15 March 2014

Oh, Emmanuel, you silly, silly man, you.

And so it begins. I'm surprised, actually, that we've had to wait this long. Maybe the Scum needed a little time to recover after losing to Benfica. At home. In the Europa League. Maybe they had to draw straws, which takes considerable time and effort to arrange. First, you have to find straws. Then, there's the nicking of them. After all, when you've spent all of your money on a bunch of players, you have to find ways to save, and every little bit counts. So Manny slips into the McDonald's or whatever, ready to grab a fistful and make a break for it only to find that they have one of those contraptions where you have to press down that little lever that doubles as a tray, and he's manically pressing the lever and grabbing one straw at time, only it jams because of all of that manic lever-pressing, and he drops a straw (should he pick it up or is it faster to just grab the next one that comes out?) and now the barista or whoever is looking at him funny because, heck, they're just straws, so "calm down, mate" he says and Manny looks around and try to look nonchalant only it's too late because there are straws strewn across the floor and he's holding a fistful of straws for no apparent reason. On top of that, when he gets back to White Hart Lane, he draws the shortest one even though he swore that he made it look like the tallest one to dupe that dope Soldado. So now, it's up to Manny to say something stupid ahead of the NLD even after he's the one who risked his neck to nick a few straws in the first place.

14 March 2014

Sing a song of Koscielny

The issue's been marinating in my mind ever since Kos first joked that he wants his own song, telling the official Arsenal magazine, "I don't know" why there's still no song for the man, nearly four years after he joined the club. By contrast, fellow Frenchman Olivier Giroud has already picked up his own song based around the Beatles' "Hey Jude", and fellow centre-back Per Mertesacker has earned his "Big Friendly German" chant just months after joining the club. Kos went on to explain his dismay, saying, "maybe I need to have Olivier's nose or his haircut, or maybe they don't like me" (far from true, Laurent; far from true). "Before I retire, I am hoping to have my own song." Well, just days later, he earned the tribute, at least 'round these parts,when he went on to arrange a donation of some £495m to save an accordion factory in his hometown of Tulle. Apparently, the factory was struggling to compete with cheaper accordions from eastern Europe. I pondered. Accordions...eastern Europe ...Kos...chants...then, it hit me. Purple.

Timmy Sherwood's master-plan for ambushing Arsenal...

     STAMFORD BRIDGE, 8 MARCH 2014: The pre-game locker room was tense. Ahead of the brave but battered lot lay a crucial clash with league leaders Chelsea. Above and around them, the home crowd stomped and cheered, and Tim could tell that nerves were already fraying. A win would secure a vital three points on Man City, and even more vitally, Arsenal as each were playing in something known as the "FA Cup Fifth Round." Tim had asked around White Hart Lane what the event was, but no one associated with the club seemed to have a clear idea. It didn't matter, as Tim had more pressing issues on his mind: how to settle his squad for the upcoming match.
     "Think, Tim; think. Let's see...what do managers do in this situation?" Tim snapped his fingers as his eyes lit up and he leapt from his chair. "Boys! Boys? Hey, um, guys? Could you listen?"

Epic matches in the North London Derby

In the run-up to Sunday's North London Derby, I introduce to you Kevin Tarrant, who provides us a fascinating run-down of some of the more epic matches in the history of our long-running feud with Tottenham over, among other issues, what color London is (still red, I believe). Take it away, Kevin...

This time last year fans were calling for the head of Arsene Wenger. They had sold their best player to Man United when Robin Van Persie left in the summer and some lacklustre performances had left them outside the top four with people not giving them a chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Meanwhile everything seemed so rosy for their North London neighbours. Manager Andre-Villas Boas looked like he was building a team that was genuinely capable of challenging for honours, and in Gareth Bale they had a player who was terrorising defences.

12 March 2014

Bayern 1-1 Arsenal: Player Ratings

We've bowed out once again but remain one of two teams to have made it to this stage of the Champions League, keeping alive a streak of 16 consecutive appearances, a massive achievement in and of itself that loses little luster when set against our failure to overcome flim-flammery on the scale practiced by Pep Guardiola's men. Still, having gone up against one of the best rosters money can buy, and despite going in without a few key men of our own, we lost the battle but won the war. Bayern has to be counting their blessings (and Academy Awards) after escaping with the red-card enabled 3-1 aggregate. Tuesday's 1-1 draw may not provide the same degree of inspiration that last year's 0-2 win did, but it does remind us that, when we're geared up, we can play football with the best of the best. Now, to carry that into the final run-in... For now, here's a quick rundown of how our players fared (stats and ratings courtesy of whoscored.com)

11 March 2014

Arsenal exposes Bayern as a pack of flat-track bullies.

Yes, Arsenal failed to match last year's nearly-historic second-leg victory and have been ousted from the Champions League. The 1-1 draw means that, once again, we've been ousted. Were it not for a red-card and the diving histrionics of Arjen Robben, among others, we might have done a bit better for ourselves. I know it's going to sound like sour grapes because, after all, we did lose. However, it's the nature of how we lost that irks. I don't mind having my arse handed to me by a superior squad. In quite a few ways, Bayern are superior to Arsenal. Make no mistake about that. They have assembled one of the best squads money can buy. However, they just can't seem to play the damned game. How many times did a Bayern player go to ground as if shot by a sniper? I could see this coming from an outclassed squad looking desperately for kind of edge, some way, any way, to level the playing field against a superior squad. On paper, Bayern are not that squad, not with players like Götze, Robben, Neuer, Müller, Ribéry, Kroos, Martinez, Alaba, Lahm, Alcantara, and Boateng. Each of these players would command a transfer-fee of £35m or more. Well, maybe not Robben. Why the hell, then, do so many of them resort to diving? Do they not have enough talent, skill, and experience to simply outplay their opponents? When it comes to Arsenal, the answer seems to be a resounding "no."

