13 April 2013

Arsenal 3-1 Norwich: A bit of deus ex machina is a good thing

What a brilliant, brilliant eight minutes of football. Yes, it's true that about 93 minutes were played, we can rightly lay claim to having played only eight. In those eight, we scored three goals. In the other 85-odd minutes, we played some very casual, sloppy football, and we're arguably quite lucky to have won. If not for a "could have gone either way" foul, we'd probably be sitting on the short end of a 1-0 loss to an inferior team that outplayed usfor a second time in as many matches.

That looks like a foul.
The deus ex machina is a literary phenomenon whereby an impossible problem is miraculously solved through the intervention of a deity or through some otherwise inexplicable event. After Norwich went ahead, they sat as deep as they could and found every trifling way they could to fritter away time. Going into that 85th minute, I'm willing to bet the most of us were giving in to despair. This, after all, was to be the game that sees us finally and officially surpass Spurs. And then, not once, but twice  in minutes, we scored, and we found a third in stoppage-time. There will be controversy over that first one as Norwich will be sure to feel hard-done by on the penalty against Bassong in the box that led to Arteta's spot-kick, but there's little that they can say about the brilliant exchange between the Ox and Giroud or Podolski's strike. We showed some character, if not poise, at the end, and we claimed a very valuable three points.

12 April 2013

Banana-man banned three years

Thomas Flint was charged on Friday with "throwing a missile on the playing area and using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior or disorderly behavior likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress." His sentence: a three-year ban from football, a £250 fine and victim surcharge payments of £85 and £25.  In one of my very earliest posts, I called for a sentence that he "eat nothing but bananas for a week while wearing naught but a garbage bag around his waist so that he will have to swim in his own defecations".

In a way, then, he got off easy. On the other hand, the ban seems excessive. I don't know British law, but I assume that the charges are legalistic code that the judge quotes from. However, calling a banana a "missile" is a bit of a stretch. North Korea is trying to launch missiles. Flint threw a banana. Even if it had been green, it's hardly a weapon. It is (in part) a fan's job to harass and distress opposing players, so that part also seems to push things a little as well. Fans  regularly get away with saying far-worse than what Flint said, but he made the mistake of drawing further attention to himself by throwing the "missile".

"They drew first blood, not me": Aaron Ramsey, the pick to click

In what I hope will become a bit of a tradition, my last selection for a pick to click, Tomáš Rosický, absolutely crushed it, netting twice and clearing the line as well. I won't get into whether I have prophetic powers or telekinesis, but I'm going to continue pretending that I do have one or both. With that in mind, it's Aaron Ramsey's turn. I had trouble coming up with something as, um, clever as "Pický to Clický: Tomas Rosický", so instead, we're playing off of Ramsey's nickname, which also reminds us that Norwich did draw first blood by winning back in October. I'm looking to Ramsey to lead the quest for revenge against the Canaries. He very nearly stole the show last week against West Brom with a shot
that went inches wide and a near-assist on Rosický's second goal. Instead of getting to share the headlines, he had to settle for yet another quiet but consistent performance, the kind that will rarely draw rave reviews and that flies below the radar.

Indeed, that role seems to be playing to Ramsey's strengths, and it goes a long way towards explaining his maturation and improvement. For too long, it seemed like he was pressing the issue, trying to thread the needle or make a deft dribble when the simpler move would have gotten the job done. For a long time, criticism was heaped on the lad, at times rightly so, but more often too harshly, if not too quickly. He's still only 22 and has been asked to replace one of our best midfielders of the last ten years after suffering one of the ugliest looking injuries I've seen an athlete suffer, second-place behind Joe Theismann's leg-snap back in 1985. Do yourself a favor and don't google either one.

Arsenal vs. Norwich: Preview (Repost)

Lesson learned: don't mess with your site's HTML unless you know how. I had to take down and repost this as a result. Apologies to those who may end up re-reading.

