short or get rid; try to stop the ball or try to stop the shot; these are the things they get wrong.
Luiz had won titles at Chelsea, never quite escaping his reputation for inconsistency but doing more than enough to suggest he would improve Arsenal, force Shkodran Mustafi out of the team, help those around him to make better decisions. That now sounds like the punchline to a joke at Arsenal’s expense. If Luiz does indeed possess the propensity for defensive calamity, moving to this club only risks exposing it further.
Nightmare at Anfield
So as Salah wriggles clear in the box, Luiz chooses to keep the striker within his grasp. Literally. The foul was obvious enough to have been a braindead act even in the era before VAR.
If there’s one thing more frustrating than a defender’s catastrophic error of judgement, it’s that same player playing on emotion rather than logic in an attempt to atone for it. Ten minutes after the penalty, Salah broke clear with the ball out wide and Luiz charged out from his defensive line. He dashed not in expectation of getting the ball or even vague hope, but because he had been flustered by his own mistake.
Salah escaped Luiz as if he were the Road Runner dancing around Wile E Coyote to pile on further embarrassment.
You know the ending by now. Luiz looked forlorn 30 yards from his goal as Salah ran away to receive Anfield’s adoration. All that was missing were the cartoon stars spinning around his head.
Huge gap between clubs
This was not a poor Arsenal performance; not really. They came with a high-risk defensive plan: a low defensive block in the first half as they allowed Liverpool to attack and a clogged central midfield in an invitation for Jürgen Klopp’s side to use the channels. It might have paid off had Arsenal been more exact at both ends of the pitch. But then in a sense that only makes it worse.
These two clubs weren’t far apart not too long ago, holding the same intentions and expectations. Now one of them can play pretty well and still get their annual away-day thumping, the other can play pretty well and extend their unbeaten home league run to 42. Klopp used his programme notes to call Arsenal “one of Europe’s best”. As Unai Emery watched Luiz commit two cardinal defensive sins in 10 minutes, he might have questioned the sanity of his opposite number.
That’s the inherent problem about this club’s search for progress and with those who hastily declared them winners of the summer transfer window. They have lacked defensive reliability for years, and they still do. Signing David Luiz specifically to cut out moments of brainless defending is like employing Adam Sandler as director because you’re worried your films are getting a little puerile. In the clutch moments of clutch fixtures, Arsenal will still let you down.
Liverpool face the only other club – Arsenal – with a 100 per cent record after two games at Anfield on Saturday with Jurgen Klopp dismissing Unai Emery’s jokey comment that he “never wanted to play Liverpool”.
Klopp has not lost to the Gunners since arriving in English football – winning five and drawing two of their seven fixtures while scoring a 23 goals – at an average of over three a game – and conceding 12.
“He made a joke!,” added Klopp. “We cannot make a serious question of it. But we want to be the team nobody wants to play against. We want to be too intense, too quick, too strong, too fast, too greedy, too angry. That’s what we want.
“We have to make ourselves ready for the game, and make people think at the end ‘that was too much for us’.”
‘I know what they did’
As for whether it will be another game full of goals he said he didn’t care as long as his team emerged victorious: “I wouldn’t expect it [a high-scoring game], to be honest, although both teams are offense-orientated at least!
“Arsenal will probably change at least two key positions. Probably Pepe will start, which won’t make them weaker, and probably Xhaka as well.
“It happened a lot to us in the last few months, we analyse a team and then they play completely different against us. I am not saying Arsenal will, but it makes life tougher, especially in the early stage of the season.
“I know what they did in the first two games, I know what they did against us last season. And each result that gives us three points, I am happy with! I don’t care how often we score.
“If you look at how they set up, they have good footballers in each position and real speed up front. Real speed, wow! That makes it tricky to defend. You have to be brave, play your own football, keep possession. There are a lot of things to consider in this game.
“But that’s why I am looking forward to it. We have to show we are ready again.”
Alisson and Keita update
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker and Naby Keita will both be missing for Liverpool again.
“Close? Not that close. Nobody told me I had to consider him [Alisson] for training tomorrow!
“I had lunch with him today, so at least he can eat! He looks in good shape, good mood, but it will take time. I don’t know exactly. No date in my mind, we will give him the time he needs.
“At the beginning he was on crutches, which is normal for his injury, and they are not there now. He walks normal, he can train completely normal compared to a week ago and I think from now it will go quick. How quick, I don’t know.”
As for Keita, he said: “Long term does not mean six months, it means a couple of weeks. No real news, he’s close, but not close enough.”
Alisson’s absence means No 2 Adrian will continue in goal despite his mistake at Southampton last week.
