06 April 2013

Rosický: A Tribute

Well, one thing is clear. I have to post about a player before each match and come up with a clever title that gets more annoying each time you read it. I posted on Rosický yesterday, predicting him to have a MOTM-performance with a goal or an assist, and he one-upped me by bagging two. Here, then, is a quick ode:

A ball, headed goal-ward,
The keeper looks on and despairs;
the Czech clears the line.

The Ivorian dances and jukes,
a defender spins like a top as
that Ivorian sends a cross
the Czech heads it home.

A Welshman sees an opening;
he puts it across the box.
The Czech blasts it, and blasts it
anew, putting it home again.

05 April 2013

A Pický to Clický: Tomáš Rosický

Just thought we'd start with a quick loyalty test to see who's willing to read past that title. Once I got the phrase into my head, it just stuck. I'm using it in hopes of it infecting some other hapless soul's brain and disinfecting mine. Thank you in advance for volunteering.

In all seriousness, as we look to a spark to inspire us to victory tomorrow against West Brom, I'm thinking that Tomáš Rosický is due for a break-out game. He missed most of the first half of the season after Achilles surgery in July, and since his return, he's had only two starts and ten appearances for us. It's probable that he's still not at 100%. Since a MOTM-quality appearance against Olympiakos, he's struggled to find the form that made him such a valued and valuable player. Having said all that, I believe (yes, and hope) that he's one who's going to make some noise tomorrow.

Arsenal Vs. West Brom Preview

After yesterday's drama in the Europa, we sit and wait to hear the results of the scan on Gareth Bale's ankle injury. He'll probably miss at least two weeks, according to Andre Villas-Boas. The match report at the Tottenham site is upbeat, mentioning only that Bale "joined Lennon in limping out of the action." We'll have to keep an eye on that and wish him well. Closer to home, we look ahead to our own tricky match with West Brom. They started the season on a fine run, climbing as high as 3rd in the table at one point, but have since settled into 8th place. When we hosted back in December, we needed two Arteta penalty kicks, the first after a bit of a dive from Cazorla to ensure victory. At the time, we sat in 6th place behind West Brom, who were in 5th. Since then, however, we've been on a fine run of form, with five wins and one loss in our last six matches while West Brom have labored a bit more, with three wins, one draw, and two losses. That first match gave us the epic photo of Jack Wilshere going forehead-to-chin with Jack Olsson. Sadly, with Wilshere out, we won't get a replay of that little scene. Instead, I'll settle for a replay of the score.

Bale Update: Back in time to face Man City

A scan of Gareth Bale's ankle injury reveals no signficant damage, and according David Ornstein at the BBC, he could be back in time to face Man City on April 21. That's about as good as the news could get. He'll miss their match with Everton and the second leg with FC Basel, and the postponement of the match with Chelsea means he may only miss those two games. The tweet from Ornstein says that the club "hope" that Bale will be back, so this is not definite by any means. All the same, congratulations to Bale on avoiding major damageand the news of his speedy return might even give his teammates a jolt of inspiration, especially considering how deflating worse news might have been.  That's all for now. I'll update again if more-specific news comes out.

UPDATE: Here is the update, for what it's worth, via the Spurs website:
The Club can confirm that Gareth Bale (sprained ankle ligaments), William Gallas (calf strain) and Aaron Lennon (soft tissue contusion below the knee) all underwent scans today (Friday) after being forced off with injuries during our Europa League Quarter Final First Leg draw with Basel last night. The results of these scans have indicated that all three players are expected to return to training within two weeks. Bale, Gallas and Lennon have all commenced their treatment today and are responding positively.
Sprained ankle ligaments mean that nothing is torn, so he should be able to recover fairly quickly. I don't know if two weeks is optimistic or not. We'll see...

04 April 2013

Europa: Bale's horrific injury as Spurs stumble to a draw

Three cheers to Chelsea for their win over Rubin Kazan, a comfortable 3-1 victory that should sustain them well on the second leg. The news for Spurs, however, is a much more down-beat as they labored to a
2-2 draw with FC Basel, making their second leg much trickier. A further concern has to be Aaron Lennon, who returned from his hamstring injury for this game but had to be taken off at 24', apparently having re-aggravated the same injury. It was 0-0 at the time, so it's not as if this was a strategic decision to conserve him for the Sunday match with Everton. Except for Lennon, their key players played the entire match. After a match that they had to fight tooth and claw for a full 90' plus 5' of stoppage time, only to come away with a disappointing draw, Spurs might be feeling a little depleted. Chelsea went ahead early on a goal from Torres and seems to have had a more leisurely match as Rubin Kazan never really could make it into much of a match. Chelsea will probably be fine for hosting Sunderland on Sunday. The bad news for Spurs, however, goes from bad to worse.

