20 April 2013

Arsenal 1-0 Fulham: Fouls tell the story

Steve Sidwell might feel aggrieved after receiving his second red-card in as many appearances, but any time a defender leaves his feet to make a tackle, he leaves himself open to any number of outcomes, ranging from bad to worse. Even if he does make a legitimate tackle, he's likely to upend  his opponent, risking injury, a booking, or both
In Sidwell's case, the fact that he went into Arteta rather than from the same direction made his tackle look Shawcrossian. His cleats caught Arteta squarely on the ankle just after the Spaniard planted his foota split-second earlier would have been enough to see something truly ugly. As it went, he got none of the ball and all of the ankle, and he had the nerve to act like he had been injured. I know that footballers are known for histrionics, but that was a bit much, akin to a boxer holding his hand after a punch. At a time when we already had about 90% possession, his sending off seemed to spell Fulham's doom. Instead, it was very nearly Berbatov who put Fulham ahead shortly after but for a decent save from Szczęsny. More on Szczęsny in moment.

19 April 2013

Arsenal vs. Fulham: Starting XI Prediction

We have a tricky one coming up, no doubt about it, but it's one from which we absolutely must take all three. With that in mind, we have to take it to the Cottagers early and often. We have a full eight days after this one to prepare for Man U. I therefore want to see an assertive side named, one that will put
Fulham back on its heels. That demands some speed, clinical shooting, and aggressiveness.

I'm therefore hoping to see Podolski start this time out to see if he and Giroud can continue their symbiosis and for Oxlade-Chamberlain to come on in place of the heretofore ineffectual Walcott (who should perhaps come in at around 60' to see what he can do). Shift Cazorla to a more central role to take advantage of his two-footedness and to see if he can distribute down that right side a little more. With Cazorla starting on the left but tending to drift to a more central role, it might be interesting to see what happens with him starting in that more central role with the option to distribute to either side.

Behind him, the rock-solid tandem of Arteta and Ramsey look set to continue their friendly competition to see who can have the most touches, the highest passing accuracy, and the most tackles. They may not be the most exhilarating of players, prone to staid consistency rather than swash-buckling forays, but the attacking midfielders can more than make up for that.

The backline might see a few changes with Monreal and Jenkinson coming on to spell for Gibbs and Sagna, and Koscielny has earned a rest after having played a full 90' in our last five matches. As long as they mind Berbatov, we should be fine.

Of course Wojciech Szczęsny will be between the sticks, if only because Fabianski's rib injury continues to plague him.

In my previous post, I boldly dubbed Giroud the MOTM as I hope he'll replicate his performance against Fulham the first time 'round. This might be an away-game, but it's ours to win.  Fulham has little to play for other than pride, and ever since Clint Dempsey left, I harbor no sympathy or affection for them. Come on, you Gunners!

Craven Cottage: Giroud's Gonna Crush 'Em

Fulham's trip to the Emirates back in November was a slap-stick affair with six goals scored and what might've been seven if Arteta's last-second PK had gone in. As it was, the penalty itself was a bit harsh as Fulham's Riether had tucked his left hand behind his back only to see Arshavin's chip/shot/pass hit him in the arm anyway. So it goes.
We really should have put them away after scoring twice in the first 25 minutes, but we let them scrape their way back in. The game came for us in the midst of an early-season stagger: the 1-0 loss at Norwich, a dicey 1-0 win over QPR, a close 2-1 loss at Man U, the 3-3 with Fulham, and then the 5-2 win over Spurs. We were up and down all through October and November, in short. A certain Frenchman will remember his first encounter with Fulham fondly, though, as he put his signature on that game emphatically and settled into the Prem. Olivier Giroud owned that match with two goals (and could have had netted a third but for the trifling detail that goals must have woodwork to hang the nets from). The match marked a four-game stretch for Giroud in which he tallied four goals and two assists.

18 April 2013

Please don't call it Watergate...

Maybe "tempest in a teapot" would make more sense. In just the kind of doofus-move you'd expect from Kevin Mirallas, he seems to squirt Wilshere as the two teams head down to the lockers at halftime. Wilshere, true to feisty form, went for it hook, line, and sinker and shoved Mirallas enough to cause a bit of a fracas in the tunnel. The FA has already announced that it will take no action in the matter, thank God, because this seems like just the kind of provocation Mirallas was seeking. If the referee or FA had seen fit to take action, we'd lose more than Everton would, as we arguably need Wilshere more than Everton needs Mirallas, and anything that sinks us could help Everton climb into the top four. I'm not giving Mirallas credit for being that strategic, but all Neanderthals are capable of some level of abstract thought. So it goes. Water under the bridge, as they say, or maybe it's water off a duck's back. Whichever.

