22 February 2014

The shadow cast by Bergkamp's statue

Today, Arsenal unveiled a statue to commemorate the exploits of Dennis Bergkamp, one of the most-unique and exhilirating players to ever don an Arsenal kit. The moment, cast in bronze, shows Bergkamp leaping to collect the ball on his right foot as Newcastle's Dan O'Brien looks on. It's just one of a seemingly infinite number sublime moments that Bergkamp delivered, effortlessly and poetically, distilling both the athletic and the aesthetic into one. As we lionize him, though, I hope that the long shadow cast by his statute and his career doesn't stretch so far as to obscure the light. He was a once-in-generation kind of player, and it's more than fitting to give him his due. For me, more than Henry, he is Arsenal. His understanding, his vision, his style...it all takes my breath away. However...

Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland: Player Ratings

After slogging and struggling through our last five or six matches, today's brought some well-earned relief as we went ahead of Sunderland on the fifth minute from a Giroud goal, to which he added a second 25 minutes later, outwitting Vergini to interecept a back-pass and nutmeg Mannone. By the time Rosický reprised il pornogol di Wilshere against Norwich just before halftime, it was all but over. Kos chipped in with a nifty header that left Mannone flat-footed. The only black mark was the goal conceded to Giaccherini, which ended the bid for a clean sheet and saved face a bit for the Black Cats, who fell for just the second time in fourteen matches. With Chelsea stealing a late win from Everton and Man City similarly squeaking past Stoke, both by 1-0 scores, the top of the table remains unchanged for another week. Let's take a look at how our boys did...

21 February 2014

Mesut Özil unveiling, circa 2031

Mesut Özil has gone down in history as one of the Club's greatest players of all time, having delivered a club-record 129 assists from 417 appearances over ten trophy-laden seasons with Arsenal.

After joining from Real Madrid in September 2013, Özil, then 25, made his Gunners debut in the fourth match of the 2013-14 season—a 3-1 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on 14 September 2013. Only 11 minutes into the game, Özil tallied his first assist as a Gunner, collecting a pass along the left flank and slid a pass through the penalty-area for teammate Olivier Giroud to slot home. The assist ratcheted up expectations around the new player to unreasonable levels, especially for a fan-base starved for silverware and weary of player-departures.

Sunderland Preview: Cazorla-Yaya strike up a partnership

After a tough string of fixtures, a visit from Sunderland comes as something of a relief as, for the first time in what seems likes ages, we’ll face a squad without aspirations to silverware. However, the match is no less vital from our end as these are precisely the kind of points that championship-calibre teams seize. For Sunderland, currently in the drop-zone but with as many as eight other teams a mere four points way, nicking a point could represent a sizable coup, not to mention a huge morale-booster.

20 February 2014

An irrational rage at Robben-esque theatrics...

First things first, Szczesny fouled Robben, clear and simple. Second, the rule in this situation is clear. Sort of. Szcz's foul denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity; thus, the red card came out. I'm not going to get into whether or not Robben would have actually recovered the ball (doubtful) or Sagna would have gotten to it first (likely), nor am I here to complain that the rule itself change. No, instead, I'm here to explain my own personal and, yes, irrational rage when it comes to the histrionics that Robben and others so often resort to to draw attention to their finely tuned if warped senses of justice. It all stems from my own brief experience as a footballer here in the United States.

Arsenal 0-2 Bayern: Player Ratings

Despite the scoreline, I'm encouraged, even emboldened by the result. Take away one of our players (because of a rule that I am not alone in thinking should be changed; even Manuel Neuer said Szcz's red was too harsh), and we still held firm, showing grit and determination in the face of one of Europe's most prolific sides. It's a shame we couldn't see what we could do at full-strength for a full 90'. As it stands, we acquitted ourselves quite well and very nearly went ahead on a number of occasions before the sending-off. In the end, though, we're right where we left off a year ago—down by two away-goals. The feeling, as described in my post-match reaction, is leagues away from how I felt last year. Without further ado, then, let's look at how the lads fared. Ratings and stats are courtesy of whoscored.com

19 February 2014

Arsenal 0-2 Bayern: Two goals. Really? Is that all?

After nearly going blind reading of how magnificent Bayern are and how they've steamrolled their way to 46 consecutive wins in the Bundesliga, and after doing my best to ignore headline after headline that bleated something about the first leg from last year, I had all but backed myself into a corner, fearing yet another hiding at the feet of these beastly Bavarians. For as much as I had tried to convince myself otherwise, the small but insistent voices kept whining away at me. Turns out it was my kids asking me to stop with all the reading and the typing. Having put them to bed, I could then hear the voice inside my own head warning me of how catastrophic the match would turn out to be when, for the second time in little more than ten days, we'd be utterly humiliated and exposed as the frauds we are.

Forget scoring. Flamini is key to keeping a clean sheet.