Our early season run-in with Norwich saw us crash and burn on a 19th minute Grant Holt goal in exactly the kind of loss a team like ours should really be able to avoid. It was the second time in as many weeks that we had conceded the first goal, but we didn't rally as we had against West Ham the previous week. It's one thing to drop points against Chelsea and Man City. We know it's going to happen from time to time. It's when we drop points to relegation-threatened teams that really undermine us. Those are points that should
be in the bag. A lot of the criticism was heaped at the time on Vito Mannone, and he really, really should have done better than to concede a rebound, but he was hardly alone in his guilt. He wasn't the one marking Tettey on the initial shot, and he wasn't the one who failed to mark Holt as he charged in from just inside the 18 to put away the rebound. He certainly wasn't the only one who failed to score a goal against a team that plays a version of defense sometimes dubbed "suicidal". Happily, we've grown quite a bit stronger since then and should make mincement of the Canaries on Saturday.

11 April 2013

A bumper crop of keepers

Depending on whom you believe, we're looking to sign one of five different keepers over the summer: Sunderland's Simon Mignolet, QPR's Julio Cesar, Stoke's Asmir Begovic, Barcelona's Victor Valdes, Real's Iker Casillas...it seems that the sky is the limit. Amid talk that Wenger is set to go on a real spending spree, signing one of the Prem's best keepers, or one of the world's best, seems like a great place to start. However, transfer rumors are a dime a dozena figure that probably overstates their value one hundred-fold. Therefore, I don't pay them a whole lot of attention. It's like missing the forest for the trees I don't care who the individuals are; I care only about the bigger picture, what the rumors suggest about the state of our club and its direction. Don't get me wrongcertain names will cause me to salivate, but I'm not reading anything more than the headlines. For now. I may change my tune come August.

10 April 2013

Koscielny rumors further prove our ascendancy (and his).

Yet again, a key player of ours is linked with an away-move. Yet again, the interested team is one of the giants of European football. Yet again, we worry that one more player will be lured away, enticed by the prospects of the trophies on offer. When it comes to Laurent Koscielny, we should rest a little easier with the knowledge that he has just signed a long-term deal.  In the short time that he's been here, he's impressed me enough that I would love to see him sporting the Arsenal cannon for quite a while. Rather than fretting about Bayern's flirtations, we should accept this for what it isconfirmation of his quality, of Wenger's ability to find and develop talent, and of Arsenal's ascendancy in European football, not that we've reclaimed a position among the greats but that we're rising in the eyes of our competitors.

09 April 2013

Cardiac and Comeback Kids

Score first, and we win almost 80% of our games. Take three points from four out five games, and we collect 74 points. Simple. As good as we've been in recent weeks, the one trend we haven't given ourselves enough credit for is a  simple one: scoring first. In each of our last five matches, we've scored first and done so early, which is as big a factor in winning as our improved commitment to defense has been. Since losing to Bayern at home, the only game in which we failed to score first was away at Tottenham. Aside from that we went ahead against each opponent, sometimes inside of ten minutes, and in a sport in which one goal is frequently all that's needed to earn a victory, it's hard to overstate the importance of that first goal. The chart you're seeing comes courtesy of Eurosport and shows the timing of all of our Prem goals for the year. It's remarkable to see just how many of our goals have come in the second half, and how many of those have come in the last 15 minutes. Sure, some have been insurance goals, but a good number of the rest have seen us come away with a draw or win instead of a loss or draw, earning valuable points along the way.

Arshavin to retire? I thought he had already.

I'm pretty sure that Arshavin retired about a year ago, but news today from The Evening Standard suggests he's considering retirement. It hits me with about the same amount of force as, say, Olestra being taken off the market. In other words, I shrug. He's a prodigious talent and has produced some flurries of activity, but all in all, he's been a bit of a flop. I really regret how his time at Arsenal has played out, but I also feel like he really has few others to blame other than himself.

Signed from Zenit for £15 million just over four years ago, he came in on a burst of skill, speed, and even technique. He had all the makings of being just the kind of high-impact player that a team needsand one that we seem to lack. Witness Sergio Aguero's brilliance in Monday's derby. We have a roster of some very talented players, but none (save Cazorla, perhaps), is capable of conjuring goals out of thin air. On his best days (not sure if that really deserves to be plural), Arshavin could do that, and his fall from grace is that much more frustrating because of how rarely he showed it.

08 April 2013

What on Earth is wrong with Wojciech?

Our #1 keeper hasn't featured for us since the loss to Tottenham on March 3rd, and what looks like a signal-sending demotion seems at risk of becoming a much more serious problem. Szczęsny played today with the U21's against Liverpool and did not do well, conceding three goals against a group of Scousers who  might celebrate their victory today by buying their first proper shaving kits.

