31 December 2014

A peek at Morgan Schneiderlin's Diary...

Dear Diary,

It has been a trial these last few months, bearing up under the strain of continuing to play for this club for who I have so long laboured without ever tasting the sweet fruits of my bitter labours. To date, all I have to hand down to my heirs is a Championship championship, an accursed alliteration that threatens to hang over me, lo, these many days like the Sword of Damocles. Shall I ever ascend to loftier heights? There was a time, barely a season ago, when it seemed as if I might arrive at a Promised Land of sorts, but it seems as if those days are but a will o' the wisp, whispering to me but never whisking me away. I speak, of course, of being wooed unto London...

29 December 2014

Rivals' Rundown: where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

This is about a good a set of results as I think we’ve seen so far. In my opinion, it’s still a bit too hope for one rival over another, and the draws between Tottenham and Man U and between  Southampton and Chelsea are very nearly ideal for now. It may be a pipe-dream to think we can still reel Chelsea in, but seeing them share a point with the Saints means both clubs drop two. It would be a bit churlish to look at Man City’s draw with Burnley as anything other than manna from heaven. Of course, none of this would matter had we dropped points, but we’re alone this week in claiming all three, and at the home of a top-four rival to boot. Let’s have a look at how it all shakes out.

28 December 2014

Hammers 1-2 Gunners: A result that restores some semblance of order...

Phew. That's about as much as I can say about that. Five minutes in, it looked as if Alex Song had done us in with a well-struck volley that knifed through a thicket of players to beat Sczcesny. Once again, it seemed like we had conceded an early goal and would spend the remainder of the match seeking an equaliser. The goal was disallowed in a harsh but technically accurate decision as Sakho was ruled offside—he nutmegged himself. Again, technically, it's the correct decision, but it's more than bit harsh. From there, thank God, we found our footing and went into halftime up 0-2, courtesy of goals from Cazorla and Welbeck. The result may not be quite enough to sink the Hammers, but it does elevate us to fourth, with an eye to third as early as Thursday.

Podolski's Hammer of Mjölnir against some ordinary Hammers

Powerful, yes, but it does make for an awkward evening constitutional...
On Friday, Olivier Giroud was sent off. Along with him, it felt, went our chances against West Ham. Who would drop down to grapple with Carroll in the box when West Ham earns a set-piece? Giroud's absence seems to expose us to all sorts of ills. Still, where he has seen red, a certain Lukas Podolski should see a golden opportunity. In four apperances against West Ham, Poldi has found time to score four goals and notch five assists. In Giroud's absence, then, it seems all too fitting that the Hammer of Mjölnir should find a few opportunities to hammer home a shot or two.

27 December 2014

Enough of Giroud. Why were Onuoha and Ferdinand stil on the pitch (and other gripes)?

Let's get a few things out of the way right off the bat. One, Giroud, took the bait. He fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Two, the fact that we were still looking to put QPR away 52 minutes into a match is a far-bigger issue than the decisions Atkinson was making. Three, if we're looking to the referee to help us see off QPR, well, we have bigger issues than how much contact Giroud's forehead made with Onuoha. This was one we really should have settled by halftime but have no one to blame, really, but ourselves. Having gotten that out of the way, let's get to the self-righteous umbrage-taking, shall we?

26 December 2014

Giroud and Poldi (and Cazorla), together again...

Do you remember the beautiful partnership that once flourished between Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, the one that delivered some stunning goals? At times, it was Giroud chipping or flicking to that Hammer of Mjölnir; at others, it Podolski fizzing in a cross for Giroud to tap in or head home. Whatever the case, that partnership has faded as Poldi has fallen out of favor. Whether it was too many kebabs or too many selfies, we haven't seen much of Poldi on the pitch, and rumours are swirling around a potential move away from the Emirates in January. More on that another day. For now, he's a Gunner (and rarely has a player's penultimate skill matched his club's name so well), and we need him, if only to rest Alexis  against QPR.

23 December 2014

Does the draw at Anfield close the door on Arsenal's dreams?

Everton, Newcastle, you’re dropped. Maybe you can scratch and claw your ways back in. West Ham, you’re in, not by default but by dint of your own efforts. If only for the sake of my fingers, my eyesight, and my marriage, we do start to see a somewhat-clearer picture with fewer clubs in contention, although they may resurrect their fortunes. For now, though, this was a tough weekend all around for Gooners, as it seems that almost everyone got the result they wanted (except Man U). We might console ourselves with the notion that only we played a key rival, but that would be cold comfort indeed.  The Prem looks to be a two-horse race, and one can only hope that Mourinho’s l’il pony has enough heart to stay in first. Off we go…

21 December 2014

Ten minutes of stoppage time?

As it turns out, we can't complain or point fingers. Skrtel had a bloody head wound, and it seems only fitting that the man beaten by Debuchy for one headed goal should find himself free and clear to head home the second in the stoppage earned through his own injury. Call it karma or poetic justice; one thing we'll have to agree on calling it was shoddy, shoddy defending.

Liverpool tactical preview: Welbeck to shine

And so we return to the scene of one of our worst drubbings in recent memory. The 5-1 loss at Anfield last spring stands as a symbolic turning point, as it seemed to send us into a tailspin. Prior to that infamous result, we had won six of seven Prem matches; afterwards, we would only win two of the next eight. Yes, we followed that shellacking with a nifty 2-1 win to advance in the FA Cup, but the loss stands out as perhaps the moment when we lost the plot in the Prem. That was the loss that knocked us from our perch once and for all, and we fell from first to fourth, never to recover. As we gird our loins for a return to Anfield, I look to Danny Welbeck to lead the charge.

19 December 2014

Can Arsenal sink the Scousers? A preview of Sunday's clash...

One hundred and one goals. Liverpool scored 101 goals (I went with words that first time because the numerical form allows us to gloss it over a bit. I wanted to draw it out) last season, becoming one of only three teams to go more more than one hundred in the last ten years. The other two, of course, won the league—Chelsea in 2009-10 (103 goals) and in one of those historic slip-ups, Man City in 2013-14 (102). However, shorn of Suarez and Sturridge, the goal-scoring load has fallen on the somewhat more-slender shoulders of Raheem "too tired" Sterling. Between him struggling to carry that load, and Rodgers struggling to forge a cohesive squad, Liverpool stand on a precipice. It's up to us to shove them over.

We gotta rest Alexis...or see him fade as Özil faded a season ago.

Over the next two weeks, Arsenal will play no fewer than five matches. It's not that we're alone in this—after all, almost every other club in the Prem will endure the same slog, some of them perhaps being spared the FA Cup third round, just after New Year's Day. However, collectively, the Prem is alone among the major leagues in playing through the winter holiday season. The fixtures come fast and furious, with little rest between them, not to mention little to no chance for athletes to spend time with family. That problem becomes all the more acute as a club signs foreign players from ever-farther afield. Alexis, for example, will have no chance at all of returning to Chile. Perhaps it's time to reevaluate this madcap stretch of fixtures, if only with an eye to how English clubs fare in European competions?

18 December 2014

Are Liverpool a big club anymore?

There once was a time when a trip to Anfield might provoke feelings of fear, trepidation, maybe even anger, but it's hard to figure out how to feel about those Scousers these days. Are they again a key-rival against whom we're vying, or are they upstarts whom we're hoping to suppress? Either way, it's dificult to ignore how the lustre has faded from this once-momentous rivalry. At a risk of sounding churlish, it's even harder to avoid laying the blame squarely at the feet of those Scousers, who, between us and them, have failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Sunday presents us at this end of the rivalry to create even-greater distance between fable and fact. A win at Anfield might not be quite enough to drive a stake into their season, but it would certainly drive home another nail in the coffin.

Mario Balotelli, the gift that keeps on giving, banned for Sunday's clash

For those still sitting on the fence over the wisdom of not trying harder to sign Mario Balotelli over the summer, settling as it were for Danny Welbeck, it may tilt the scales a bit further to learn that Balotelli has been suspended for one game—that would be Sunday when we visit Anfield—and fined £25,000 for posting to Instagram a photo of Super Mario with the words "jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a jew [sic]".  Whether this was meant as tongue-in-cheek depends on how self-aware Balotelli is and how good he is at assessing the outcomes of his own decisions. Based on the body of evidence he's produced, it doesn't seem as if he gave it much thought. In any case, Balotelli remains a goal-less manchild more likely to self-destruct than fulfill his potential.

Grooming the King to be the Manager: could Henry succeed?

Tuesday may have delivered the most-welcome news any Gooner could have heard: the retirement of Thierry Henry from competitive football. Though he may already put himself out to pasture by playing in the MLS for the last four years, he finally made the news official, bringing to an end one of the most illustrious careers in modern football. He goes into the books as Arsenal's most-legendary player, perhaps also topping the list of the Prem's best-ever, and carries a CV that would be the envy of footballers in any league or country. His retirement should be bittersweet, as it closes the book on such a storied career. However, Gooners, always with an eye for an angle, interpret the news as just one more step towards an inexorable reunion—this time with Henry as manager.

15 December 2014

Man U's done us a solid in the Champions League draw...