In related news, to those calling it Watergate, please stop. The Watergate scandal earned the name because it happened at the Watergate Hotel. Calling anything scandalous "Watergate" or attaching "-gate" to a scandal is just lazy, if not stupid. Had Nixon's men been caught breaking into the Hilton, for example, would we be calling Mirallas's little squirt Water-ton? Thanks for this silliness go in part to former President Bill Clinton's Whitewater scandal, which revived the "water + gate=scandal" headline. It still doesn't make sense here, though. Come up with something a little more original, if not accurate.

The bigger issue is that Wilshere has got to be smarter. It's one thing to go chin-to-jaw with someone like Olsson to prove a point, but to actually initiate a scuffle in front of the referee is foolish. Goons like Mirallas exist to provoke and specialize in that kind of under-the-radar stuff. They get away with it, but the retaliation is what usually gets punished. All the same, it'd've been nice to see a few more Gunners trot over to protect Wilshere, as several Toffees did for Mirallas (maybe most of our squad was down the tunnel already; I can't tell from the video). All for one and all that.

At any rate, it is all water under the bridge at this point. We have to go to Craven Cottage in a few days. More on that to come later.

Where's Walco or Theo or Walcott or...

Man, I wrestled with that dumb post-title like you wouldn't believe. Do I go with "Where's Theo?" to play up the "o" at the end of Theo and Waldo, or do I get with "Where's Walcott?" to get that alliteration going? "Where's Walco?" Too gimmicky? Whichever way you slice it, Walcott's disappearing act is among the best we've seen in a while. Sure, he pops up here and there, but just like finding Waldo, you have to squint really hard to find any trace of him before, say, February. Once you set aside his early-season demotion during his contract-wrangle, he went on an absolute tear, just ripping teams apart left and right. During a 13-game stretch that started on November 6, 2012 and continued until January 30, 2013, he scored 10 goals and added 6 assists. Now, I know that this next step is a dicey one, but if you extrapolate those statistics from 13 games to 38, a full Prem season, he'd have nearly 30 goals and 18 assists, a preposterous total that would leave all other competitors so far in his wake that they'd be drowning in the waves that bounced back from the beach back out to sea.

17 April 2013

Ramsey is running this show. Period.

Okay, I'm exaggerating, but it's in service of an important point. Simply put, Aaron Ramsey's emergence over the last month has to be one of the most-significant single factors in our recent run. Depending on whom you ask, he's earned two MOTM ratings in our last four games. Whoscored gives him the nod for the Everton match, as did
Footnotes indicate 1st or 2nd best on the team
voters at the official team site, and voters also gave him the honors after the Norwich match. The table to the right compiles Ramsey's numbers from our last four matches and show a model of consistency that goes a long way in explaining our recent successes. Of course, no one player deserves credit; the entire squad has shown deeper resiliency, determination, and aggressiveness in the last two months. It's just that, to me, Ramsey deserves a nod. After all, other players attract more notoriety through flashier skills or highlight-reel moments, but consistency, grit, and doggedness are keys to success that are just as essential.

Arsenal 0-0 Everton: Like kissing your sister

No offense to your sister, if you have one, but a draw is, as the old saying goes, like kissing your own sister. In other words, hardly what you're looking for in a kiss. In the end, this is a result that helps neither club as we both drop points. This isn't enough to prevent Everton from climbing into the top four by the end of the year, but it does slow us down after four consecutive wins. For the second time in as many matches, I'm somewhat flustered in my MOTM
selection as as Walcott was anonymous up top, having little to no impact: no shots on target, no shots at all in fact, and no significant action of any kind. Indeed, questions abound for all of our attackers after a draw in which our only real shots on goals came from the midfield and in which we failed to generate enough offense, begging questions about summer moves.

On the other hand, I had long ago pegged this as a match that could go either way, and with Everton knocking on the top-four door, they came in hungrier and more intense. Despite some brave talk before the game, we have have come in with less than an edge, feeling quite good about ourselves after a fine run of form. As a result, we've left the door open for Spurs, who now sit two points back with a game in hand.

16 April 2013

Should we "let" Everton win?