In stoppage time, Gareth Bale went down with a late ankle injury serious enough to get him stretchered off. It looked serious when it happened, and, given the importance of the game (Spurs fielded a full-strength squad), it's highly unlikely that he was merely going into histrionics to earn some rest. I'd post the video but it's enough to turn one's stomach; Bale's leg gets turned a bit by a Basel defender just enough to see Bale turn his right ankle so far that the outside of his foot seems to touch the ground while his leg is still perpendicular to the ground. Just take a moment right now to see if you can calmly and slowly flex your own ankle that far. Now picture it happening to you suddenly with the full weight of your body moving at speed, forcing it to happen. Ugly stuff. I'm not even going to speculate on how this affects the Prem League just yet. Too soon for that. Bale will go in for a scan on Friday. For now, just wish the lad well. As much as I want to overtake Spurs, I want them at full-strength when we do, and, in what is becoming a bit of a refrain for me, I don't want to beat anyone thanks to injuries to their players. This could be disastrous for SpursBale will almost certainly miss a few matches, including Sunday with Everton. If I'm a Spurs fan, I'd happily trade a loss or two for Bale to be able come back sooner rather than later. Even as an Arsenal fan who is supposed to detest all things Tottenham, I want to see him come back. I'll even go so far as to say God speed, Gareth.

Good riddance to the deadwood

And no, I'm not talking about the innumerable players out on loan. I'm referring to those players who have actually leftFabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, and Song. While we'll remember them for their contributions, the fact that they left for whatever reason gives us a chance to appraise each with a cold, hard eye. When we do, we see that all four players are not who they once were, at least for the moment. Each player seems less vital in his contributions to his current club than he ever was with us. Some might say that this proves that the other clubs are so much better than Arsenal that our best players are merely good players at Camp Nou or the Etihad. Maybe it's down to the procees of getting to know new teammates and team structure/system. Or maybe it suggests that Arsenal, and Arsène Wenger in particular, brings out the best in players. I know full-well that reality is more complex than that, and that a variety of factors help to explain each player's situation, drop in form, dry spell, benching, whatever it may be.

Ouchies all around

Far be it from me to wish harm on a rival player, even the likes of Ashley Cole, but I'm not above noticing injuries. A while back, I bemoaned how many games our men have lost to injury, an epidemic that has worsened after Diaby's torn ACL. Now, however, it seems that what comes around goes around, as our rivals for a top-four finish have seen key players go down to various injuries, some serious enough to knock them out for several weeks, if not the remainder of the season. Keep in mind that I'm not relishing the potential advantage these developments grant us, but I am aware that the advantage exists, not that we should need any further motivations to go out and grab every point available already.

03 April 2013

DiCanio, you schmuck. That's right. It's Yiddish. Savor the irony.

I used to dislike Sunderland on the very simple grounds that one of their players injured one of ours (Diaby). However, what little regard I may have had for them has been flushed like so much raw sewage. The hiring of Paolo Di Canio is ridiculous. He might be a distinguished player and manager, but until he actually, directly disavows his connections to and support for fascism, he's little more than a fascist and should have no place in or around football, if my two cents are worth anything. If I was a Sunderland fan, I'd be outraged enough to put up my various jerseys and whatnot on eBay and switch to a club with a little more sense. If I was a Sunderland player, I'd refuse to play for Di Canio. However, I'm neither of these things, so I guess I'll have to register my disgust in this little corner of the universe. It's one thing to prefer your own kindI'm from Irish stock, two generations removed, and enjoy meeting other Irish people, but I'm not about to go around swearing at or deriding other nations, cultures, or peoples.

A Clinic in Finishing

The problem with winning 4-1 is that it feels awfully good. Too good, in fact. It glosses over issues and convinces us that all is well. That a win like this comes as the third in a streak further complicates matters, as we've netted eight goals in three games, enough to suggest to us that we're doing great. We are on a nice run, it's true. However, at the risk of getting nit-picky, there's still room for improvement, especially when it comes to finishing. It seems ironic to bring this up after scoring four goals, but the fact remains that we are far too wasteful of the opportunities we create. Bill Walton, once a very good basketball player and never a very good commentator, once said that it doesn't matter how many shots you make, what matters is how many shots you take. In what sport does the number of shots taken matter more than the shots made? I'd rather take one shot and make it than take 100 and miss 'em all. By Walton's logic, we're in even better shape than we seem. Too bad that this logic is so god-awful. If we expect to overtake Chelsea and/or Spurs, we'd do well to start putting more of our shots on-frame, not to mention in the back of the net.

02 April 2013

Poor Tom (Vermaelen, that is...)