After several years of tough draws—Bayern the last two years—we might be forgiven for celebrating a bit when this year's draw pits us against AS Monaco, arguably the weakest team we might have faced after Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico, and Porto. Not only are Monaco the least-intimidating of the group-winners, their group was itself one of the weakest—and the Monaco squad that earned an appearance in the group-stage is hardly the one that we'll face off against. This is not to suggest that they'll roll over and play dead, nor can we underestimate them. There's nothing wrong in admitting, however, that our chance at advancing is just a bit better than it would be against Bayern.

Arsenal have reeled in Southampton; is Man U next in line?

Glimmers of optimism peek through after what might have been our most-fluid ninety minutes of football in a long, long time. Still, we’re on the outside looking in as the top three made the most of their weekend. It looks like the bloom might be off of Southampton’s rose, though, and the right sequence of results next weekend could see us crack the top four. No sense counting eggs before they’re hatched, though. For now, let’s look at, uh, the eggs that did hatch. Or something. I'm not sure what the follow-up to that old cliche is. Onto the, um, eggs.

14 December 2014

Olivier Giroud, the linchpin to our win over Newcastle...and beyond?

There are few players in the current squad who divide opinion as much as does Olivier Giroud. Some loathe and some love, and there's very little in between, very few who are willing to say he's good enough for now—neither rubbish nor legend but serviceable. With that in mind, his performance against Newcastle offered something for everyone, based on their willingness to cherry-pick the evidence. On the whole, though, it's hard to resist the urge to point out that he was vital to our getting the win over resurgent Newcastle. Whether that's good enough going forward will be another question.

On its face, his brace—the first one opening the scoring and the second all but tucking the game away—should be enough to settle any debate. However, so divided are we that each camp will focus on its own evidence. Why, the critics, may ask, did his pass to Alexis force the Chilean to chase the ball all the way out of the box when a defter touch might have put Alexis through on goal? Giroud's defenders will point to the intelligent run into space in order to beat the defender to Alexis's cross, as well as his sharp header to beat Alnwick, as incontrovertible proof of his excellence.

Elsewhere, the critics will point to how wasteful in possession he so often was, getting dispossessed or attempting a careless pass when a smarter, more-talented player would have crafted a better-weighted pass or found an outlet instead. His defenders will point to the several times that he won balls and laid it off to quicker, more-technical players. By now, I suppose it's clear from my tone, if not the title of this post, that it's my opinion that Giroud adds something vitally important to our attack, if not our defense as well. Surrounded by pacier, tricksier players, he does add a bit of brawn; more than that, though, he offered a focal point that gave our attack some shape and intent. When he wasn't busy getting mugged by Cheick Tioté, he won balls, blunted counters, and launched attacks of our own that wore down and ultimately led to the collapse of Newcastle's defense.

No, he may not deliver as many stunning goals as other forwards who have led the line for Arsenal, but there's little shame in that, not when his immediate predecessor was once one of the most clinical finishers in the Prem and the man before that was and perhaps always will be one of the best-ever to play for the club, if not in the Prem. I certainly don't mean to make Giroud out to be cut from the same cloth, not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Giroud world-class? No. Has he been good enough to match others who play his position and to whom we've been linked enthusiastically, if not accurately? Yes.  Gonzalo Higuaín, he of the £32m move to Napoli, has done about as well as has Giroud. Edinson Cavani, once a darling of the rumour-mill, has seen the lustre fade just a bit. Karim Benzema has not fully displaced Giroud in the French national team despite the advantages of playing for one of the world's most free-scoring sides. These, among others, would likely draw transfer-fees of upwards of £60m, but how much of an upgrade would they really provide? We at Arsenal may have tired of the bean-counting that we've endured for the last decade or so, but in this case, it's well-worth asking: just what would we be paying for?

In Giroud, we've paid a £10m transfer-fee and gotten one of the hardest-working—if not the most technically-gifted—forwards in Europe. He'll win headers in the box, offensive or defensive, or at least deny the opposition a chance to do the same. He'll grapple with and negate an opponent's most-physical defender, freeing space and creating chances for teammates. He may not inspire us with rousing, end-to-end runs, but he does deliver in a pinch. That, for now, may have to do, at least until January. Then again, do remember that goal-scorers command a pretty penny, even if they're not necessarily the ones who deliver titles. Golden Boot winners have rarely led their clubs to recent glory in the Prem.

Again, this is not to suggest that Giroud is the best forward around, just that he might be good enough to help us contend, if not win, a bit of silverware.

13 December 2014

Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle: Rate the Players!

Olivier Giroud scored in the 14th minute, Mertesacker had hit woodwwork, and Welbeck had a nifty goal disallowed and we went into halftime leading at home for the first time this season. Ten minutes after half, Cazorla cut a tight angle to chip Alnwick for the second. A brilliant counter-attack resulted in Giroud netting a second time from close range. Newcastle scored on a well-taken free-kick, flicked in by Ayoze Perez, denying us the clean sheet. In the waning minutes, Welbeck earned a penalty, which Cazorla panenka-ed home, and that just about did it.

Have your say in the player-ratings poll below the fold, and feel free to share deeper thoughts in the comments-section as well!

11 December 2014

An open letter to Newcastle ahead of Saturday's clash...

When the 2014-15 season began, we at Arsenal looked down our collective, perhaps Gallic noses at Newcastle, deeming the Magpies as unworthy of the gaze. Surely, we thought, we would have to focus our attention on the crème de la crème—Chelsea, Man City, Man U, perhaps Liverpool—but we assumed, as always, that a fourth place finish, if not higher, would be our birthright. The early returns suggested that it would these presumptions were prescient. Tottenham and Everton stumbled out of the gates. Liverpool and Man U staggered. Despite our own sluggish start, we at Arsenal could reassure ourselves that it would be only a matter of time before we set things right.

10 December 2014

Ramsey's Resurgence (or how 2013 almost ruined him).

By now, you've seen or at least heard of the astounding goal Aaron Ramsey scored in the first half of Galatasaray. If you haven't, it is perhaps because you live under a rock in the back of a very deep, dark, and dank and cave that lacks reliable wi-fi, in which I have several questions. These, sadly, will have to wait. For now, we'll have to content ourselves with looks to be Aaron Ramsey's resurgence, or perhaps his resurrection. "Welsh Jesus," and all. This wonder-strike may serve as the most vital sign of his return to form. Yes, it was against a Galatsaray in disarray (pity that doesn't rhyme better...), but it's often against such opponents that an out-of-form player has a breakthrough. So it may be with Ramsey.

09 December 2014

Galatasaray 1-4 Arsenal: Blimey, did we blast 'em!

Arsène sent out a mixed squad against Galatasaray, perhaps figuring that Dortmund's draw with Anderlecht would be enough to win Group D and eyeing Newcastle on Saturday. Nevertheless, we blitzed aside that makes us look like defensive geniuses, with Ramsey and Podolski bagging braces, the former with a brilliant, jaw-dropping strike from about 30 yards, volleying through a thicket to beat the Bolat. It was an astounding shot, a nifty counter-balance to his first shot, a well-slotted roller on a brilliant breakaway. Perhaps Ramsey is finding the form that was so crucial to our success a season ago. Not to be outdone, Podolsk had opened the scoring with a quintessentially Podolskian goal, collecting a through ball, taking one touch, and simply blasting it through Bolat much as he had done to Neuer. Poldi added his second in stoppage-time and might have had a hat-trick had he not struck the woodwork. Though it wasn't enough to see us win the group, it might be enough to restore some confidence. We'll have a closer look at those implications later. For now, relax and enjoy the highlights!

08 December 2014

After staggering against Stoke, where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

Busy, busy, busy. I had hoped to offer an update midweek but it’s just been too hot to handle. As it turns out, I probably should have as it would have at least given us at Arsenal a chance to celebrate. As it currently stands, we have to settle for schadenfreude after stumbling ignominiously at Stoke. However, never underestimate the almighty power of spite, as we get to celebrate the downfall of Chelsea, the slumping of Southampton, and the possible irrelevance of Everton. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, but it ain’t stormclouds and pitchforks either. Added is Newcastle but still waiting on the wings is West Ham.  To the rundown!

07 December 2014

It should've been 6-0. Still, there's a silver lining...

Wow. That was terrible...and the scoreline flatters us. But for a goal-line clearance, a goal-disallowed to an offside call, and a generous penalty against Stoke, this debacle would have gone down as one for the ages, along the lines of the 8-2 loss to Man U or 6-0 to Chelsea, the key difference being that Stoke don't have the resources or the World Cup-quality players to hang such a scoreline on us. We knew that going into the Britannia Stadium would be difficult; I don't think any of us predicted Stoke scoring not one but three goals (and very nearly four) in the first half. Don't delude yourself, though: the fightback we showed, such as it was, amounts to a bit less than the final scoreline showed.

06 December 2014

Stoke 3-2 Arsenal: Video highlights of a debilitating debacle.

Nineteen seconds in. That's about all it took for Peter Crouch to score the opening goal and signal to anyone watching that this would not be Arsenal's day. That we went into halftime 3-0 flatters us a bit, and to finish 3-2 flatters us quite a lot. We'll have a closer look at how it fell apart so quickly. For now, here are highlights of just how much we were outplayed (and, yes, outmuscled at times) by the Potters. I'd like to say "enjoy," but, well, you know... In other news, I hope you'll enjoy the highlights in French. It felt suitably ironic.

