22 March 2014

In Shambles at Stamford: Player Ratings

Wow. The sooner we put this one behind us, the better. Talk about a shambolic performance. I don't think I can find any silver-lining in this one. Set aside the optimistic symbolism going in, all the lofty rhetoric of milestones and legacies and so on, for this match will go down in the annals for all the wrong reasons. To Arsène's critics, it exposes him and us for what we are and have been for far too long—him as a penurious dilettante with no tactical nous, the squad as a paper-tiger, just as thin and lacking bite. To Arsène's supporters, it reinforces the myopia that we've again fallen short in a noble, valiant effort against nefarious forces that threaten to sully the very game itself. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but there's little time to sort that before we re-enter the fray against Swansea on Tuesday. Hopefully, by then, most of the overturned furniture (figurative in the squad's case, perhaps literal in fans' cases) will have been righted. For now, a bit of a rude reckoning awaits below the fold (stats and ratings courtesy of whoscored.com).

After a drubbing like that, who deserves a hiding the most?

Well, I don't think any of us anticipated a loss like this one. Six goals? Six? After the first two, I thought, "we're still in this." Once Ox—er, Gibbs—got sent off, I thought, maybe Szcz will make the save to keep us in it. It didn't come to pass. At 3-0, I hoped for some face-saving rallies, but it wasn't in the cards. When the wheels come off like this, who takes the blame? Who should be taken out behind the woodshed and given a proper hiding? At the risk of sounding intemperate, I say everyone. Every one. Wenger. The players. Mourinho. Marriner. Even us.

21 March 2014

Gibbs: We owe our careers to Arsène

The love-in around Arsène's 1,000th game as Arsenal manager continues, with Kieran Gibbs now extolling the manager's virtues. Speaking to Arsenal Player, Gibbs was effusive in his praise of the man who had brought him to Arsenal from Wimbledon in 2004. As a result, GIbbs has now become one of England's best left-backs, soon to overtake Ashley Cole while vying with Leighton Baines for the honor of representing the Three Lions. Along the way, he has probably already long since supplanted Cole in Gooners' hearts with his talent, his drive, and his dedication. While he may have developed along similar lines had he gone to some other club, he leaves little doubt in our minds as to who deserves credit for the pace of extent of his development to this point: Arsène.

Please, UEFA, pit Man U against Chelsea, won't you?

I know the Gunners have a match coming up, but with the UEFA quarterfinal draw happening on Friday, I hope you won't hold it against me if I hope that Chelsea get the best possible draw for the next round of their Champions League foray. The draw is now open, which means that rivals from the same league can now face each other. After a season in which we at Arsenal have seen a number of draws pit us against some of the toughest opponents available—our own Champions League Group of Death, Chelsea in the league cup's 4th round, Bayern again, then Spuds, Liverpool, and Everton in the FA Cup—wouldn't it be nice to see a draw help us out, even if we're not directly involved? I speak, of course, of my hope that Chelsea draw the kind of opponent that will allow them to advance ever-deeper in the Champions League. Ladies and gents, I present to you Manchester United.

20 March 2014

Mesut ♥'s Arsenal

Well, if his facebook page has anything to say about it, that is. Laying to rest weeks, if not months, of anxious speculation—does Mesut like it here? Is the media frenzy getting to him? Is he overrated? Will he want to leave if Arsenal don't win something?—Mr. Özil has provided reassurances via a post at his facebook page. While this may not carry the weight of a legally binding contract, it does go a long way towards suggesting that the midfielder is in fact enjoying life at Arsenal some 200 days into his stay here. I wouldn't suggest that the club must win silverware to encourage the man to stay, but it wouldn't hurt any—which is not to say that we should be falling over ourselves to please Özil. It is to say, however, that we should go so far out of our ways to deride the man.

Who's the next Gerrard—Ramsey or Ox?

First things first, I have to start off by saying that I'm not a big fan of the "he's the next _______" routine. On the other hand, I don't quite like the equally trite "he's not the next _______; he's himself" retort. However, when others in the know start offering comparisons, it's hard not to get drawn in to t and to consider the possibilities. It was back in January that Arsène compared the Ox favorably to Steven Gerrard, and we've since seen Ox play through the middle on a few occasions to good effect, whether it was scoring a brace against Crystal Palace or slicing deep into Bayern's defense time and again. Now, we have Ray Parlour, no slouch of a middie himself, comparing Aaron Ramsey to Gerrard. We surely can't have two Gerrards, can we?

