Hitting the Bar — Shelter from the Storms

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm” – Bob Dylan

What a week, eh?  (No, I am not Canadian.)  First the storm in Manchester, then the storm of transfer window activity, with some wondrous additions coming in to Arsenal.  Lastly the thousand-year storm of utter crap and negativity about Arsenal, Arsene, and the entire enterprise.  Just incredible.  There’s numbers for everything except that last.  And if its not as good as what Bob found, well, it ain’t bad…

The Hundred Year Storm in Manchester

You know the idea of the hundred year storm? Well, this is Arsenal’s hundred-year defeat, and while that doesn’t make it any easier to take, it should help bring needed perspective.  Some times, everything goes wrong at once

Was it a surprise that Arsenal lost at Old Trafford?  Don’t see how.  Even at full strength, and ignoring Howard Webb’s presence, it was most unlikely.  What if Arsene chose to park the bus?  Do you think that’s something they practice a lot?  Down in the reserves, maybe?  And anyway, given the player absences, all Arsene would have been able to park was a large cardboard packing crate on roller skates that had been left out in the rain.

So if the defeat should not have been a surprise, maybe it was the size of the defeat that shook you, because I’m willing to bet that if the result had been 3-1, 3-2, even 4-2 with a missed PK, most fans would not feel so violated.  Well, don’t, because I’m here to tell you that more than anything else, the size of the defeat was down to two reasons:  United were unusually superb and they piled it on.  Consider some numbers:

12.6%    – percentage of shots United scored with last year, tops in the league

33.3%    – percentage of shots they scored with on Sunday

19.0%    – percentage of shots Leo Messi scored with last season

21.7%     — percentage of shots Thierry Henry scored with in 2004-5

36.8%    – percentage of United shots on goal that went in last season (also tops)

57.5%     – percentage of United shots on goal that went in on Sunday

36.4%    – percentage of Messi’s shots on goal that went in last season

5.5           — United’s average shots on goal per game last season

14             – United’s shots on goal on Sunday.

315          –  matches Ashley Young has played as a professional (since 2003)

3               – times before Sunday that Ashley Young has scored twice in a match

Is that Young stat a “hundred game” rarity?  Obviously, there are lots of stats like this.  It was an amazing performance by United.  I know our defense could have been much better, and this is not a matter of ignoring that, just acknowledging what Arsenal faced.  I didn’t research it, but can anyone really think that Wayne Rooney has netted two such fine free kicks in one game before?  Not me.

For comparison, Arsenal netted 11% of their shots last season, second highest in the league, and 14.3% of their shots on Sunday.  They put 25% of their shots on goal in on Sunday, compared with last year’s average of 30.5%.  (That was tenth in the league, yet Arsenal made up for it by putting 11% more shots on goal than United last season.)

The match breaks down this way.  Through 62 minutes, it was 3-1, and should have been 3-2 but for RVP’s horrible penalty.  Coquelin’s removal weakened the middle, and United got three great goals in 14 minutes.  Then the red card, and that’s when United put up the numbers that resulted in their passing superiority.  Down to ten men, down 6-2, United poured it on, completing 127 or 132 passes and scoring two more goals.  It was a rout, and no doubt Wenger rues subbing off Coquelin.

When the entire United team performs at levels that Leo Messi can only dream of, do you not have to give them some credit?  On Sunday three things happened that can be checked off your “Things I’d like to see Before I die List” – Ashley Young nets two Beckham-like goals in one game, Rooney nets two free kicks with finesse, not force, and David De Gea saves a penalty.  It’s a one-off, folks.  Happens to everyone, and usually more frequently than once a century.

As for piling it on, that was class, wasn’t it?  Ferguson’s remark that they could have scored more should be all the proof you need.  United let up?  What a lark!  Is that why they were in the box when Theo gifted them a penalty?  Is that why Young took that long shot in extra time?  GMAFB.  The man who was knighted by The Arsenal Fan wanted to crush Arsenal, stamp them into the ground, make their supporters squeal in pain.  And he got what he wanted in the way the press and fan base responded.

