03 May 2014

Fourth place is in-hand. Send in the clowns!

Well, we've already qualified for the Champions League. Everton lost to title-chasing Man City on Saturday, rendering our match with West Brom all but moot. We don't have anything left to play for, at least as far as the Prem is concerned. There is still the tiniest glimmer of hope that we could overtake Chelsea, but this would require them losing to both Norwich and Cardiff. Even I, for as optimistic as I so often am, don't see that happening. So it goes. Nothing to do then, but to rest the regulars and send out whoever else is available. Viviano. Jenkinson. Sanogo. And so on.

02 May 2014

Does Arsenal dare to hope for an Everton win?

With fourth place hanging in the balance, Everton host title-chasing Manchester City on Saturday while Arsenal wait until Sunday to host relegation-resisting West Brom. At first glance, the desired outcome is all but self-evident: if Everton lose, then Arsenal claim fourth place. It won't matter what we do on Sunday. However, perhaps it's not quite that easy. Might we want Everton to win? Yes, it would keep the chase for third place open, at least until we face West Brom. On the other hand, it would also keep alive whatever slender hopes we might have of climbing to third.

01 May 2014

Sagna, a Bosman, and the Etihad

There are only a handful of matches to be played, and so the silly-season sources are chomping at the bit to complete their fill-in-the-blank headlines and articles, linking any player with a move to any club, regardless of performance, financials, contract status, or most anything else resembling reality. Still, anything can happen, and once you mention "Bosman," well, ears are bound to perk up. And so it begins with Bacary Sagna. At 31, he's getting long in tooth and braids, and he does seem to be shopping around for could very well be his last contract and shot at silverware. His entire time at Arsenal has been overshadowed by the trophy-drought, and the siren's song must surely be swelling to a crescendo.

Arsène loses out to Mourinho yet again.

Let's get one thing clear. I despise Mourinho. Loathe him. Whether it's the short-term, filthy lucre approach, the overweening, self-indulgent insecurity and pomposity, the petulance, or worse, I just can't stand the man. He's fantastic at motivating his squads (or trashing them, depending on whom you ask). He does have some tactical nous (although any manager whose tactics consist so largely of "buy a bunch of really good players" isn't really managing so much as amassing). I hate that he called Arsène a "specialist in failure." I love the idea that Real Madrid might win the Champions League without him at the helm. Even more, I love the idea that Chelsea won't be there to face them. Having been outclassed at Stamford Bridge, he's close to out-specializing Arsène in the failure-department.

30 April 2014

With Real Madrid through to the UCL final, is Bale > Özil?

Wow. That was a stunner. Defending a one-goal lead from the first leg, Real Madrid erupted for three goals before halftime on their way to a 0-4 win, devastating Bayern 0-5 on aggregate, thus closing the curtain in dramatic fashion on what was once a season for the ages. Long-gone, of course, is Bayern's assault on an invincible season; gone now as well is their attempt at repeating as winners of the Champions League. The question now becomes, are Real Madrid better with Gareth Bale instead of Mesut Özil? With Real Madrid through to their first Champions League final since 2002, it seems a fair question. Bale, after all, has managed the transition with aplomb, while Özil has sputtered, seeing his stats and stature fall short of expectations.

29 April 2014

Who knew that Woj had such exquisite, milky-white hands?

Amid all of the brouhaha around a 19th consecutive St. Totteringham's Day, we very nearly overlooked another very real trophy on offer, this one available to a player in the squad rather than to the squad itself, although it is a tribute to said squad. I speak of course of one Wojciech Szczesny and the chance he has at winning the Prem's Golden Glove award, given out each year to the goalie who has kept the most clean-sheets on the season. After Monday's clean-sheet, Szczesny now has 15 clean sheets. With two matches to play, he'd need two clean sheets to surpass the current leader and two-time winner, Petr Cech and his 16 clean-sheets. Along the way, though, he has to outpace Tim Howard, who has kept 15 clean sheets of his own.

28 April 2014

So that's what Arsenal looks like at full-strength...

...and it wasn't even full-strength. Still no Walcott or Wilshere, still no Diaby, Gnabry, Gibbs, or Vermaelen. Without quite claiming that we're back to full strength and admitting that Newcastle were perhaps even further from it than we are, it's telling just how much better we played and can play when we have options. With Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil back in the fold, we looked like a different team—more creative, more decisive, more dynamic—and the scoreline might actually do us a disservice on the day. Newcastle were overrun, plain and simple, but that takes nothing away from our performance, which was about as good as it's been since, well, since before we lost Ramsey... Özil... Walcott.... Wilshere.....

Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle: Watch the highlights...

So that's what we're capable of all full-strength. Well, close to full strength at least. Goals from Koscielny, Özil, and Giroud capped off a fine performance that brings us to a late St. Totteringham's Day and a step closer to clinching fourth place, which now hangs tantalizingly within our reach.  Also along the way, Szczesny tallied yet another clean sheet, drawing him level with Tim Howard and just one behind Petr Cech, on the verge of earning the Prem's Golden Glove. It was splendid performance all-around. Don't believe me, though; check the highights below.

Arsenal vs Newcastle United 3-0 All Goals... by Leaguehighlight

Between us and the FA Cup stands Newcastle...

As we prepare for today's clash, it's tempting to revisit some of the more-recent and significant encounters, but without slighting Newcastle too much, we have bigger fish to fry. With Everton having lost twice from three matches and still to face Man City, it's getting to a point now that we can start to turn more attention to the FA Cup. What, then, would best whet our whistles? Would it be last year's 0-1 win, which, thanks to Koscielny's goal, not only defeated Newcastle, but also safeguarded fourth place and St. Totteringham's Day? What about last season's manic 7-3 win? No, neither of these does the job—not for me, at least. Not with the FA Cup beckoning from mere weeks into the future.

27 April 2014

Newcastle's fading fast. Let's put this 'em to bed.

The weekend's been a bit of a mixed bag, but one can't get too greedy now, can we? Tottenham won, meaning we can earn St. Totteringham's Day instead of them gifting it to us. That's downright decent of them, I must say. Chelsea also won though, meaning that whatever slim chance we had of finishing above of them have all but disappeared. There is now a very real and very tight three-way race for first, which is sure to motivate all three of them, that's good news for us. Speaking of good news, Everton lost for the second time in three matches, and we now have a good deal of breathing room going into Monday's match. Whereas we once hoped that Everton would drop a point or two, they've now dropped six, and this is before they face Man City, who have to be chomping at the bit to get level with Liverpool, which is precisely where they'll be if they defeat Everton. We live in interesting times.

Everton gift-wrap fourth for us, let's not lose the gift-receipt.

Who'd have thunk it? Nearly three weeks ago, the post-mortems were all but written. Beaten thoroughly and embarrassingly at Everton, our fourth-place 'trophy' was gone, as much for the points at stake as for the manner of the mauling. Everton's demolition of us was almost as thorough, but even more-damaging in many ways, than more-severe losses to Man City, Chelsea, or Liverpool. What the Everton loss lacked for scoreline it more than made up for in symbolism. We looked jaded, haggard, out-played, out-Arsenaled as the Toffees attacked with verve and style, leaving us to look like yesterday's news and Everton the flavor the month. My, my, how times have changed.