05 December 2014

Stoke Preview: Can the Gunners get the smash-and-grab?

For a Gooner, it can be hard to find a club that offers a stronger contrast—or inspires deeper rage than Stoke. Even more so than Tottenham or Man U or Chelsea, this fixture symbolizes deep contrasts that appeal to some of our deepest, most atavistic impulses. Whether that's rational or not, well, that defies the rational mind. For a deeper meditation on that, have a read of this post. For a more-direct, strategic breakdown, by all means, read on below...

Shawcross, Ramsey, straw-men or symbols?

Ever since that fateful day in February 2010, the Stoke-Arsenal rivalry has become one of the most fervent fixtures of any Prem season. At the Arsenal end, of course, we have Tottenham and Man U. Stoke have West Brom and Port Vale. Stoke-Arsenal, especially at Britannia, has become a match marked by one horrific tackle, a tackle thas has reduced two men to caricatures of their respective clubs while reducing fans on both sides to foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics. The storyline could come from right out of The Hunger Games.

An open letter to Ryan Shawcross

Dear Ryan—
If I may be so bold as to address by your first name, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jon Shay. I'm a Gooner. I live in the United States in a small town by the name of Evanston. It's a suburb just north of Chicago, Illinois. I've been a Gooner ever since stumbling across some First Division highlights at some point in the early 80's. Late night telly. Truth be told, I was lookin' for The Young Ones. When I learnt that there was such a thing as professional soccer football, mate, I was floored. Naturally, I fell in love, what with the red-and-white and my red-green color-blindness and the name itself: Arsenal. None of that -wich or -ton or City. Just Arsenal.

Growing up as a footballer in America, I've had to learn to deal with more than my fair share of goons (I know, ironic, innit?). In the Chicago Catholic League, I had to face off against more than a few American footballers who were only playing proper football to keep up their fitness. I'm full-grown now, measuring a hulking 1.7m and some 10 stone, but back then, I was a more modest 1.5m and 9 stone (more like 8, but give a guy a break). On a twice-weekly basis, I had to square off against opponents quite a bit taller and considerably stockier than me. Suffice it to say, I was floored, leveled, and stampeded on a regular basis. I remember one match in particular when I found myself in the area when a teammate's cross sailed over my head. A defender cold-cocked me with a fore-arm shiver, right between my shoulder-blades, and I was seein' stars. It probably took me 10 minutes before I could see straight.

Even without realising it, I was a Gooner in how I played. I'm not talking so much about the current squad. I'm a feisty, third-generation Irish-American and look more to Liam Brady for my inspiration than to, say, Aaron Ramsey, just to pluck a random name from the sky. I loved having the ball at my feet, but I loved more than that creating chances for my mates. A clever through-ball, a lofted cross, whatever artistry was available. I can hardly claim to have been a world-beater, though, not by any stretch, and so I end up living vicariously through those who play for Arsenal, imagining, remembering, visualizing myself as Brady or Ramsey or Cazorla—far-fetched, I know!—but dribbling, passing, carving out chances for others...

And this brings me back to you. Not you, specifically, but maybe so. You represent something to me personally and, yes, to Gooners more broadly. Whether you chose the role or had it thrust upon you is not my concern. For whatever reason, Ryan (again, a thousand pardons for the boldness of using your first name), you have come to embody a baldly cynical style of play that seems to borrow more from American football than from football itself. If you ever tire of the technical requirements of football, you might consider a career in rugby or Gaelic football. If you can stomach it. By the admittedly foppish rules of football, you're a right thug. By the somewhat more-rigorous "rules" of Gaelic football, friend, you're the fop.

It's not that I wish any specific harm; it's just that I wonder when, if ever, the numerous injuries you've inflicted will come back to haunt you. You're on four yellow-cards already this season, so I hope that I can safely assume that you'll be on your best behavior?

Yours truly—

04 December 2014

Giroud pummels the Saints into submission...eventually.

The match offered a frustratingly familiar recipe: Arsenal pass around and offer intricate, occasionally exhilirating sequences that come to naught, dominating possession but failing to produce that crucial final product. Against an aggressive, ambitious Southampton side bound and determined to bounce back from a dispiriting defeat the previous weekend, this wouldn't be enough, and for the better part of the match, when both sides were at full strength, it looked like Southampton might sustain its six-point lead over Arsenal for at least another few days, claiming a morale-boosting, not to mention strategically significant point away from home. And then came Giroud. In his short stint, not quite half an hour, he was vital to changing Arsenal's attack—even if he didn't deliver a goal or an assist.

03 December 2014

Arsenal 1-0 Southampton: resolute Saints come up just short...

Arsenal threw everything it had against a Saints team still staggering after an 0-3 drumming by Man City, and it looked like the visitors had earned a well-deserved draw only to see Alexis score his 14th goal in 22 appearances, this one in the 89th minute after a scrum in the box during which Southampton's Fonte got away with a handball. Rather than remonstrating for the call, Ramsey dug it out and slipped a pass across the mouth of the goal for Alexis to slot home past Fraser Forster, who had been vital for the Saints with a number of defeat-defying saves. Southampton may have come up short, literally, as Toby Alderweireld had to leave the pitch and Koeman had already used his three subs, but they showed enough grit and mettle to suggest we haven't heard the last of them. For now, though, we slipped through and can eye up our chances at climbing the table. Check out the highlights below...

02 December 2014

What, if anything, can Arsenal learn from Southampton?

Southampton are by far one of the darlings of the season thus far, sitting third despite losing five key players and a manager a summer after their best-ever Prem finish. Most, if not all of us, had written them off as relegation-stragglers after seeing Pochettino, Lambert, Lallana, Chambers, Lovren, and Shaw leave for what appeared to be greener pastures. As it currently stands, of course, all of those who left are looking up the table at their former club, perhaps wondering why the grass again appears greener on the other side. After all, with just over a third of the season gone, the Saints have already earned 26 points—almost half what they finished with a season ago, when they ended on 56 points. What gives? What if anything can Gooners glean from their success to this point?

Sometimes, you gotta kick a club when it's down...

I like Southampton. I do. At some level, in fact, I envy them. How many other clubs could lose a half-dozen key players and a highly-touted manager, go through the acrimony of almost seeing one of their most-coveted players come a bit unhinged during the turmoil, and actually come out ahead? Long gone, of course, are the likes of Shaw, Lallana, Dovren, Chambers (cough), and Lambert—but their departures are but accounted for with new signings like Pellè, Long, Tadic, and Forster, among others. Credit Southampton for reloading so effectively, but it does seem as if they haven't yet accounted for the absence of Schneiderlin, who is set to miss Wednesday's clash after coming up lame during Southampton's debacle against Man City.

01 December 2014

Rivals' Rundown, Week 13: can Arsenal overtake Manchester United?

A much better week greets us, thanks to two Arsenal wins and a number of other favorable results. Fortunately for my fingers, Newcastle lost to West Ham (who, it must be noted, sit fifth), knocking the Magpies from my list at least for another few days. There’s a fresh round of fixtures for Tuesday and Wednesday, so I’ll try to keep this brief so as to preserve my strength for another look after the dust settles on those. Off we go…

30 November 2014

Two London clubs faced parked buses. One came away with a win.

No, it wasn't pretty, and no, it wasn't quite the scoreline some of us might have hoped for, but a 0-1 win gives us a vital three points and sees us return to winning ways in the Prem for the first time since beating Burnley way back on 1 November. Some may sniff and point to the solitary goal and wonder why we couldn't find the back of the net more-often, and to an extent, they'd be right. After all, West Brom have shipped eleven goals at home, second-worst after Everton's twelve, Yours truly optimisitcally predicted a 0-3 win. So it goes. However, three points are still three points, no matter how they're earned, and so it's telling that, on the same day, almighty Chelsea couldn't unlock Sunderland and dropped two points in a dour 0-0 draw.

28 November 2014

West Brom-Arsenal preview: Kos and Giroud return to deliver victory over West Brom!

The last time we faced West Brom, we won via an emphatic header from Olivier Giroud, a victory that clinched fourth place and ensured that we would again appear in the Champions League. Fast forward from then ‘til now, and we’ve made good on that promise, advancing to the Champions League knockout-stage thanks to goals from Sanogo and Alexis, but thanks also to stalwart defending and a stand-out performance from Damián Martinez, who looks to again deputize for the injured Wojciech Szczesny (whether the injury is physical or psychological is another question for another day).  More important, perhaps, will be the returns to fitness of a few Frenchmen at opposite ends of the pitch.

26 November 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Dortmund: at last, a dominant performance!

Yaya Sanogo opened his Arsenal account in stunning style, scoring 70 seconds in, Alexis scored his 13th goal in 20 matches, and Arsenal dominated in long stretches on its way to the 2-0 win. It sends us through to the knockout stage and keeps alive a slender hope that we could still win the group. If we beat Galatasaray in Turkey and Anderlecht beat Dortmund in Germany, we'd finish on 13 points, one above Dortmund. There are other scenarios which we can examine later. For now, savor a strong performance from top to bottom, marred though it may be by a light knock suffered by Arteta. Everyone seems to have turned a in solid performance, with some stellar ones from Gibbs, Ramsey (yes, Ramsey), Chambers, and Cazorla. I'm not omitting Alexis on the assumption that it's safe to assume that, yes, he again scintillated. We're through to the knockout stage for the 15th time in a row. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the highlights!