Hear me out. I'm not loony, nor did I get hit over the head lately. I'm sporting a bit of a welt about my left eye, but I'm sure it has no bearing on my current thought processes. In all seriousness, though, all I'm really saying is that I'd love to see Everton join us in the top four. Just picture it: we could have a top four of Man U, Man City, us, and Everton, with both Spurs and Chelsea dropping out entirely. With Spurs barely holding together with proverbial duct tape and baling wire, and with Chelsea straggling through the Europa League, it's not unfeasible. Only four points separate 3rd and 6th at this point, and with Chelsea and Spurs set to meet atsome point before the end of the year, one or both of them is bound to drop points there. I'm not saying we should just roll over and let Everton have its way with us. Maybe I'm just bracing myself for a tough match by seeking a silver lining. I know we can't afford to drop points, and certainly not at home against a key rival for the top four, but it's interesting to ponder.

vs. Everton: Walcott to Win it

The latest of the "pick to click" selections is one Theo Walcott, a man guilty of a scoring drought that stretches back to the end of January, a span of nine games. While he has tallied four assists in that time, this drought has seen him drop from our #1 scorer as Cazorla now has twelve and
Giroud, like Walcott, has eleven. That the drought seems to follow tightly on the heels of having signed a new contract, there is the hard-to avoid and uncomfortable suggestion that complacency has set in. While it's true that he has missed a few matches to injury, it is imperative that Walcott return to the goal-scoring form he showed earlier in the season if we are to continue our push to the top of the table, and leaving his mark during today's run-in with Everton would be a crucial time to do it. When we last met at Goodison Park in November, Walcott scored so quickly that most of us were still settling in, 52 seconds in, on a nicely-delivered chip to the back-post. He was fairly quiet the rest of the way as we settled for a draw.

15 April 2013

Olivier Giroud: le buteur de charme

The more-clever wags among us might pronounce his nickname as the "butcher de charme" for how often he butchers a shot. I'm not that clever. Now, I've not been a big fan of Ollie. At times, he's been too cute, flicking little backheels to teammates in the box, and at other times, he's just been off, sending headers and shots hither and yon when a more-clinical touch
would have put the shot on frame, if not into the the back of the net. How many times have we seen Giroud wince and gaze skyward in supplication as he sends yet another souvenir into the stands? However, in the glow of a fourth straight Prem win, one won in stunning style, I'm warming up to the man. Part of this seems to come from him better-defining his role; part of it comes from me better-understanding his contributions. We heard so much about his goal-scoring with Montpelier that we convinced ourselves that he would replace all of Van Persie's goals himself. Turns out, not even Van Persie can do that.

14 April 2013

Man U to clinch the Prem at the Emirates? I don't think so.

As we size up our own prospects for a top-three finish, some attention has turned to our April 28th match with Man U, and the worriers and hand-wringers look at it as a potential nightmare-homecoming for Robin Van Persie: a chance for him to help his new club to clinch the Prem title. It ain't gonna happen. It just won't. It's not even worth dissecting the various outcomes of their matches and those of Man City's between now and then. It won't come down to that; we won't have to rely on
the likes of Mancini's men to save us from that kind of ignominy. We'll do it ourselves. Those chumps barely escaped when we came to visit in November, relying on a lucky scuff from Vermaelen to Van Persie and a red-card to Wilshere to bail them out. Had not Vermaelen "assisted" Van Persie in that 3rd minute, we'd've been looking at a very different game. Yes, I know that Rooney missed a penalty and that there were many other chances, but points are not awarded for chances. They're only awarded for goals. On that score, Man U barely emerged from the contest. I daresay they won't be so lucky next time.

4th place outright. 3rd in reach. 2nd?

Just about the only thing that went wrong for us in this past week was to see Spurs get dumped out of the Europa League. That it happened in part because of an Adebayor PK miss offers some small consolation, though. As it now stands, we are now in 4th place outright, one point ahead of Spurs with six each to play, and we currently sit in 3rd place, one point ahead of Chelsea although they have a game in hand now. With Chelsea and Spurs set to face each other at some point (they were to play this weekend only to have the match postponed due to their Thursday Europa matches), one or both is sure
to drop points in that match, and we can now lay claim to being the hottest team in the Prem. 4th is in our hands, and I don't see Spurs wresting it back. 3rd is ours but more precariously as Chelsea has that game in hand. What seemed unthinkable a month ago is, if I may be so bold, within reach. Could we finish in 2nd place? Can we overtake Man City while holding off Chelsea and Spurs? A boy can dream. That's all I'm saying.

Gervinho Reverts to Form, Poldi Answers the Call

After a run of sparkling performances, Gervinho fell back to Earth against Norwich on Sunday, reminding us all of the many frustrating gaps in his gamepoor touches, hesitation, bad decisions, and so on. It was revealing of Wenger's frustration that, at a time when our need for more offense became more urgent, Gervinho was subbed off, an admission that he was not in the kind of form we needed. More tellingly, his sub Lukas Podolski was an impact player almost from the moment he took the field. Whether this is enough to see Gervinho dropped and Podolski restored is up to Wenger, but with a tough match against Everton in two days, it's unlikely that the Ivorian showed enough on the ball to lay claim to a starting position. It may be harsh after three strong games, but that's football. His replacement helped to turn the game around, and with Walcott's return to fitness, there's little room for sentiment in these decisions.