Late Acquisitions Restore Some Hope

I’m thrilled at the new signings, and don’t think they’re as much a departure from past practice as people think.  Every season in recent memory Wenger has started the transfer window by bringing in a rising yet largely unacknowledged future star, usually from France – Sagna, Nasri, Koscielny, Vermaelen, and Chamakh.  All are internationals and the first three were made so by coming to Arsenal.  Then he signs some promising youngsters, sometimes for a lot of money, getting flak for each one.  There is the winnowing out of the youth corps to send those who will have no chance on their way, plus loans for others who
need more seasoning.  And near the end of the window, he picks up some opportunistic bargains like Gallas and Baptista or older players like Sylvstre and Squillaci to fill short-term gaps created by an injury or departure.

Normally, undesired departures have happened at the start of summer, like Henry, Viera, Flamini, and Hleb, and Arsenal had time to figure out how to replace them and stay within plan.  This year, that wasn’t the case, and we will likely never know all the reasons why it took so long, but to me they all are pronounced “Barcelonan toads.”

Looked at that way, the transfer window seems closer to normal, if far more numerous:  Gervinho in at the start, followed by young players like Campbell, Miyachi, and AOX.  The youth winnowing went as usual, accompanied by off-loading players who had made the squad, but for whom it was time to leave.  That was different.

Then, when all efforts to keep the midfield intact failed, Wenger went to the usual; end game, perhaps with a bit less time to do so than normal.  Dos Santos is both a defensive need and a fire sale buy from Turkey; Mertesaker is said by many pundits not to be as good as Cahill, although he has played 77 times for his country’s team, and they have done a bit better than England in international competitions, so not sure I buy that.  He is bigger than Samba, and can’t be less mobile.  The Korean is there for a number of reasons, but mostly, I think, because with the departures of Nasri, Bendtner and Eboue, to name three, Wenger has fewer people to play on the wing on offense, and also wants an alternative to Chamakh in the middle.  Benayoun is a classic late
career signing, though in midfield.  And Arteta is more, and the truly different acquisition.

Our New Field Commander

As long as Cesc was at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta was the player least needed by the club.  Then he became most needed, and we got him.  His game is mature.  He’s had to produce and command the offense in the offensive wasteland that is Everton. He knows the Premiere League.  It should be a great signing.  Everyone is talking about his frailty, which I don’t see.  Except for 2009-10, when he was injured, over the past six years he has started and played a similar amount of games as Cesc.  His numbers last year at Everton weren’t the best he has put up, but they were still better than Nasri’s, in a much worse and offensively limited team.

Last year, Everton were 11th in the league in goals scored, 6th in assists, 7th in shots on goal, 15th in percentage of shots on goal, 8th in percentage of goals created with an assist, and 9th in percentage of shots that were on goal.  Arsenal were second in all these categories, except the last, where they led the league. How can Arteta not be more in a squad that is far superior offensively to
his old team in every possible manner?

Watching those Refs

Well, even though his decisions did not affect the outcome, Howard Webb did make some game-changing decisions last Sunday.  I recall at least three: the PK given Arsenal, perhaps wrongly, the PK given United, and the red card to Jenkinson.  Any others?

Finally, A Word for the Press

On Sky Monday morning some See You Next Tuesday named McCarthy delightedly went over the Monday coverage of the debacle at Old Trafford. He noted that all the coverage focused on Arsenal, not United, and how right that was, quoting at length from such “wise heads” as Samuel and Williams, before mentioning, all the while shaking his head in wonderment, that a few, Paddy Barclay, to be one, found something positive to say. Then without pausing, he contrasted that with the coverage of Spurs-City, where the focus was on the excellence of City, not the woefulness of Spurs. How breathlessly approving and amused he was. And if you look at the weekend’s routs, who did the world’s media cover? City, Barca, Real, and Arsenal. Made me go back to the following…

A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices
Which, bawled by boys from mile to mile,
Spreads its curious opinion
To a million merciful and sneering men,
While families cuddle the joys of the fireside
When spurred by tale of dire lone agony.
A newspaper is a court
Where every one is kindly and unfairly tried
By a squalor of honest men.
A newspaper is a market
Where wisdom sells its freedom
And melons are crowned by the crowd.
A newspaper is a game
Where his error scores the player victory
While another’s skill wins death.
A newspaper is a symbol;
It is feckless life’s chronicle,
A collection of loud tales
Concentrating eternal stupidities,
That in remote ages lived unhaltered,
Roaming through a fenceless world.

