Arsène Wenger’s gamble on Thomas Eisfeld pays off

Arsène Wenger’s gamble on Thomas Eisfeld pays off

Arsène Wenger had to be convinced to sign Thomas Eisfeld in January. He’s glad he did now.

Arsenal had been expecting to sign out-of-contract Eisfeld this summer, but were forced to move in January, over fears that his club Borussia Dortmund were ready to offer bumper terms, to make him stay in Germany.

Wenger described bringing the 19-year-old to North London, six months early, as an opportunity to allow him time to settle. A handful of reserve team run outs and a good holiday later, and Eisfeld’s period of transition looks to have been most valuable.

A diminutive, intelligent and technical play-maker, he returns to London this week having made a notable impression during Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Asia. Three late substitute appearances, two goals and a feeling that this boy really is one for the future. Not bad, considering he only made the trip following a late injury to Henri Lansbury.

Eisfeld is one of Wenger’s most intriguing signings. At 19, he had made little influence on a Dortmund first-team geared to promote from within, and while he might have been given chances by now, he looks to be a genuine talent who has slipped the net.

His inclusion on the trip to Asia has presented Wenger with a key opportunity to take a close look. Eisfeld is a quiet, shy character, who is yet to associate himself with any of the groups within the current setup. Yet his awareness and appreciation of a pass, means he is a valuable and trusted ally on the pitch.

Arsenal just need to find him a position. New first-team coach Neil Banfield operated Eisfeld in an advanced number 10 role on his reserve team debut, but believes he could be a useful false nine – a position where he scored his first goal for the club, in the tail end of last season.

In Asia, Wenger has played him on both flanks, and also as a free player in a three-man central midfield. Either way, Eisfeld has qualities that are adaptable. He makes clever runs into the box, finds space, and can score goals.

Wenger must now decide what next to do with Eisfeld, but the general consensus is that he will spearhead Arsenal’s assault on the NextGen Series, while the Capital One Cup offers further opportunities for him to thrive.

He isn’t the only player to show positive signs in Asia, though. Chuks Aneke, Benik Afobe and Ignasi Miquel all showed glimpses of their potential, but all three are likely to spend next season on loan, polishing their craft.

All in all, the Asia experience will go down as one where youngsters and individuals benefited, and with a handful of squad places up for grabs, there’s plenty for Wenger to muse over.

Arsenal ask Francis Coquelin to end their midfield hunt

Arsenal ask Francis Coquelin to end their midfield hunt

Arsène Wenger has handed Francis Coquelin the opportunity to become Arsenal’s next great defensive midfielder, and with it, save the club a substantial sum of money.

Arsenal scouts have been to France, Norway, Belgium and then back to France in the hunt for a prime defensive midfielder in the last 12 months, but they are yet to appease Wenger.

Yann M’Vila, Kara Mbodj, Lucas Biglia and Étienne Capoue have all been extensivily watched, and have all been subject of positive reports, but none of them have fully convinced the Frenchman they can be a quality alternative to Alex Song.

Wenger had made signing a more natural holding player a priority this summer, with worries that Song’s new found roaming style often leaves the back door open in critical matches.

But doubts over M’Vila’s temperament, Capoue’s maturity and whether Mbodj and Biglia can adapt to the Premier League, have left the Gunners boss unwilling to take a chance on any of them, with all boasting fees in excess of £10 million.

Instead, 20-year-old Francis Coquelin has been promised an opportunity he might not get again. After a year spent as Song’s deputy, he will now be assessed as to whether he can become his main competition, on a full-time basis.

Coquelin has grown up significantly in the last few years, helped by an experience-building loan spell with French side Lorient, but there have still been question marks as to whether he is ready for a permanent graduation.

Wenger will make a decision in the next week or so, with the madcap travelling and intense training in Asia a perfect chance to test Coquelin’s character, maturity and talent at it’s limits. Should he succeeed, he will be allowed to keep the number 22 shirt on a permanent basis.

Coquelin has impressed in several audtions in big matches in recent months, but must now prove he has progressed enough to oust, or even compliment, Song in the Arsenal engine room.

A steady performance against a Malaysia XI has set the tone, but he must show more in Beijing and then Hong Kong in the coming days, in order to seal the permanent promotion.

The ball is very much in his court.

Arsenal head to Asia retreat with several first-team hopefuls

Arsenal head to Asia retreat with several first-team hopefuls

It’s been another difficult summer for Arsenal. The early arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were initially inspired, but now underwhelm, as captain Robin van Persie prepares to walk away.

Arsène Wenger has felt the strain more than most, and after two weeks of intense criticism and question asking, he will no doubt be glad to retreat to Asia tomorrow afternoon, as the club begin their tour of the Far East.

A chance to get away, and focus on the business of moulding his much critiqued new boys into an ever-evolving new-look squad.

Wenger took training on Friday morning already in the knowledge that van Persie would not be travelling. He will stay behind in a bid to work on fitness, and more crucially, a move away.

It’s a decision that will make the headlines, but Wenger is already planning for the future. Van Persie drops out, and is replaced in the travelling party by 19-year-old Benik Afobe. He is one of a handful of fringe first-team hopefuls who will board the plane tomorrow, desperate to force his way into the squad for next season.

Afobe has had a tough 12 months. This time last year, he was on the cusp of the first-team, but suffered a serious knee problem that needed a substantial operation. He returned, but found little game time on loan at Reading, before disappointment with England at the Under-19 Euro’s over the summer.

It’s not quite make or break, but it will feel like it.

Afobe will be joined in the squad by close friends Chuks Aneke, Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris, all of whom already have their eyes on loan moves, but will want to stick around to feature in the Capital One Cup next term.

Wenger is also planning on taking the much maligned Craig Eastmond – a player who has impressed in pre-season training, and did well on loan at League 2 outfit Wycombe in the closing stages of the last campaign. It is very much his last opportunity to leave an impression.

Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, we will also get a look at German play-maker Thomas Eisfield. He arrived in January in a rushed deadline day deal, and although has had injury problems, is highly rated.

It’s a tour aimed at building the commercial networks at Arsenal, but make no mistake, the trio of fixtures are auditions for the names mentioned above, and they know it.

The hard work only begins here.