Mesut Özil out for "a few weeks" with a hamstring injury.

Well, dammit. To add insult to injury, perhaps literally, Mesut Özil will be out with a serious hamstring problem. He was subbed off at halftime and never looked like he was quite in the game. According to Arsène, "the German specialist [Bayern's club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt] told me it was quite bad...he'll be out for a least a few weeks. There's a scan tomorrow." Add it to the list of injuries to key players—a season-long epidemic that has stripped us of players like Ramsey, Walcott, Ox, Podolski, Wilshere, and now Özil for extended periods. Add in other injuries such as those to Diaby, Sanogo, Källström, Bendtner, Gibbs, and Monreal, plus any number of short-term injuries that have deprived us of any number of other players all season, and it's a wonder that we're still in as strong a shape as we are. Yes, we've been dumped from the Champions League, ironically by a squad that feigns injuries almost as often as we've suffered real ones, but we're still clinging to hope in the Prem and very much alive in the FA Cup. Still, the injury to Özil comes as a harsh blow as the midfield, once an area of depth and font of skill, is looking more and more thread-bare.

Arsène: "Robben did well; he dived well again tonight."

Speaking after the match, Arsène was as glib and as flippant as ever when he spoke of how Bayern escaped with a 3-1 aggregate victory to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals. It wasn't down to tactics or quality or match-ups or anything else. No, according to Arsène, "we have shown as well that we have the quality, I think to knock them out. and I thought that with two games, that aspect of playing with ten men was massive." He refused to blame the official; after all, the red-card against Szczesny was, according to the rules, the only call the referee could really make. Instead, Arsène directed his thoughts to Arjen Robben, whose diving histrionics in that first leg "made a lot of" the contact between him and Szczesny, and he made a lot more of a lot less at Allianz Arena.

Tommy V: left out and now, left back...

So we go into the Allianz Arena today hoping to again defy history—successfully, this time—by overcoming a two-goal deficit in the Champions League. The task looks well-nigh impossible, like a baby counting all of the grains of sand in the world in a second. Who are we to try to defeat Bayern? If their history is any indication, we'd better be careful about trying too hard. God forbid, we actually succeed, or Bayern will simply buy up whoever it is who plays well against them. They've done it before.  More seriously, though, we a few doubts along the back-line, one of them not too troublesome; the other, a bit of a quandary. For the first, of course, Szczesny was sent off in the first leg for being in the same time-zone as Robben. However, Fabianski was in goal for the second leg last year and did about as well as a keeper can. Clean sheet. The more-serious issue though is the left-back situation, where both Gibbs and Monreal are too gimpy to play. Without them, we face a dilemma that is apparenty only solvable by playing someone out of position, but whom?

10 March 2014

Apparently, we play on Tuesday. Go figure.

Such is my attitude towards the Champions League second-leg that I could't really be bothered to look up the date of the match. I assumed, rather casually, that it would be on a Wednesday. Imagine my surprise and chagrin when I learned, thanks to the ingenious invention of Daylight Savings Time, that the match, is in fact, Tuesday. See, on Sunday, when we changed our clocks forward a full hour, I had to do a lot of calculated research. Does London use DST, for example? Apparently, it does. What about Munich? It does? Will wonders never cease. I thought it was a uniquely American practice, like using inches for height, or using 'football' to refer to a sport where one rarely uses feet to advance the ball. At any rate, having overcome my initial surprise, I then had to set about with the algebra. It started off as one of those word problems I struggled so much with as a lad.

So Bayern has matched the Invincibles' streak. Yawn.

With their laughably easy romp over Wolfsburg, a 1-6 thrashing that saw Bayern score five goals in 17 minutes, Bayern has matched the Invincibles' run of 49 league matches without a loss. They haven't yet gone an entire season undefeated yet, but matching the Invincibles' overall run looks to be a mere prelude to the formality of running the Bundesliga table. In fact, the only opponent that looks to seriously threaten Bayern's march is boredom, ennui, jaded satiety. Okay, so that's three, but they're more like teammates in the same squad. Going undefeated in any league is noteworthy, but you'll have to excuse me if I'm not quite impressed with Bayern's accomplishment-to-be. In fact, I'm offended that they're being mentioned in the same breath as those Invincibles.

09 March 2014

Be careful what you ask for, FA Cup edition: The Latics

The season has thrown at Arsenal a conspiratorial list of draws that seemed designed to sabotage any chance we'd have of making progress in any competition there could be—whether it was the Prem season with its gauntlets of December, February, and March; or the Champions League, throwing us into the Group of Death and then up against Bayern; the league cup pitting us against Chelsea in the 4th round; or the FA Cup, in which we've already had to face Tottenham, Liverpool, and Everton (okay, and Coventry. Fine.) Add to that on Sunday the fact that we would have to face the winner of the Wigan-Man City match, and you've got all the proof you'd need that the universe itself is aligned against Arsenal. Well, someone forget to tell that to Wigan.