Time to make Dortmund's UCL form match its Bundesliga misery

We've become quite familiar with Dortmund over the last few years, having been paired in the Champions League group stage three times in the last four, and it feels very much at times like looking into a mirror, whether we consider results, form, transfer-woes, injuries, among other issues. In the eight total matches we've played, each has won three, and there's been one tie. Each side has scored eight goals. Each of us has lost a key playmaker and goal-scorer to a league rival (eventually, if we admit that Fabregas to Chelsea counts) and have struggled to overtake or keep up with our league's giant(s). In the last decade, we've each made it to the Champions League final only to come away empty-handed (Dortmund did win it in 1997). However, rather than sympathy or commiseration, I hope we offer our visitors today the coldest of shoulders, pummeling them roundly to restore our own pride even if it batters theirs.

25 November 2014

Rivals' Rundown, Week 12—where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

This weekend saw things seem to go almost entirely off the rails, with only a Crystal Palace win over Liverpool to keep Gooners from complete despair. Aside from our own depressing loss to Man U, it seems everyone else got a positive result. The picture gets muddier as we might have to wonder whether Newcastle, who have now won at White Hart Lane and the Etihad (league cup, that one, but still…) while rolling to six straight wins. I’m going to hold off for now if only to While it’s still true that no one bar Chelsea is playing well, it seems that only we and Liverpool are fading while key rivals get their footing. If we don’t get our own act together and sort the issues that continue to plague us, well, the WOBs will win the argument. Whether it proves Pyrrhic is another debate for another day. For now, let’s take a look at how things turned out this weekend.

24 November 2014

Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, and the perils of supporting Gunners...

I have to confess up front that I am close to tears at the moment, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with our loss to Man U, our frustrations at our faltering form, or my concerns over rumors regarding Wilshere's ligaments. I have spent most of my adult life teaching in Chicago, Illinois, mostly in its roughest and toughest neighborhoods, and the events in Ferguson, Missouri—an unarmed black teenager was shot by a police officer—cut awfully close to the bone. I have worked closely with young black and brown men who have had similar brushes with the law. To date, I have not seen any of them suffer a fate similar to Michael Brown's. There have been some close calls. Arrests. Hospitalizations. Jail sentences. But no deaths. So far. When Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, my mind raced back to the hundreds of students who share a background similar to Brown's. With Monday's announcement that there be no trial, my heart broke. Among the many other reactions I have each and every time there is a similar incident, one of the more-trivial issues I have to confront is what it means to support a club known as the Gunners.

Fourth form maths: What'll it take for us to finish fourth?

Amid the dross and rubble left behind after Saturday's debacle, we've now slumped to our worst start in some 32 years. 17 points from 12 matches means that we've only managed to collect a meagre 47.2% of the points available. Over the course of a 38-match season, that would leave us with 53.8 points—good perhaps for a mid-table finish, which would almost certainly end our streak of Champions League appearances, among other outcomes. Would it spell the end of Arsène's time as manager? Perhaps. We're already talking about this as the worst start in more than three decades and our worst start under Arsène. However, rather than poring over the details of the past, let's take a look at what the future holds and what get a sense of what's possible.

23 November 2014

Three things Arsenal MUST do to salvage its season!!!

With only 26 fixtures left, the final run-in is already here and there is simply no time to waste, no margin for error, not when a mere 78 points are still available. Having played to this point like a Championship side just happy to have been promoted, a yawning, unbridgeable chasm separates us from Champions League play—two points. Two. If that figure doesn't set your faces to stun, well, have a seat and put your hair in curlers for this one: We're eight points off the pace set by Man City, who sit second with 25 points. Never before in the history of anything ever has any side closed such a gap. Heck, that eight-point gap might as well lay down and take a nap, becoming the symbol for infinity along the way. Before that can happen, though, here's a SHOCKING recipe for how Arsenal can save its season for complete and utter annihilation.

22 November 2014

Now that's a result that changes nothing whatosever.

And do we lurch from one calamity to the next, with this latest one apparently another nail in the coffin of Arsène's tenure. Turning around, it doesn't seem like there are too many more nails left.
We're off to our worst start in three decades, far and away our worst start under Arsène. We've one only four matches while losing three and, if Liverpool and Tottenham manage to pull off some thumping victories on Sunday, winning by seven or eight goals respectively, we could end the weekend as low as tenth place. In the process, of course, we have lost to a hated rival that is itself mired in its own season of mediocrity, a result that seems to symbolize everything that is going wrong at Arsenal. We can't score. We can't defend. We can't win the big matches. We pass and pass and pass and pass. Key players get injured. All of the symbols and portents seem to be aligning against us.

Gunners 1-2 Man U: Gaper's block, with video...

A freakishly unlucky own-goal from Kieran Gibbs, assisted by a helpful shove from Marouane Fellaini, undid an otherwise dominant performance from the Gunners, who failed to adequately test David "fractured finger" de Gea, shooting directly to him time and time again instead of a few feet to his left or right. By the time Rooney found himself through on goal against Damian "but I helped us beat Reading" Martinez, the outcome was all but assured, and only a 95th minute goal from Olivier Giroud salvaged a 1-2 scoreline. Long periods of dominance, highlighted by moments of sublimity, come to naught in the video below. Keep the antacids at the ready...

21 November 2014

Can Arsenal do its part to restore the lustre to this rivalry?

Going into the start of the season, this fixture stood out as a finish line of sorts, a marker against which we could measure our progress after roughly one-third of the season gone. The latter half of this still stands although for reasons a bit different from what we anticipated: instead of vying with Man U for supremacy atop the Prem, we each need a win from this match just to keep alive our hopes of finishing somewhere in the top five.  Both clubs have been decimated by injuries, but unlike Man U, it's starting to look like we're on the mend. Giroud is available, and even if Walcott has suffered a setback, it looks like Alexis and Welbeck will come through late fitness tests. Despite a few disappointing results at our end, it's starting to feel like we're about to find some form after staggering and sleepwalking through the first third of the season.

20 November 2014

Will Welbeck find vindication against "Vanchester?"

From early in his childhood, he supported the club. He dreamed of playing for it, adorned his room in that famous shade of red and trained with some of its legends. And then, it went sour. He was played out of position. Slated for failing to live up to his potential. Derided for disappearing in the big games. Meanwhile, other, bigger names had come along to displace him, shouldering him from his preferred central position, out to the wing, but he did what he could, tracking back, creating chances, doing more of the donkey-work that the prima donnas wouldn't deign to touch with a ten-foot pole. When the final indignity came in the form a of £20m loan-deal for Falcao, the writing was on the wall: we don't want you anymore. In short order, Danny Welbeck was sold on, deemed superfluous to needs, making room for the fancier if more fragile van Persie and Falcao. Saturday offers him a chance to show his childhood club just what it's missing out on—will Welbeck seize the chance?

Jack Wilshere, heir to Vieira...

Ever since the glory days, we've pined (somewhat excessively, in this correspondent's opinion) for a brash, brawling, brawny defensive midfielder, someone who could and would win a fight in a back-alley or in the prematch tunnel...someone in the mold of Patrick Vieira, that swash-buckling, swaggering buccaneeer who terrorized the Prem in nearly a decade as Arsenal's domineering defensive midfielder who, at 1.9m, lorded it over all opponents. Ever since he left the club in 2005, we've yearned for the arrival of a similarly-dominant destroyer who could lay waste to the opposition, both demolishing their attacks and also launching counters of our own. We've had to make do with Arteta and Flamini in the last few years, neither of whom intimidate or inspire. Looking beyond them, only Abou "I'm unbreakable kind of like Little John is little" Diaby seems to fit the bill. Given his recent performances for the Three Lions, then, could the diminutive but feisty Jack Wilshere be the DM we've been waiting for?

18 November 2014

Szczesny forces £18.5m Man U move—and forces a moment of reckoning

In a stunning reversal of fortunes ahead of Saturday's epic clash, Polish goalkeeper Wojiech Szczęsny has forced through a jaw-dropping, £18.5m move to Manchester United, continuing an appalling trend of the London club losing its best and brightest to league rivals. As if it wasn't enough to lose to Chelsea thanks in large part to the efforts of former talisman Cesc Fabregas, or laboring to a tough draw against Man City thanks, again, in no small part to the labors of Clichy and Nasri, Arsenal now face the unsavory prospect of watching van Persie score on them at one end of the pitch while Szczęsny denies them at the other. Instead of looking forward to exploiting the absence of de Gea, Gooners will have to hope for Szczęsny to go on one of his foolish forays if they expect to find the back of the net...

17 November 2014

Stars starting to align around our clash with Man U and...oh. Mike Dean.