Liverpool carry a perfect record into the third match day of the Premier League, keeping stride with Arsenal at the top of the tree. Both teams have taken six points from a possible six, making this an early opportunity for Jurgen Klopp‘s side to take the psychological advantage by pulling ahead of the embryonic title-race pack.
Klopp was open about the effect the demanding fixture calendar could have on his players after their European Super Cup/Premier League double-header last week: “No football player should play 50 or 60 games a season, especially not in these intense positions. Goalie and centre-half can maybe do it, but all the rest? Give whatever you have and next game maybe somebody else will do the job.”
Given that the Reds will be facing Burnley next weekend, the thought process may be to give a few other players the chance to show what they can do at Turf Moor. Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson and Mohamed Salah have been intensely involved so this season, starting every fixture. For now, though, Klopp is likely to deploy his strongest XI against an Arsenal side who have shown flashes of brilliance across their first two league games.
Alisson Becker is still trying to return from a calf injury as quickly as possible after going down on the Premier League’s opening weekend. Adrian made a costly error last time out as the Brazilian’s deputy, which will only have increased the pressure on Alisson to try and return to first-team action sooner rather than later. Klopp’s only other defensive absentee is Nathaniel Clyne, who is recovering from a long-term ACL issue.
Joel Matip should continue as first choice centre-back alongside Van Dijk, with Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren waiting in the wings to rotate in. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold will retain their places at full back, too, with Gomez capable of slotting in as a back-up right back next weekend if necessary.
Probable starters: Adrian, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson
Naby Keita has been struggling with a muscle injury of late and therefore shouldn’t be available from the off. After starting with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner flanking Georginio Wijnaldum in the middle of midfield against Southampton recently, Klopp should revert back to his strongest midfield three for a tough game.
Jordan Henderson and Fabinho both came off the bench at St Mary’s, meaning they should be rested and ready for a demanding match against an Arsenal side who should have a very energetic and combative midfield three of their own.
Probable starters: Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Henderson
Despite dropping hints that rotation will be key in all positions but centre back and in goal this season, Klopp should stick with his tried and tested first-choice front three despite their involvement last weekend. The likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi could come into the picture against Burnley.
Mohamed Salah failed to score last time out after a positive opening performance against Norwich, while Firmino and Mane picked up the slack by netting a goal apiece against the Saints. Anything but Liverpool’s star trio shouldn’t be anticipated this weekend. Selection surprises can come later in the campaign when there is midweek Champions League football to contend with. For now, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Probable starters: Salah, Firmino, Mane
Expected Liverpool line-up versus Arsenal (4-3-3): Adrian; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Henderson; Mane, Firmino, Salah
Arsenal may have started the Premier League season with two consecutive wins, but manager Unai Emery joked that his side “don’t ever want to play against Liverpool” in the build-up to Saturday’s hotly-anticipated clash at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp‘s side are high on confidence after securing the European Super Cup and taking six points from their opening two league clashes, armed with a dangerous front three which the Gunners will be hoping to try and match.
After opening up the campaign with a narrow 1-0 win over Newcastle, grinding out a result courtesy of a finish from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, there were plenty of additional positives surrounding Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Burnley at the Emirates last weekend. There were passages of play where Emery’s side looked sharp and technically very strong when playing through midfield, while Nicolas Pepe got his first taste of a home league game in the second half – much to the interest of the watching support.
Dani Ceballos and David Luiz shone on their first competitive outings at their new home, while young options Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson continued to show why their boss is keen to utilise them in and around his first-team group this year. Defensive issues are still there to be ironed out, but a busy transfer window appears to have Arsenal moving forward and looking capable of doing damage to some of the strongest teams in the Premier League.
Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Kieran Tierney are still absent due to injury for the away side. Both Bellerin and Tierney are aiming to return to full training by October, while Mavropanos should be absent for the next six to eight weeks. Holding won’t be rushed after a long period on the sidelines.
David Luiz was excellent on his Arsenal debut against Burnley and will continue at the heart of the visiting defence alongside Sokratis. Nacho Monreal is also likely to feature at left back with Sead Kolasinac yet to get a league start so far this season owing to recent off-field issues. Ainsley Maitland-Niles will be asked big questions defensively but should start at right back.
Probable starters: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, David Luiz, Monreal
Granit Xhaka missed out against Burnley with a bruised back, but is expected to be back fit to be in contention for Saturday’s visit to Anfield. Mesut Ozil sat in the stands last time out too, after an illness affected his ability to train effectively in the lead-up to the Premier League weekend.
Dani Ceballos contributed two assists during the club’s second win of the season and should hold his place in Emery’s eleven as a result. If Xhaka is fit enough to return to the team, Arsenal could also tighten up slightly in the middle of midfield by replacing the inexperienced Joe Willock in favour of the extra grit and leadership offered by the Swiss international.