Stephen Crane

28 thoughts on “Hitting the Bar — Shelter from the Storms

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1Frode

    Excellent as usual. I think it’s definitely true the result was flattering for United. It must be noted though that the game was very open, and then you expect more clear-cut chances and the difference of quality between the teams to be better reflected by the scoreline.

    Arteta is an interesting one. It should be noted the playing style of Everton is very different to ours, relying much more on scoring from headers. They also play very few through-balls overall, and hopefully Arteta can improve on his 0,2 per game for Everton. I seem to recall he actually was the most accurate crosser in the league last season. It will be very interesting to see how effectively he can use that strength for us. Other than that he is impressive in possession, and should help us win the midfield war. His passing percentage was 87, while in sharp contrast to Ramsey this season, he only got dispossessed 0,9 times per game and had 1 turnover per game.

  2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1joakal

    Great stuff Jeff. Very much agree that the united game was an anomaly and that too much is being read into it. I remember watching rooney’s second freekick go in and thinking… really? with everything else he is going to get 2 FK’s to go in, in a single game, when is he, or anyone, going to score 2 FK’s in a single game again? The pen against theo was very weak, webb got away with it because at that point it hardly mattered, but yes, I think webb essentially gave rooney the hat trick for fun. Finally, only Arsenal would go to old trafford with such a weakened team and “go for it”, only arsenal would keep “going for it” after giving up 4 goals, only one Arsenal.

  3. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Rick Jones

    Looking forward to this season bro – and your measured approach to our beautiful game. Lord – even my grand daughter has a season ticket now, whilst I, poor old fool, Lear-like in my lonely hut, flick from stream to stream as pixellated automatons kick a snowflake round the green. Oh for a wife who loved Arsenal as much as I.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +1torontogooner

    You pointed it out perfectly, I understand we got drilled and deservedly so with the team we put out there but anyone with any footballing knowledge had to have known what was about to happen once the team sheets were announced. And the tactic we played didn’t help either. I was at work when i checked in and saw the team sheet, i closed my computer and prayed that we don’t get beat by more than 5 goals and i received a call from my manc supporting brother in england to make sure i was aware we were being hammered 6-2. So if a pretty new football fan like myself can predict such an outcome, why are the press making it seem like united is the best thing since sliced bread? I’m personally more scared of city than i am of united. Don’t get me wrong, they’re champions for a reason and they’ve shown this year that they’re even better than last year but Manshitty on the other hand has arguably a world class player at almost every position (tevez, aguero, dzeko, silva, yaya, nasri) to name a few as well as very good players on the bench. And for the press criticizing that arsene didn’t buy a true replacement for cesc, how on the planet can slot in into our lineup and be a like for like replace for fabregas. Hazard, M’Villa, goetze are all players none of us have seen in person and they haven’t played a single PL game. I believe our superstar is wilshere and these transfers are the stop gap until he reaches his stardom. I also really believe frimpong will be a star for us. Anyways i’ve talked too much, it’s after 9pm on a friday night here so i’m gonna go out for drinks. Go Gunners!!!

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Good read, Jeff.

    Whenever I see those lyrics I think of Grendel’s mother welcoming her son in after another night at Heorot!

    I’m a nerd. I used to play D&D.

    There. I said it.

    I was a magic-user.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        @Tim, Dabble with any races? I was an Irda once. Oh Lord. Listen to me now. Must. Stop. Also, just Googled “irda dungeons dragons” and probably the most awesome forum question appeared (in community.wizards.com):

        “Can an Irda shapechange into a Large Minotaur?”


  6. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1ClockEndRider

    Excellent article Jeff. Good to see sense and rationality continuing to prevail on this fine site.