De Gea? Out. Blind? Out. Carrick, Rojo, and Lingard, all out. Add to that list a whole host of "maybe's"—Falcao, Rafael, Jones, and Evans are all hoping to return by Saturday, according to most sources—and we might start to feel cautiously optimistic about our chances against a club against whom we've struggled. We haven't beaten Man U since May 2011, a string of six matches that includes that infamous 8-2 drubbing. Still, setting that aberration aside, we've only conceded six goals in the subsequent five matches. If we could have just done one or two better than the three that we've managed to score in that same set, we might have found a few wins. With Man U missing four or five key players and hoping that at least two or three can come back from injury, we might even lick our chops. Cue the unholy spectre that is Mike Dean, for it is he who shall preside over the proceedings.

For those who don't know, Mike Dean is a bit of a bête noire thanks to his involvement in quite a few infamous decisions, none of which have ever seemed to go our way. A 2010 Louis Saha goal for Tottenham during which Dean appeared to hop around in delight. The 2011 League Cup final, in which we lost 1-2 to Birmingham. The 2012 League Cup quarterfinal defeat to Bradford on penalties. A month before that, Koscielny was sent off (correctly, it must be noted) against Man City in what ended as an 0-2 defeat. These are just some of the lowlights. For more-pertinent results, we should look at the role Dean has played in our clashes with Man U. Four matches. Three losses. No wins. Without suggesting error or bias, it's worth pointing out that Dean has been involved in some painful, painful results against our long-time foes:
  • 29 August 2009: Man U 2-1 Arsenal. A 95th minute equalizer from some bloke named van Persie is disallowed because some other bloke named Gallas is ruled offside. Arsène sees red for his protestations. Earlier in the match, Darren Fletcher bowled over Arshavin with nary a whisper from Dean. Instead, it was Almunia who was called for bringing down Rooney, and the resulting penalty turned the tide in Man U's favor. 
  • 12 January 2012: Arsenal 1-2 Man U. Let's not breathe too much of this one, as it was a Danny Welbeck goal that made the difference. To be honest, there wasn't much from Dean to criticise in this one.
  • 3 November 2012: Man U 2-1 Arsenal. Wilshere was sent off for a second yellow that seemed harsh, Cazorla was called for a handball in the box (correct), and we had to endure the Dutch Skunk scoring thanks to a scuffed clearance from Vermaelen. Might we have done better at full strength in those last 20 minutes? Hard to tell, to be honest, as Man U did dominate that match for long stretches. 

Confirmation bias suggests that we'll find what we're looking for. In this case, we're looking for some kind of excuse to explain why we've struggled so much against Man U. Sure, Mike Dean seems to have played a role, but what? Can we really blame him for our failings against Birmingham or Bradford, or does the guilt lay closer to home? Against the likes of Man U, the story is little different. It's been a while since we could honestly measure ourselves against Man U. Saturday's fixture might offer the first chance in a decade when we could say, on paper, that we're equal to the challenge.

Given Man U's current form and injuries, we should feel like we can go into Saturday's clash on level terms, if not better, regardless of who the referee is. To some degree, we have a right to feel aggrieved at the treatement we've received at the hand of referees, whether they be Dean or Taylor or anyone else, but that mindset conceals deeper issues around transfers, formation, and tactics that have bedeviled us in match after match regardless of who the referee may be. If we can't knock off a squad as psychophrenic as Man U, well, we'll have to ask questions of ourselves first and foremost.

Thanks, by the way, for the messages and so on during my week off. This past week off was the first break I've given myself since starting in February 2013 during which time I've posted 896 times in those. It's good to hear that my ramblings have been missed almost as much as those ramblings have missed. The interlull coincided with a bout of ennui as well as a physical illness, but I'm back at it, for better or for worse.

11 November 2014

AKBs, WOBs: by all means, let us both go for the jugular.

Well, we're at each other worse than a pair of starving, rabid pit-bulls after a measly scrap of meat, as if winning an abstract argument amongst ourselves off the pitch will amount to anything on it. If the "Wenger Out" crowd manage to shout down the "Arsène knows best" crowd or vice-versa, will Arsène himself notice? Will the board? Instead of insulting each other, the players, the manager, or the board, all of which will amount to less than zero in the long run, perhaps we could sheathe our swords an cleave closely to our cleavers. Abraham Lincoln once declared, "a house divided against itself cannot stand." Now, our divisions may be legion, and they are unlikely to spill over onto the pitch itself, but if we are to be the 12th man on the pitch, we have to get this house in order and soon, or, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor, this ship will sink and fast. With that in mind, please read on...

10 November 2014

Rivals' Rundown, week 11: Can we still laugh at Spurs?

Any weekend that ends with an Arsenal loss is going to be a wasted weekend, all the more so when we have to wait two weeks for the next match. The interlull arrives just in time for most everyone including Arsenal to wring hands and gnash teeth.  Aside from Chelsea, everyone with European commitments struggled, and that might be the story of the week. Only Chelsea impress, and everyone else on this
list seems to be suffering from any of a number of different dilemmas. For as good as they’ve been, everyone else has been thoroughly average. It was all I could do to summarize the usual eight. Am I going to have to make room for West Ham (4th), Swansea (5th), and Newcastle (8th)? When will the table sort itself enough for us to know who the top five or six squads are? Nine teams are within four points of third place. For as much as we might mock Tottenham or Liverpool, only three points separate us. On the other hand, only four points separate us from Man City. May you live in interesting times…

09 November 2014

Swans 2-1 Gunners: this is infuriating [w/ video highlights]

A boring, dreary first half picked up steam in the second, but with the way it ended, I think most of us would have preferred the boredom over the bollocks that we had to suffer. After a brilliant counter attack launched by the Ox, Welbeck ran in behind the defense to collect the through-back and cut back to pass to the middle for Alexis—who else?—,to slot it home, and it looked like we could escape with victory despite our sloppy, careless, play to that point. However, the sloppiness was exacerbated by heavier rains and the fact that we had no answer for Montero, who tore Chambers a new one each time he got the ball. Sigurddson's well-struck free-kick eluded Szczesny, but it was Montero who really ruined things for us, crossing in for Gomis to head home. Swansea had not scored from a set-piece or a header to this point; they managed to do both inside of five minutes today. It's a loss that will pose some tough, tough questions, some soul-searching, and perhaps some knife-sharpening. We'll have two weeks to digest this one before hosting Man U. If you have the stomach for it, here are the highlights:

Szczęsny and Fabiański conspire ahead of the match...

SWANSEA, South Wales—it was a rainy, dreary day in this coastal town, the kind of day that ached of rheumatism and rickets with a yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes and lingers upon the pools that stand in drains. It was the kind of day that saw the horizon fade into nothingness, where one could not determine where the sea ended and the sky began; all was but a greying mist. It was againts this tableau that two Poles, one perhaps grizzled and the other callow, met in a streetside cafe to strategize and conpsire. Small teacups of wódka were repeatedly drained and discreetly refilled throughout the late evening and, as the sun set, the conversation took on a sotto voce tenor.

06 November 2014

Swansea-Arsenal preview: release the hounds!

So. Judging by the reactions to our midweek draw with Anderlecht, we're doomed. We've lost the plot. We're rubbish. Worse, there's little we can do about it until January, by which time we may have crashed out of the Champions League, perhaps even the FA Cup, and we might be chasing fifth place in the Prem if we don't mind our p's and q's. If this draw with Anderlecht is anything to go by, we'll be lucky to qualify for the Europa League. It's just our luck, then, that we have to travel to Liberty Stadium to face one of the Prem's stoutest defenses, one led by a former Gunner who might savor a chance to remind us of his quality—Lukas Fabiański.

05 November 2014

Why on Earth didn't Walcott come on against Anderlecht?

Like many of you, I'm still struggling to make sense of Tuesday's result. How is it that we could squander a three-goal lead, at home, the one of the weakest clubs to make it into the Champions League, one that had scored just two goals in three matches? Yes, we can point to complacency after racing out to a two-goal lead by halftime and pad it with a third shortly thereafter, and we can deride individual players for their desire to pursue individual stats rather than collective goals, but those are issues that should have been addressed at halftime. Up 2-0, we should have salted this one away with a substitution or two, not to mention a few tactical adjustments as well. As we sift through the remains of a win that could have been (clever rhyme, that), one question persists: where was Walcott?

Well, we'll still qualify, right? Somebody hold me...

Well, that's it. Let's put the season to bed and a few players out to pasture. Fire the manager and the physios, forfeit all of our remaining matches, and accept relegation. All of the players (except one) are rubbish, too old, too injured, or some combation thereof to sustain any kind of meaningful campaign, but at least getting relegated would improve our chances at winning a league title. That one exception? He's too good so we should just sell him and use the proceeds to pay down the stadium debt. What else is left to play for after a humiliating capitulation like this, one that has slam shut the door on our chances of advancing to the Champions League knockout phase? Heck, the knock-on effect will surely see us plummet to the bottom of the Prem and crash out of the FA Cup to boot.