Ceballos is happy to work hard off the ball and can play deeper, too. In combination with Matteo Guendouzi, they would make for a competitive three in a demanding contest.
Probable starters: Guendouzi, Xhaka, Ceballos
It’s a big game, but this could be the first time that the exciting trio of Pepe, Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette start on the same pitch in a competitive game for the Gunners.
Pepe flew out of the blocks with a scintillating performance off the bench against Burnley, highlighting his one-versus-one ability and should be a valuable asset in what will likely be a very open game against Liverpool. All three already looked to have a good understanding both on and off the pitch.
Lacazette and Aubameyang both hit the back of the net last time out and will want to maintain that same momentum, while Liverpool’s far from secure defensive performances so far this campaign will give Emery plenty of belief that there will be spaces to attack at pace on the break. Pepe could be a key to turning defence into attack very quickly against Klopp’s side.
In many ways, both teams could use spring-loaded front threes in similar ways when in possession, relying on their own individual brilliance and speed to put their opposition to the sword.
Probable starters: Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe
Arsenal’s expected line-up to face Liverpool (4-3-3): Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, David Luiz, Monreal; Dani Ceballos, Xhaka, Guendouzi; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
When Arsenal’s Sead Kolašinac – known to Gooners as “The Tank” – faced down knife-wielding thugs on a north London street last month he was hailed for his bravery after CCTV footage of the botched drive-by heist went viral. Mesut Özil darted for cover in a nearby restaurant while the 26-year-old left back Kolašinac took on the assailants with bare hands.
Both players are expected to return to Premier League action this weekend – but their show of defiance was probably the last thing the club and police wanted to happen.
Security expert Alex Bomberg said Özil and Kolašinac should have been briefed on the correct procedure during such an attack – and that means flight rather than fight.
“Not putting themselves at risk and driving to the nearest police station is exactly what they should have been doing,” said Mr Bomberg, chief executive of Intelligent Protection International Ltd, a close-protection and security firm operating in Britain and France. When you’re travelling in a vehicle, the only real time when you’re at risk is when it goes static. If [they] had a close-protection officer with [them], they would know where the nearest police stations and hospitals are. It’s their job to know those things,” he told i.
Mr Bomberg said clubs should take more responsibility as crimes against high-profile players and their families become more common. He adds: “I think there’ll be a bit of expenditure by a couple of clubs and then nothing will happen. A player getting injured will not change football clubs taking more responsibility. However, I think it will take a player’s family being seriously injured for here to be a change.”
Detectives fear the incident may have triggered a violent turf war between rival Eastern European gangs operating in the UK. Figures suggest citizens from at least 134 different countries are involved in organised crime.
Now, fresh concerns among wealthy players and rich homeowners in some of the UK’s most exclusive postcodes has seen them step up their security detail to ward off targeted attacks.
Özil, 30, was spotted leaving his home in Hampstead, north London, with a minder in tow on Wednesday – days after two men were arrested following a reported altercation with security staff outside the £9m property. The Metropolitan Police said two men aged 27 have been charged with harassment offences and will appear in court on 6 September.
Many security companies are equipped to deal with “special risks” – characterised as kidnapping, product tampering and blackmail. When protection firms are hired, staff will typically carry out a security audit.
“We’d look at the alarm system, how it’s monitored and would put a police response on it,” Mr Bomberg said.
“For at-risk individuals we would put a panic button on the alarm system and one in their bedroom. Dogs are good and if you’ve got big grounds they’re great because they will pick up on scents. But you’ve got to be very careful because they’re like humans; you’ve got to rest them – you can’t overwork them.”
Risk assessments would be carried out if the individual planned to attend a public event – and security would be beefed up if he or she was accompanied by a partner or family.
Separate security-trained drivers and bodyguards would be deployed and at least one bodyguard would shadow the VIP’s wife.
“It can be difficult [advising] a mother of young kids – they’re busy looking after their family, travelling from A to B and have other things going on,” Mr Bomberg said.
“But we would talk through to them exactly what to do and [what] scenarios are really good. For example: ‘What would you do if you’re parking the car at Waitrose and suddenly someone recognises you and starts screaming at you through your car window?’
“A lot of people would wind down the window [but] we suggest staying put, beeping the horn and drawing attention to yourself. A lot of people don’t think about self-help but if you have a couple of young kids with you then that raises the dynamic.”
It’s understood that many Premier League clubs have contracted security and close protection is available to players. But a source with knowledge of security for high-net-worth individuals noted a reluctance to hire above adequate security detail. For top-flight footballers earning up to £300,000 a week, the annual cost of appropriate protection is equivalent to 10 days’ wages.