For as much emphasis as there's been on Mesut Özil facing off against his counterparts in the German national team, it's overshadowed a little bit the importance of the other off-season acquisition and his contributions to our form this season. Don't get be wrong; it would be fantastic to see Özil eviscerating the Bayern defense with pass after incisive pass, leading to goal after goal. However, it's far more likely that the outcome will depend more on our ability to withstand Bayern's impressive attack, which has generated 57 goals in 21 matches, averaging nearly three per game. Mathieu Flamini, therefore, along with a back-five that should include Szczesny, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Sagna, may play a larger role than anyone in a more-attacking role.

18 February 2014

The underdog role fits me like a bespoke Guardiola suit...

Even moreso than last year at this time, I feel about as light and breezy as could be going into this first leg with Bayern. A year ago to the day saw our demolition at the Bavarians' hands in what felt like a death-knell on the season, on any chance of silverware, even on Arsène's time with the club. Coming as it did on the heels of an even more-shocking 0-1 loss to Blackburn in the FA Cup fifth round (a ghost of sorts we've exorcised with the 2-1 win over Liverpool), it truly felt as if it was all over. This time through, we're much improved, of course, and we look to continue competing in the FA Cup and in the Prem—but not in the Champions League. So indomitable is Bayern that no club can stand in their way. Even with the form we've been in, we're no match for Bayern, as most of the predictions call for them to hand down another thrashing. I can live with that.

17 February 2014

Bayern Preview: Thanks, Liverpool, for keeping us on our toes

Give credit where credit is due. Liverpool shook us a bit with the Anfield Anomaly™ and very nearly did it again at the Emirates. In the process, we realized that whatever form we've been in only explains the form we were in, which is not the same as the form we need to be in. It's as if we took our foot off the pedal a bit, relaxing after having escaped the December gauntlet, coasting through January, only to crash up against the February fixtures. The loss at Anfield, the tepid draw with Man U, and even the tenuous win over Liverpool, each of these came with warning-signs and asterisks aplenty to remind us that we have to play our best football each time out rather than letting ten months of other results play the match for us. With Bayern coming to town, we might thank Liverpool for the wake-up call.

Arsène dubs Mourinho "silly, disrespectul" and is "disappointed for Chelsea..."

The war of words between Mourinho and Arsène took a new turn yesterday after Arsène spoke out again yesterday to explain how he felt that the little spat was a bit embarrassing to both he and Mourinho—but mostly to Mourinho:
I do not want to go into those silly, disrespectful remarks. I never spoke about him in my press conference, and I will not start now. The only thing I know is it is more embarrassing for Chelsea than for me. I am embarrassed for him. Honestly. I am more disappointed for Chelsea than for me. I am not interested in the subject at all. If you are interested, and you have nothing better to do in your life, you are free to do it. I love football. What is interesting for me is what happens on the pitch.
Now, whether Arsène actually spoke about Mourinho or only alluded to him is beside the point.

Sanogo impresses against Liverpool...

When Yaya Sanogo's name appeared in the starting XI, I gnashed my teeth. Sure, I've been calling for Giroud to be rested, but I wasn't ready for it to happen against Liverpool. Not in the FA Cup. Not in a competition perhaps most likely to see us hoist a trophy for the first time in nearly a decade. Along with Monreal, Jenkinson, and Fabianksi, Sanogo looked to be part of an XI that was set to concede to an in-form opponent without putting of much resistance. To see Sanogo (and the others) play so well was revelatory—not in some season's savior sense, more a realization that Arsène may have yet worked his magic again in finding an obscure player, full of potential and ready to grow and contribute.

16 February 2014

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool: Player Ratings

It wasn't always pretty, and there were long stretches during which it looked like Liverpool were the better team, but the scoreline suggests that we can tough it out even when we're not at our best. Just as importantly, we saw that there is a bit more depth in the squad than we sometimes think, at least enough to see us through to the FA Cup quarterfinal, which we'll host during the second weekend in March, the 8th or the 9th. Of course, we only have a short window of time to enjoy the fruits of our labor, what with Bayern to face on Wednesday. It's with that in mind that we can enjoy some performances from a few back-benchers that were strong enough to rest a few regulars. Stats and ratings come courtesy of whoscored.com.

Arsenal Reserves 2-1 'pool: Rodgers, cram it with walnuts

Trotting out an starting XI that included Yaya Sanogo, Carl Jenkinson, Lukas Fabianski, and Nacho Monreal looked to be a bit of a capitulation from Arsène, as if he was conceding the FA Cup in order to stay fresh for Wednesday's Champions League first-leg with Bayern. If the inclusion of those four didn't look enough like a white flag, we had to fret over the defensive-midfield pairing of Arteta and Flamini, which might have something to offer defensively but has frequently seen us go begging offensively. However, despite an opening ten minutes almost as shaky as the Annihilation Aberration at Anfield, the lads went ahead through some spirited attack-play from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanogo, with Ox going straight at Liverpool's defense on the dribble and Sanogo muscling his way around the box to create chances. It was enough to put us up 2-0 shortly after halftime, but not enough to prevent some post-match whingeing.