04 November 2014

Gunners 3-3 Anderlecht: What the heck just happened? [video]

What happened there? One moment, we're up 3-0 and look to be cruising to the knock-out stage. Arteta got his first goal from the penalty-spot in the 25th minute, Alexis added a spot- free kick goal (volleying the rebound when his kick was blocked), and Ox barreled down the left to curl it around the keeper. We were flying high, and I was even dreaming of cutting into Dortmund's goal-differential. I must have jinxed it, because moments later, Anderlecht had its first goal. So the guy was offsides. By three yards. We had been playing lazy defense the whole time and paid for it. A Monreal take-down in the box, and Anderlecht has their penalty to make it 3-2. Mitrovic was in the box before Vanden Borre shot, but whatever. We again paid the price. All that was missing was a Szczesnian screw-up and—yup. On a well-struck cross. Szcz half-charged off his line, got caught in no-man's land, and was all but helpless as Mitrovic headed home. Feh. For as dominant as we looked early, we let this one slip right through our fingers. Watch highlights below if you can stomach them...

Alexis has earned himself a spot on the bench against Anderlecht.

It may sound at first like heresy, benching our most-prolific, energetic scorer and creator, but hear me out. Yes, he's scored ten goals and notched three assists—five of those goals in his last three appearances—and he's quickly proven himself to be a quicksilver talisman who can turn a match on its head with his attacking elan, but, still, he must be benched. It's for his own good as well as that of the squad itself. We simply can't afford to depend on him to the extent we've come to do thus far, with each appearance increasing his chances of redlining and being ruled out or rendered ineffective. We have too many other attacking options, some of them admittedly a bit rusty, but they should pose more than enough of a threat against the likes of Anderlecht.

03 November 2014

Happy Birthday, Ian Wright!

Born 3 November 1963.
Signed with Arsenal in September 1991 for £2.5m.
288 appearances.
185 goals.
In seven seasons, Ian Wright electrified Highbury with dizzying array of scintillating goals. Despite leading the line for most of the "one-nil to the Arsenal" days, Wright became Arsenal's all-time leading scorer when he scored his 179th goal on 13 September 1997. He would remain the highest-scoring Gooner until Thierry Henry  passed him on 17 October 2005. There'll be no taking away his legendary status or his lofty achievements as a Gunner. With that in mind, I hope you'll enjoy this montage of goals from one of the greatest finishers in Arsenal history...

Where does Arsenal stand in the Prem? A look at our rivals' form and ours

They can't all turn out as well as last weekend when it seemed like everyone but Arsenal dropped points. Referees intervened here and there, sometimes fairly and sometimes not, to alter outcomes mostly in favor of our rivals. We earned our three points the old-fashioned way, facing eleven men and scoring our goals from open play. None of these spot-kicks and short-sided opponents for us. On to the run-down, which I pray is virtually error-free. 

Apologies for the repost, but there were technical problems with the feeds.

02 November 2014

Are you not entertained? What will it take to slake Gooners' thirst?

I think we can all agree that 70 minutes was a lot longer than any of us would have chosen as the moment when we finally broke through against Burnley, they of the -11 goal differential. After all, they'd managed a woeful four points, scored only five goals over all, and hadn't won a single match. We should steam-roll them them, scoring early and often on our way to putting this one to bed well before halftime. Even the gloomiest of Gooners wouldn't begrudge such a start, even given our apparent inability to keep a clean sheet or score the first goal. This was to be, after all, a invigorating, revitalizing fixture, one that would allow us to lay to rest if not slay certain demons that have beset us so often.

Ohhh, Santi Cazorla...
However, the first half unfolded as all too many have unfolded before, with Arsenal dominating possession (rising to as high as 85% at one point) but little to show for it but a few squandered chances, a handful of howitzers into the stands, and a nifty save or two from the keeper. And so we went into halftime locked in a scoreless draw against an opponent who seemed more than happy to batten down the hatches and ride out the onslaught, with the idea of a scoreless draw all the more galling against the backdrop of them having conceded 12 goals in their previous four fixtures. By the time Cazorla gave the gentlest of touches to a ball eight yards away from an empty net only to see it snuffed out, it looked indeed like we'd have to resign ourselves to a draw, with us wasting our best chances once again.

However, such a mindset, borne though it may be of many other frustrations, was misbegotten. Burnley may have set out to stubbornly deny us, keeping eight men in and around the box in order to frustrate us, hoping that the pressure on us to score would build to such a pitch that we'd be undone, with boos and cat-calls reigning down on Arsène, as the demands to bring on Walcott became well-nigh irresistible. Their plan was working for the most part, which made it easy for us to focus on how empty-handed we were with more than 3/4ths of the match gone, a drought perhaps punctuated by the near-misses and flubbed chances. Instead of celebrating what almost came to pass, we've convinced ourselves to regret them as what would never be, whether it be a brilliant save, a wasteful shot, or a missed hand-ball. Each moment of Alexisian brilliance that came to nought only offered a reminder of how much we've relied on him to this point and how bereft of other options we have when he can't quite deliver.

So it was fitting and just that Alexis found a way to finally break through. In that 70th minute, one we usually jeer as the one in which Arsène finally makes a substitution, Alexis nodded home from a Chambers cross, and the rout we had expected was on. Barely 130 seconds later, Chambers opened his account—on a set-piece, no less—and while it's true that we had to wait almost 20 more minutes, Alexis found our eighth stoppage-time goal on a deft cross-in from Gibbs, and we finally had a scoreline that lived up to our feverish dreams. For helpful contrast, Chelsea, they of the undefeated season and +15 goal differential, needed a dodgy penalty to see off QPR at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool lost 1-0 at St. James's Park, and Everton stumbled a to a scoreless draw at Goodison Park against ten-man Swansea. Patience, in other words, is a virtue.

For one reason or another, we like to leave it late. Whether that's a credit to our opponents' stalwart defense, a demerit against our stubborn attack, or some mixture of the two, it might be starting to pay off. We've won three games on the bounce, and while it may be comforting to see us seize earlier leads, we're starting to show signs of life. Chelsea, despite their indomitable start, are but nine points ahead. That might sound like a lot until you consider just how average we've been and how perfect they've been. We're off to a slow start, to be sure, and it might already be too late to reel them in. Time will tell.

Some would say that the 3-0 scoreline flatters us because the goals all came in the last 20-odd minutes of the match against a club that looks ready for relegation. They'd have a point. Then again, Arsenal have all three. No, the goals didn't come as early as we might have hoped. When do they ever? On this day, the waiting was not borne of wastefulness on our part so much as it was from diligence on theirs. We've grown accustomed to seeing the glass half-empty; on this day, we should see it as more than half-full, if not overflowing.


01 November 2014

Gunners 3-0 Burnley: Alexis is a one-man wrecking crew [video]

After a long, frustrating 70 minutes in which we utterly dominated an overmatched Burnley—who predictably sat back to absorb pressure and look for quick counters and who were certainly content to play for the draw—Alexis sliced them open with a header from close range from a cross in from Chambers, who opened his Arsenal account just over two minutes later. Alexis added a stoppage-time goal, his 10th goal for Arsenal and our eighth stoppage-time goal of the season, to make the final scoreline 3-0. That may flatter us a bit, but we—by which I might mean Alexis—worked hard for it. Burnley didn't get a shot on target until late on, and we had many chances snuffed out by Heaton, who made save after key save. Despite his efforts, we come away with a fine win, highlighted by the return of Theo Walcott who didn't have much to do in his ten-minute cameo. Check out the highlights below...

30 October 2014

"Striker returns from injury with wonder-goal against Burnley"

We're all waiting anxiously for the return of Theo Walcott to make his first first-team appearance since tearing his ACL back in January 2014. While we're waiting, it might be worth a quick look back at an earlier return from an admittedly more-gruesome injury. I refer of course to Eduardo "Dudu" da Silva, who returned from that broken leg to score a wonderful goal against Burnley in the FA Cup, turning Alex Song's cross into the net off his ankle:

For those seeking further symbolism, this was also a match that saw Theo Walcott return to action after injuring his shoulder and missing four months of action. Interesting parallels, to be sure, but let's hope that's as far it goes, seeing as how Eduardo never quite regained the form he showed before having his leg snapped so brutally.

I'll offer you Mark Twain's thoughts on the subject: "history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes".

29 October 2014

Walcott set to make his return against Burnley...

Let's make one thing clear from the get-go: Burnley are on one hand precisely the kind of banana-peel you'd expect Arsenal to slip on. They're winless to date, and they've scored the fewest goals while conceding the most in the Prem. Their away-record is even worse. At home, they've at least earned a couple of draws. Away from Turf Moor, they're winless and toothless, having scored but one while conceding 12 in four matches. It seems almost unfair, therefore, to unleash against them one of our most fearsome players, one who might be working his way back from injury but who is chomping at the bit: Theo Walcott.

28 October 2014

Can Chelsea match the Invincibles?

We may only be nine matches into the season, and there are still 29 more fixtures left, but Chelsea's form to date already has tongues wagging and Gooners worrying that another Invincibles season is in the making. After all, they're undefeated, having won at Goodison Park, drawn at the Etihad and Old Trafford, and—sigh—defeated us at Stamford Bridge. In short order, they've escaped many of their toughest fixtures already, at least if we consider hostile territory and high stakes. The way things have gone so far, trips to Anfield and White Hart Lane, even to the Emirates, don't look all that daunting. not to a squad that has smashed home 24 goals while conceding just nine en route to claiming 23 of 27 points on offer. For those inclined to worry, Chelsea now sport a record identical to the Invincibles' to this point: 7W, 2D, 0L, but with a superior goal differential of +23 to the Invincibles' +11. All signs seem to point, therefore, to Chelsea shouldering us aside as kings of the Prem. What other conclusion is there other than to admit that Chelsea will join us (and Preston) in achieving invincibility?