The attack on the Arsenal players has pushed Britain’s murky underworld into the spotlight. It’s believed that the footballers became unwittingly tangled in a vicious gangland feud between two rival Eastern European gangs – which blew up after the attempted carjacking last month. One mob threatened the Premier League stars, saying they would take “everything they have” after another clan warned that the players were “off limits”, according to a report in The Sun. Since then, both men have significantly increased their security detail but Kolašinac’s wife, Bella, has reportedly returned to Germany.
Serious and organised crime costs the UK economy £37bn a year, according to a 2019 National Crime Agency (NCA) report. An estimated 4,629 crime groups, made up of 34,000 members are thought to be operating in the country – and many offences are believed to go unreported. While British citizens make up the bulk of these networks, Pakistani, Polish, Romanian and Albanian criminals are among the several hundred members of the illicit rackets. It was revealed this week that 876 Albanians are imprisoned in the UK – putting them at the top of the list of jailed foreigners.
Lynne Owens, director general of the NCA, said the scale of organised crime is “staggering” and called for a £2.7bn investment to fight it over the next three years. She said: “Failing to invest will result in the gradual erosion of our capabilities and our ability to protect the public.”
Social media spying
Researchers have explored how crime networks are exploiting social media platforms to gain insight into the “identification of allies and victims, to the execution of operational capacities”, reported a 2015 study in the Journal of Complex Operations.
But Dr Paul Gill, a senior lecturer at the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science at University College London (UCL), told i that using open-source intelligence to develop plans is “nothing new”.
“In the early 1970s, a Provisional IRA leader remarked that 85 per cent of the intelligence they collected came from media and open sources,” he said.
“Often celebrities and members of the public alike unwittingly provide crucial information online that they would never think about saying one-to-one with a stranger. It should not come as a surprise that criminals will make use of these opportunities. As technology changes, new forms of crime will emerge. Policy-makers, police and intelligence will need to pre-empt and mitigate these emerging threats before it is too late.”
An NCA spokesperson told i: “The threat from serious and organised crime is chronic and corrosive, evolving as it adapts to our changing society.
“These groups are preying on the most vulnerable in society and we know criminal networks are becoming more extensive and sophisticated and in many cases, are prepared to use greater levels of violence.
“Visible, front-line policing is vital to public safety, but the reality is that we will not defeat serious and organised crime with beat officers alone.
“Some of the capabilities we need are most effectively and efficiently delivered at the local or regional level. Others, however, the NCA must deliver on a national basis, providing the right agencies with the right capabilities at the right time to deliver maximum impact.”
Arsenal‘s opening win of the Premier League wasn’t pretty, by any means. Unai Emery blended home-grown talent with a core of players that performed well for him during his first season in charge at the Emirates and came out with three points. Newcastle were competitive and ran them close, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s ice-cool second-half finish got the job done on Tyneside.
Burnley is the next test for Emery, a tough challenge even at the Emirates. Sean Dyche‘s side are competitive, intense and organised, capable of playing on the break, winning second balls and setting up two banks of four that are difficult to break down.
Hector Bellerin is expected to make his return from injury in November, while Konstantinos Mavropanos won’t be available for first-team action until late October. New signing Kieran Tierney is expected to join training for the first time in October, owing to an injury that the youngster arrived with from Celtic. Rob Holding is in first-team training, however, but won’t be rushed back.
Kolasinac’s availability is still unknown, after he was absent from the Gunners‘ win over Newcastle due to security concerns. Bernd Leno will continue in goal as Emery’s undisputed first choice. David Luiz was an unused substitute last weekend and could be handed a debut at centre-back at the expense of Calum Chambers.
Granit Xhaka is a doubt for the weekend due to some bruising on his lower back and leg, while Mohamed Elneny is still on the comeback trail after a rest following his participation with Egypt at the summer’s African Cup of Nations. Ozil, like Kolasinac, could participate once more after being left out due to fears over his safety on the away trip to Newcastle.
Dani Ceballos could be in for a start after making his debut from the bench on the opening weekend. Joe Willock made a slightly surprising start at St. James’ Park, and both players could be key to finding ways to slither through Burnley’s organised lines. Lucas Torreira could come in alongside Matteo Guendouzi at the base of midfield should Xhaka fail a fitness test.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan put in a below-par performance in the North East, which could see a full home debut for Nicolas Pepe. Alexandre Lacazette should be fit enough to feature from the off, too, after being an unused substitute last Sunday.
Arsenal fans could get their first opportunity to see the combinations of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe that they have been dreaming of since the ex-Lille winger flew into London. Reiss Nelson is likely to drop out of the starting eleven as a result.
Expected Arsenal starting line-up vs Burnley (4-3-3): Leno; Maitland-Niles, David Luiz, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Guendouzi, Dani Ceballos; Lacazette, Aubameyang, Pepe.