  7. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1gsco

    Great article. I really don’t understand the press’s obsession with tearing arsenal and Arsene to shreds all the time. Especially when you consider how good Wenger is to them in comparison to red-nose. But they collectively seem beside themselves to get stuck in. It’s happened twice in a week where they declared our doom, arsenal triumphed, and they come back with excuse making about how we really still did screw it up – I speak of Udinese and transfer deadline day. Oh well, I pretty much ignore them completely now. I watch the game with it turned down so I can still her the crowd but can easily tune out the cliche spouting haters covering the game.
    Over this stretch of years without a trophy, I feel strongly that Wenger has really had some hard luck. So many things have gone against us. On our way to win the league and Eduardo broken – the year after Henry left. Hleb and Flamini leaving. Ramsey losing a very important year of his development – where would he be now? Verm out for season. Cesc deciding to not pay us back for the development we provided him and not seeing through more of his huge contract with us. Nasri and adebayor – throw in Cole on this as an early one. Etc etc.
    All we can do is get behind the boys and hope they stuff a big pile of humble pie in the collective press face over the course of the season. Not all the buys are going to work out but perhaps 1 or 2 of them will really be awesome.

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    Jeff, you can never go wrong with Dylan. Great piece.

    RVP scores 4 against San Marino. What team hasn’t scored double digits against San Marino? I should get excited?

    Park scores a 3 against what was that team again?

    Watched Wales and except for the goal, Ramsey did very little. Most of the offense for Wales came from Bale on the right and Bellamy on th left.

    I thought Rosicky had a decent game considering the Czechs are beating the Barros horse to death. The Czechs just don’t have a lot of weapons to work with and could be going the way of Poland, Hungary. No new crop of players to carry on their great traditions.

    I also watched some of France’s win. Marvin Martin came on late and didn’t have a chance to show anything. Ribery was in impressive form though.

    I also watch some of Germany’s win. What is the point of playing Klose these days? They were playing Hummels in R CB spot instead of Mertesacker. I’m telling you that Goetze is going to be a superstar. 18 yo just comes on and scores a first time volley on his first run into the box.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1goonermos7

      @londongoon, Seriously, what is up with the Arsenal training/medical staff? Every injury seems to be longer term than first thought. Maybe the coaches are overtraining the players? Whatever it is, it should be investigated and reevaluated.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1londongoon

        i personally believe it hasnt been the same since gary left the club.maybe tim can work some magic and see if our injuries have risen since he left?

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    I had a feeling about a week or so ago that Jack would be out until November. This feels Vermaelenesque to me. It’s terrible news for Jack, but I’m not overly worried about our ability to cope. Arteta, Ramsey, Benayoun, Rosicky, Arshavin, and even Ju Young can play there. Or Van Persie just behind Ju Young? The Dutchman clearly prefers to play there.

    Probably we’ll line up like this in the middle:

    Song ————Ramsey

    Though I don’t see why we can’t play a 4-4-2 as well:

    Gervinho – Arteta – Song – Walcott

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1londongoon

      yeah,rvp behind ju.we only have him a couple of years.so would be a waste of time leaving him on the bench.also as you say,rvp does seem to prefer that postion.everybody happy.(well,maybe not theo)

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        @londongoon, I think Theo is ahead of Chamakh in the striker pecking order, so he’ll get chances this season, particularly when Van Persie gets his customary injury in an international friendly.

  10. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”
    -Born under a bad sign, Albert King.

    We still don’t know the nature of this injury but the possibility of surgery has now raised it’s ugly head.

    F**k it. Jack will be an early January ‘new signing’.

    Even more reason for Ramsey as I said above to step up his game.

    WTF are those critics of Wenger’s “panic buys’ Arteta and Benayoun?

    So I ‘m driving along in NJ this AM when I spied a guy with Barcelona on across his whole bumper and I had the momentary thought to rear end him. Ommmmmmm.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

      @ctpa, It’s amazing how much hate I have for Barca now. There’s the self-congratulatory management, the moaning players, and the idiots the world over who wear the shirt because they think it gives them sport-cred and an air of culture. Bunch. Of. Wankers.

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