26 October 2014

Rivals' Rundown, Week 9: Where do we stand in the Prem?

All in all, it’s been a good weekend to be a Gooner (most of them are). We won, of course, which is always a good start. Elsewhere, Man U found a way to draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford, Man City lost away to West Ham, Liverpool drew with Hull at Anfield, and Tottenham lost to Newcastle at White Hart Lane. The only downsides come from the fact that Southampton and Everton both won. Still, Lady Luck smiled on us this weekend, both in our result and in those of most of our rivals, and there’s enough in it to suggest that we’re still in the thick of it despite our indifferent form. In fact, bar Chelsea’s stellar start, we might even take some hope from the proceedings. To the rundown!

25 October 2014

Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal: Alexis does it all on his own [with video].

Alexis, perhaps parodying his one-man show, scored two unassisted goals, each from horrendous Sunderland errors, to deliver a win that was much tighter than the scoreline suggests. Vito Mannone reprised his nightmarish performance of a week ago, muffing a clearance that Alexis tucked home in extra time—Arsenal's seventh such goal of the season, but the first one that didn't change the outcome of the match. There's something in this one for everyone: a win and a clean-sheet for the optimists, a lucky couple of goals against an overmatched side for the pessimists. Either way, three points collected. Have a gander at the highlights below...

24 October 2014

Maybe we should sell Özil...

What a waste of money. He's been nicking a living for some time now, What's more, he's starting to come across as a flat-track bully, what with his only goal and two assists coming against our weakest opponents to date (an assist in the 4-1 win over Galatasaray, a goal and and an assist in the 0-3 win over Villa, for those keeping score at home). A peek beyond those two performances suggests that Özil might be bred for finer (read: more-delicate) environs than the Prem. His style, his strengths, and his weaknesses may not be a good match for Arsenal or, for that matter, the Prem. For the right price, maybe we shouldsell him—just so long as we sell him at a profit and send him far, far away.

22 October 2014

Arsène is a diabolocial, passive-aggressive sadist. There. I said it.

After yet another dramatic, death-defying, last-minute positive result (we're counting draws as positive results these days, if only because there are so damned many of them), I've come to a startling, perhaps shocking realization. It's so stunningly simple that I'm surprised none of us have hit on it before. All the pieces fit. It all makes sense, if only in retrospect. Many of us can find no fault with Arsène: he's a purist and a paladin but a victim of darker, fiendish forces beyond his control. Just as many of us can find no virtue in the man: he's an anachronism bereft of new ideas and ossified to old ones. Somewhere 'twixt the two, however, lies the truth. That truth? Arsène is playing us all, even his opponents and nemeses, as patsies, as pawns in a much larger game. Even as I put these words to print, I can hear the hired goons tromping up the steps to silence me, but the truth must be told.

Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal: the Cardiac Kids strike again!

What is it with Arsenal? After conceding the match's first goal for the eighth time in 14 matches, Kieran Gibbs scored from a sumptuous Calum Chambers cross and Lukas Podolski scored our sixth stoppage-time goal to steal all three points from Anderlecht. I don't know which is worse, that we're so leaky so early or so determined so late. In either case, you can take in the highlights below; we'll take a deeper look at the how's and the why's later...

21 October 2014

We're doomed against Anderlecht, doomed...

There's no easy way to put this, Gooners, so I'll just go ahead and spell it out for you. We're doomed. There is simply now way that we will emerge from our trip to Anderlecht with anything but an embarrassing result. As all of the headlines of the last 24 hours have incontorvertibly explained, we'll have no choice but to play 17-year old Ryan Huddart at all eleven positions simultaneously, what with actual injuries to the likes of Ospina, Özil, Giroud, Sanogo, Koscielny, and Debuchy, plus imagined injuries to the likes of Wilshere, Walcott, Diaby, and Gnabry. Worse, we're facing off against the Chelsea of the Jupiler League: Anderlecht, like Chelsea, are undefeated in league play. By the law of transitive (or is it commutative?) properties, we have no choice but to lose ingloriously in Belgium.

20 October 2014

Rivals' Run-down, Matchday Eight: Where do we stand?

We finally return from a two-week interlull eager for some proper Arsenal action only to come away a bit deflated, if not depressed. Not only did we struggle to nick a point at home against Hull, most of our rivals found a way to seize all three in their respective matches. The race has gotten a bit more cluttered as Southampton continue to insist on not being ignored while Liverpool, Everton, and Man U register a pulse if not more. Finger-twitches they may be, but they're enough to remind us that there are still signs of life from Anfield, Goodison, and Old Trafford, and if we don't get our own house in order, things could get real messy real quick. On to the run-down...

19 October 2014

A battle-cry: could the Hull result be just what Arsenal needs?

Call it a shock to the system. For as frustrating and as maddening as our performances have been to date, the draw with Hull seems like the first truly unacceptable one. Hear me out. For each previous draw (or loss), there has been some kind of extenuating circumstance to put the result in context, if only to rationalize if not justify it. The same just can't be said for the Hull result. If anything, it's more than we deserve while still being a shocker. We somehow kept a point—barely—thereby reducing the damage to our campaign while still suffering the kind of result that should jolt the squad from its torpor. Instead of lamenting our woeful state, there's a chance—however slim—to seize and run with.

18 October 2014

Arsenal are living on borrowed time after that execrable excuse

I'm too tired to be as angry as I supposed I should be. The match against Hull was supposed to provide us an opportunity to start building momentum, to start salting away points and climb the table. Instead, we barely escaped by the skin of our collective teeth thanks to a magical, magnificent effort from one player. We nicked a point. At home. Against Hull. In stoppage-time. The concerns and attendant excuses are growing too numerous too, er, enumarate, and it makes little sense to miss the forest for the trees. Aside from a ten-minute stretch against Aston Villa and a longer stretch against Galatasaray, we're looking feeble and toothless.

Gunners 2-2 Tigers: I'd call this a highlight-video, but...ugh

Well, at least we didn't lose. That's hardly a rallying-cry, but maybe it'll be the standard we set for ourselves. Less disappointment or frustration that way. Were it not for stoppage time, well, we would have lost this one. As it stands, a bit of wizardry from Alexis saved our hash when he dribbled through about half of Hull's defense before laying off for Welbeck to slot it home in the 1st minute of extra time, our fifth stoppage-time goal of the season. Last gasps, indeed—or are these death-throes? 

Has Arsène scuttled Wilshere's deep-lying development?

After two weeks pondering Jack Wilshere make mincemeat of San Marino and Estonia, it was starting to look, sound, and feel like we might start to see more of Wilshere in a similar role with Arsenal. With the continued absence of Ramsey, the nagging injuries (and inexorable ageing of Arteta), and the relative softness of the next half-dozen fixtures, I was starting to think that Arsène might play Wilshere in a deeper-lying role, maybe even—theatrical gasp—returning to a 4-2-3-1 with Cazorla as the central midfielder. However, speaking at the official Arsenal site, Arsène seems to have scuppered the notion before it can even take hold, at least with the club. However, there's reason to hope that this opens the door for other options to unfold...

17 October 2014

Theo and Gnabry, back in action, terrorizing Blackburn

It's not quite the triumpant return some may have hoped for, but Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry each featured in the u21 squad's match against Blackburn. Theo played the first half before being subbed for Alex Iwobi while Gnabry stayed on until about the 60th minute when Zelalem came on. It seems that each did well and showed few signs of rust or lasting damage. While you may be disappointed to learn that neither man scored, keep in mind that this is somewhat beside the point. They were not playing with the u21s to help that squad win, first and foremost; they were getting some time on the pitch. If they had chipped in a goal or an assist, splended. Again, that's not the point. Getting them ready for first-team action is the point. By that standard, it seemed like a successful outing.

Matchday Preview: Cazorla will hit Hull hard

With the AGM behind us and few revelations on offer, we can at last turn our attention to actual footballing. We emerged from the interlull largely unscathed, with Özil having picked up his injury against Chelsea, Koscielny irritating his pre-existent tendinitis, and only Rosický as a fresh injury worry. We're tantalizing close to having Walcott and Gnabry back, and after them Ramsey, but it's still too early to get to see any of them against Hull. As we look ahead to the match on Saturday, I'm looking to Santi Cazorla to turn a corner on a strong start that has flirted with but not yet consummated the brilliance that endeared him to us in the first place.

16 October 2014

One question that won't get asked at the Annual General Meeting

Here we go, right as the we're about to return to some proper footballing action: the Annual General Meeting. It's sure to provide a fair amount of sturm und drang with pointed questions put to Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidis, Arsène and others who hold the purse-strings of a club so many of us love so dearly. Given the power that these and other men hold over the present and future of Arsenal, we have a right to know what's been going on and what plans they have for what should happen in the future. However, given what's gone on in the last decade, what with our own trophy-drought, slaked if only temporary by the FA Cup win, and with goings-on elsewhere, I have one question that I wish would get asked. It won't result in any shocking revelations about transfer-fees, cash reserves, or ticket-prices. Worse, it's a hypothetical question.