Sporting some kind of god-awful fauxhawk was one thing, but the fact that Szczęsny let three shots slip by is even worse. Actual statistics and highlights are hard to come by, as the match was played in front of a group of people just barely larger than the queue for the bus. Simply put, the lad looked bad. This might be understandable against Liverpool's actual team, but for it to happen against their U21s is troubling, to say the least.

"Poldi? Poldi? Poldi? Poldi? Poldi?"

"Um, he's sick. My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with a girl who saw Lukas pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious."

Speaking of serious, where has Lukas Podolski been? He's barely made an appearance since his goal against Bayern way back in mid-February. Since then, he's played a mere 41 minutes across three matches for us, hardly enough to do much of anything as he's subbed in during the last 15 minutes or so of our last three Prem games. What is this about? Early on, he was an impact player and was forming a strong relationship with Olivier Giroud. There has been some criticism of his work-rate of late, and there have also been rumors of a move from the Emirates to the likes of Juventus, among others. A closer look at his contributions might suggest why we should hold on to him.

07 April 2013

Race for 4th, I mean 3rd

Bit of a silly-looking chart this week, as Spurs have played one more and Man City one less than the other three teams. I'm about to "promote" City off the table as being too far ahead to worry about anymore. On to the three that matter.

Having dispatched West Brom thanks to Tomas Rosický, we can now take our weekly look at the table, which sees a tight cluster of teams between 3rd and 5th. After Chelsea's win over Sunderland and Spurs' draw with Everton, Chelsea and Spurs are tied for 3rd with 58 points, and Chelsea has a game in hand. We sit at 56, just two points back of the the two of them, and we also have a game in hand on Spurs. Therefore, on the surface, it might seem that we're merely in 5th place all over again. However, if we win our game in hand, we go up to 59 points, one ahead of Spurs. Then, the race is on for 3rd, and Chelsea is only two points ahead of us with trickier matches coming up for them. In other words, with seven left to play (and only six for Spurs), it's become a toss-up among the three, with Everton still in shouting distance.

Arsenal 2-1 West Brom: Player Ratings

Still basking in the glow of a delicious three points, not to mention a perch in 4th place even if Chelsea does win today, and adding in that we now sit one point behind Spurs in 3rd place. Climbing the table feels good...

  • Fabianski: 6/10. Almost, almost saved that PK and overall had a calm, solid performance. Caught flat-footed or out of position once or twice but escaped unscathed.
  • Sagna: pre-PM, 7/10; post-PM, 5/10. Played quite well until Mertesacker's sending-off after which he was abused mercilessly by a fresh-legged Lukaku.
  • Mertesacker: 4/10. Yes, he's docked a point or two for the red card but also a point for letting himself get put in a position from which he had to make that tackle. Played decently otherwise.
  • Koscielny: 8/10Solid again and helped marshal the defense well, especially when short-handed and with the shuffling/addition of so many substitutions after the red-card.
  • Monreal: 7/10. Solid all-around game and one of the few who seemed to keep his wits in the last 20 minutes when others seemed flustered and panicky. Settling into Prem play nicely.
  • Arteta: 6/10. Decent game but low-ish by his standards. Didn't do anything wrong but was quiet and a bit less accurate (88%, perhaps due to the scrambling around at the end).
  • Ramsey: 7/10. If not for a missed shot in the first half and Rosický's wasteful first shot (I kid), he would've had a goal and an assist on the day.
  • Cazorla: 6/10. His first real sleeper in a while as he didn't much room to create. Only one shot on goal and none of those sparkling moments we're getting used to.
  • Rosický: 9/10. MOTM. Great work-rate as always. Awareness and positioning saw him clear the line, and his goals were of course wonderful.
  • Gervinho: 7/10. Fantastic little dance on the ball to assist Rosický (was it a shot that Rosický pounced on? Ask me no questions). West Brom had to mind his pace all day.
  • Giroud: 5/10. Even if Ramsey had done better with it, I'm getting a little irked by the little flicks that Giroud offers. Too cute. I'd prefer that he'd been subbed off over Rosický or Cazorla.
  • Subs (Vermaelen, Gibbs, Coquelin): 6/10. Got the job done without any mistakes or delusions of grandeur either.
As I said after the match, good to have to eke one out after man-handling a few teams coming, a reminder that one has to work to be lucky, and being lucky is sometimes better than being good.