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.