19 March 2014

Barcelona 4-2 Arsenal: Don't let the scoreline fool you...

The U19s crashed out of the UEFA Youth League after a 4-2 loss to Barcelona, but the scoreline flatters the hosts a bit as Arsenal were down to ten men for much of the second half after keeper Deyan Iliev was sent off. However, the boys fought admirably, and it was only in the final minutes that Barcelona were able to take advantage, scoring twice in the game's final minutes to secure passage through to the semifinals.

However, despite the setback, there were positives aplenty as we look to the youth of today and size up their prospects as players for tomorrow. For as much as progress in the cup might have been nice, the spirit and skill on display offered exciting glimpses of what's to come.

Per and Olivier, polar opposites on and off the pitch.

They play at opposite ends of the pitch, obviously, but it would be hard to find two players further apart in fan's hearts. At one end, the Big Friendly German—I think that's what BFG stands for—seems to inspire unanimous praise, even adulation for his performance and his passion. At the other, the Handsome Feckless Frenchman, if that can stand in as a nickname, seems to inspire little more than eye-rolls if a not a volley of curse-words too voluminous and vile to list out here.  The first man seems to succeed, even thrive, despite his limitations; the second seems defined if not cursed by his own.

18 March 2014

A win to make George Graham proud...

Although it won't win us many points for style—Spuds dominated possession, we were sloppy with our passing, and we may indeed be lucky to have taken all three points—Sunday's 0-1 win over them hearkens back to the halcyon days under George Graham, a manager whose style might be as directly opposite to Arsène's as there could be. Whereas Arsène has been derided for not knowing how to set up a defense properly (and, in part, riding to glory on the stout defense he inherited when he took over), Graham presided over the "boring, boring Arsenal" squads that inspired the "one-nil to the Arsenal" chants, based on our confidence that we would defend a one-goal lead without trouble. To see us go in to White Hart Lane, score 70 seconds in, and then defend that lead for more than 95 minutes was a thing of beauty, albeit of a kind many of us may not have forgotten how to enjoy.

16 March 2014

Spuds 0-1 Arsenal: Grading the Gunners

On the whole, it wasn't necessarily the prettiest match to watch as Arsenal looked content to defend an early lead, earned through Tomáš Rosický's stunning second-minute goal. The rest of the match saw the Spuds try in vain to unlock the Arsenal defense, but they have little to show for their efforts as Arsenal came away with their first Prem victory at White Hart Lane since 2007. We now sit in second place,nine points above the Spuds (who do have a game in hand) and are level with Liverpool at 62. Chelsea's loss to Aston Villa means we are now four points behind them (they too have a game in hand, though). Alas, the poor Spuds now have to worry more about staying in the top five as Everton, with two games in hand, are only two points behind them. Try to look sincere as you shake head slowly and sadly at the idea that the Europa League may have to soldier on bravely without any Spuds next season. As for us, let's have a quick look at how the lads did (stats and ratings courtesy of whoscored.com)...

Three NLDs, three clean sheets. So why the complaining?

No, it wasn't pretty. Yes, aside from Rosický's wonder-strike, we played poorly—by some standards, you might even say we were outplayed by the Spuds: 59% possession, 17 shots taken to our seven, better organization, whatever. I enjoy an attractive, well-played match as well as anyone (which is no small part of following Arsenal, who, for the better part of the last 20 years, have offered some pretty damned attractive footballing), but there will be times when the result will matter more than the method. Pretty much every time, come to think of it. There are no points awarded for style, after all. The only stat that matters is the scoreline. By that count, we again bested Spuds, and we did so at White Hart Lane for the first time since 2007 (in the Prem, that is). For as brilliant as another 5-2 might have been, three points are still three points, good enough to keep us a point off Chelsea's pace and level with Liverpool.

Still, the complainers can't quite content themselves with a positive result. Pity.