Of a man named Tom, Robert Plant once sang,
Here's a tale of Tom
Who worked the railroads long;
His wife would cook his meal
As he would change the wheel.
Poor Tom, seventh son,
Always knew what's going on
There ain't nothing that you can hide from Tom.
Now, of course, there is little in this song that actually relates to Thomas Vermaelen, forgotten love-child of Joaquin Phoenix and Justin Timberlake, except perhaps for the title. The song wormed its way into my head, and here we are. The captain has now sat out three straight gamesBayern, Swansea, and Readingwith little sign that there is room for him on the pitch, at least as a center-back. Koscielny has put forth several strong performances, including a MOTM-worthy display against Bayern. Mertesacker has been solid, if less so than Koscielny, but between them, it's hard to find reason enough to drop one of them for Vermaelen. There don't seem to be any compelling match-up reasons to rotate him in, either.Absent an injury or out-an-out poor performance (if not two), Vermaelen might just find himself consigned to the bench for even longer.

01 April 2013

Playing the Odds

Instead of letting my own rose-colored glasses unduly sway me, I thought it would be a lark to see how the cold, flinty eyes of the gambling community assess our chances of finishing in the top four. By happy chance, our toughest competition all hails from London, so checking "Top London Club" serves as an effective proxy. With Spurs climbing to 3rd on the strength of having played an extra match, the comparison is a bit dicey, but the odds-makers have been kind enough to suss this out for us. Because they base their predictions on likelihood rather than emotion, their assessments are useful in calibrating our expectations, if not in looking for ways to earn a few quid on the side.  With that in mind, let's see what they have to say about our prospects.

Mikel Arteta vs Reading

Thanks to @XavierGooner14, we have an excellent break-down of Mikel Arteta's performance against Reading, punctuated by his spot-kick that nailed the coffin shut once and for all. The goal will garner most of the headlines, but in a quintessentially Arteta-ian (Arteta-esque?) game, he controlled the midfield, orchestrated attack after attack, and disrupted what few counters Reading could muster.  Were it not for  a hard but uncalled foul on Stuart Taylor, we might have seen Arteta notch an assist to Giroudif not setting up for a "real" penalty kick because, let's face it, Taylor's foul should have been called for a spot-kick while the foul on Oxlade-Chamberlain happened outside the box. Maybe it was a make-up for the missed call on Taylor. At any rate, we're really here to sit back and enjoy Arteta's excellence.

Eight Games. Will 18 points be Enough?

A sincere and heart-felt congratulations to Chelsea for its 1-0 win over Man U, denying Sir Alex a least one trophy for the year and adding to Chelsea's already cluttered schedule. They'll now face a semifinal match on April 14th against Man City with a chance to play Millwall or Wigan for the FA Cup. While the date for that match is yet to be decided, the semifinal displaces Chelsea's match with Spurs and will have to be rescheduled. With both teams still competing in the Europa League, it's hard to find a convenient timewell, convenient for them. The more matches each team plays, the better it gets for us. Fatigue, distraction, irritationfine with me.

31 March 2013

Do it For Diaby

Sorry, John. Well, no, but it's polite to say so.
Now  that the dust has settled on our destruction of Reading and Gervinho has had some time to bask in the glow of MOTM-worthy performance, we can take a more-somber look at the cruel injury to Abou Diaby, who was just learning how to more artfully manage his body until a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his season, effectively closed the door on his 2013-14 season, and has convinced a fair number of people that his time with Arsenal is now up, ruing that we've kept him a few months too long and perhaps should have unloaded him in January, if not before.  Obviously, just a week after the actual injury, it's too early to make any kind of prognosis for his recovery or return, but I also believe it's premature to write him off as a lost cause. When fit, he's one of the more dynamic, aggressive, and versatile players we have, and, regardless of his many injuries, I still feel like he will be a valuable asset to this team. "Do it for Diaby" seems like a fitting tribute for the closing weeks of the season. Rather than worrying incessantly about points and table position, why not just fight like dogs to win for Diaby, a man how has quite literally put his body on the line for the team?

Race for 4th: Liverpool Drops Out

The race has tightened, which certainly works in our favor. The more pressure there is on Spurs and on Chelsea, the more likely one or both is likely to break. Over the last three weeks, only us and Everton have maintained consistent momentum, each winning all three matches. The key to a top-four finish is, of course, keeping all the points you're expected to keep and occasionally nicking a few that were unexpected. Chelsea really shouldn't have lost to Southampton, but doing so is enough to temporarily drop them to 4th. Spurs have righted their ship by defeating Swansea but have also dropped points they really should have kept. In other news, I'm dropping Liverpool off the chart. They sit in 7th, but they're seven points out of 4th with only seven games left to play. Only they and Spurs have played 31, so the gap is simply too wide for them to span it.