15 October 2014

Özil AWOL as awful Germans owned by Ireland!!

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany—Once again, the mighty German national team struggled to see off an inferior opponent as Ireland found a stunning stoppage-time equaliser to deny the World Cup champions a vital three points in the Euro 2016 qualifier, leaving Die Mannschaft adrift in Group D. More importantly, the result leaves manager Joachim Löw with pressing, urgent questions around a squad that has scored only three goals in three matches. Chief among these questions: just why has Özil disappeared? Where it was a part of his repertoire, "ghosting" so as to lull opposing defenders into forgetting where he is, the enigmatic Özil has apparently literally disappeared.

14 October 2014

Where's the silver lining in Özil's injury? Take your pick...

At first blush, Özil's injury sounded like it would be just the kind of thing a high-profile player run ragged by club commitments would need—two weeks of solid rest, perhaps extended another week or two in order to rejuvenutate tired legs and weary spirit. When the DFB announced that Özil would be ruled out of action for 10-12 weeks, we at Arsenal naturally cursed our lot in life and vented various levels of fury at Wenger for not bringing Cescy back or otherwise deepening, if not strengthening, the squad. However, whether Wenger had planned to persist in playing Özil wide or returning him to a more-central position (on paper, at least), we do have a plethora of options at our disposal and a softer string of fixtures coming up in which to deploy them.

Thierry Henry, Mesut Özil, and the "La Liga" effect

The interlull is very nearly gone, and with it, any fears of fresh injuries to our precious, precious players. Germany face Ireland on Tuesday, but Özil came into the lull pre-injured as it were, and Per has retired from international duty. Oh, and Podolski. Well, maybe he'll get some time on the pitch. Poland face Scotland, but there's a bigger risk of Szcz seeing red than being felled, to be honest. From that, it seems like smooth sailing—almost too smooth if rumours around Welbeck not being injured, Giroud returning to fitness earlier than expected, and Walcott and Gnabry training with the first team are to be believed. Still, despite the bounty of good news, lingering in the back of my mind is Özil's apparent diffidence and ineffectual performance up until the interlull arrived. Set aside the 4-1-4-1, 'why's he playing wide?' whingeing. Don't blame Wenger or Özil; blame La Liga.

12 October 2014

Wilshere and Rooney debate the Three Lions' performance

TALINN, Estonia—It was a tense but relieved dressing room after England had finally found a way to break down and defeat a determined Estonia side to make it three wins in as many tries to stay atop Group E. Despite England's clear superiority on paper, it took a 73rd minute free-kick from captain Wayne Rooney to secure the three points. As the lads prepared for the flight home, the grizzled veteran basked in a victory he had done so much to earn. Sure, some might ask, with England still nearly two years away from competing in Euro 2016 and the 2016 Olympics and four years away from the next World Cup, why is a 28-year old still captaining a squad so full of younger, hungrier talents? There would be time to ponder such questions later. At the moment, it is time to bask in the win. Just as that thought eased Rooney's mind, one of the younger upstarts made his way over: Wilshere.

09 October 2014

That's that, then. Wilshere for Ballon d'Or.

Jack Wilshere turned in such a dominating, dominant performance against San Marino that they might as well give him the 2014 Ballon d'Or now and save everyone the suspense. Such was his magnificence in a 5-0 shellacking of San Marino.Yes, it was an overmatched opponent. Yes, you could have fit the entire population of San Marino (31,448) into Wembley's empty seats (34,010). As such, we should be careful about just how far we extrapolate from this one result. Still, Wilshere's performance, even if against one of Europe's minnows, should remind us of what Wilshere can do when he's fit and confident. With Özil out until December or January, we'll need this version of Wilshere if we expect to build or sustain any kind of momentum in the Prem or Champions League.

08 October 2014

Özil out for three months? I blame Mourinho.

I'm sure you've heard by now that Mesut Özil has been ruled out of action by the German Football Federation, meaning we at Arsenal won't see him in action again until January at the earliest. Ten to twelve weeks, they say. He'll miss quite a few Prem matches, the rest of the Champions League group stage, and perhaps the FA Cup third round as well. His injury may not be quite enough to knock us out of the latter two competitions, but there's just enough in it to suggest that maybe, just maybe, there's something more sinister at stake, something...diabolical. Of course, one need not look too far for the source of such conspiracies. When it comes to sabotaging Arsenal's hopes, there is one name that comes to mind. The Portuguese Prince of Darkness. The Specious One. The Machiavellian Mourinho.

Özil out for 10-12 weeks as MRI results confirm the worst

If only the interlull could lull us to sleep instead of luring us into a false sense of security. Usually, however, we can wait until after one of these matches is played before finding out that one or another Gunner has succumbed to injury; news today—before anyone actually suits up to play—is that Mesut Özil is in Germany for an MRI to see if and to what extent he's injured his knee. Reports that have come out in the last hour or so from the German Football Association say that we will be without his services for up to three months. This is getting absurd.

06 October 2014

Mourinho misdials and ends up apologizing to Arsène

José contemplated the beginning of the interlull with distaste. He did not like his expensive play-things used by other managers, where they might get damaged or lose some of their shininess through misuse. Still, he understood even as he smirked that these distractions affected him less than most, having at his disposal a second and even a third squad capable of beating most clubs' first team. Still, something nagged at him. A lingering feeling wouldn't quite let him rest. Even with Chelsea riding high in the Prem, having taken 19 points from 21 to date, something felt...off. Maybe Mendes could reassure him, find him someone to add to the squad in January, if not sooner? Vexed, José scrolled through his contacts to find his agent's number and clicked to call.

Rivals' Wrap-up IV: Where do we stand in the Prem?

Any weekend that ends with an Arsenal loss is bound to be a tough one even if it stands as a marked improvement on the previous trip to the same stomping grounds that sent us to our worst defeat in living memory. Still, the weekend wasn't a complete loss as we got to see Arsène shove Mourinho not once but twice. Elsewhere, others could barely eke out their various results, with the most-confident one coming from Man City who saw off Aston Villa 0-2. I seem to remember going one better than that, for what it's worth. The chicken-littles of the world will point to the fact that we now sit eighth behind Man U, Tottenham, and West Ham (not to mention Southampton and Swansea). It's still early days, as they say. We're nine points off the pace, and we have an interlull in which to contemplate our fortune, destiny, fate, lot in life, etc. Let's get to the wrap-up (or is it run-down)?

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal: the Blues escape. Barely.

Is that it? Is that the best you can do? C'mon, Chelsea. Even I expected more than this. A penalty to open the scoring, and a (class, admittedly) second one late on? After upgrading to the tune of a mere£94m, including the shrewd signing of that erstwhile prodigal of ours, I might have expected a bit more from you. Yes, you very nearly balanced your books (congratulations!), one must keep in mind that it's easy to sell assets if you've previously stockpiled them in the first place. These are issues for another day. It's to the pitch we should turn our eyes. At first glance, a 2-0 win should look and feel confident if not quite as triumphant as that infamous scoreline back in March. Then again, who would dare think that you'd again for a half-dozen goals after adding Costa and Fabregas?

05 October 2014

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal: Video highlights (or lowlights as is your wont)

Well, we improved just a bit over the last time we faced Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, for what that's worth. Still, we came away empty-handed and on the short-end of yet another match against Mourinho's Chelsea. I'm nothing if not an eternal optimist and see the result as reason for hope. But for a few calls that might have gone our way, we might even have come away with something a bit sharper. Should Cahill have been sent off for his studs-in challenge on Alexis? Perhaps. Might Atkinson have seen the ball-to-hand against Fabregas? Only Atkinson knows. When it's all said and done, after all, more is said than done. Enjoy the highlights, such as they are, in the video below:

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal Player Ratings Poll: A Moral Victory?

Well, we improved threefold over last march, which is the optimist's way of looking at it. It could have been worse. By the 12th minute, we could joke that we're doing much, much better than we had done. By the 17th, we could laugh at the fact that Gibbs is still on the pitch. Still, a loss is a loss no matter the scoreline, and even if we cut the margin down to one-third from the last trip to Stamford Bridge, well, we still lost. Fabregas found an assist late in the second half, but it didn't feel nightmarish, nor does the result. In fact, I rather feel like we should be disappointed and Chelsea should feel relieved to have come away with the win. We'll examine that later on. For now, rate how our squad did on the day in the ratings-poll below...

04 October 2014

Beating Chelsea—at their own game, if necessary...

And so we go into a match that has certainly been circled on the calendar by many Gooners, either out of dread or determination, as the sternest test of the young season. The question on most minds seems to be, "how badly will we lose?" or some variant thereof, with most answers holding the margin to three goals, as if we'll be lucky to lose by a mere 3-0 or, if we're plucky, 4-1. Bollocks. If anything, that horrific scoreline flattered Chelsea more than it flattened us. Mourinho's minions scored only three more goals on the season than we did, and they experienced an unprecedented orgy on that day that seemed to reveal everything that's ostensibly right with Chelsea and, alongside that, everything's that wrong with Arsenal. As I said before, bollocks.