Author Archives: Tim

About Tim

I'm the gaffer, I gaff things. I also make a lot of gaffs. Follow me on twitter @7amkickoff.

podolski

Arsenal’s controversial threesome lift the Gunners over the Hammers

Arsenal came back from a 1-0 deficit to beat West Ham 3-1 yesterday. It was a match which featured a Podolski brace, a Giroud wondergoal, the return of Aaron Ramsey and Arsenal climbing back into 4th place. And after the match, the fans went into hyperbole overdrive.

Aaron Ramsey limped off injured the last time these two teams met on Boxing Day and has been slowly working his way back to full fitness for three months. He played 112 minutes in the FA Cup win over Wigan and Wenger gave him a rest to start this game but when he did come on in the last 20 minutes Arsenal’s pace quickened, they controlled the midfield, and they created a number of good chances. In just a short 20 minute cameo, Ramsey created two shots for teammates, including a cushioned header assist for Podolski’s second goal, and took two shots himself. He also put in a tackle high up the pitch which resulted in a good chance missed and provided Arsenal’s front line with deadly service throughout. It says a lot about Ramsey that he can miss 3 months of football and still be in contention for our player of the season.

I say that knowing full well the dangers of post-match hyperbole. But Ramsey is simply a tireless worker who is constantly presenting himself for the pass, who demands the ball in pressure situations, who quickens the pace of Arsenal’s midfield, and whose vision for finding teammates and for getting himself into important positions upsets the opposition defenders. And when Arsenal lose the ball he works hard to get the ball back. It’s no coincidence that he leads Arsenal in a number of those stat categories, then, and that his reintroduction to this Arsenal team couldn’t have come at a better time.

Meanwhile, Lukas Podolski scored two goals yesterday and after the match slipped into the role of New Arshavin: the player everyone argues over whether he is being played out of position, whether he needs more playing time, whether he should bother defending, and whether he is not getting the respect he is due.

Podolski is actually a simple player to figure out. He is inconsistent away from home (scored in just 6 of 30 away appearances) and not terribly good against top clubs. He also requires excellent service to score but once he has that service he is deadly. He has a wicked cross on him and has hooked up with Giroud on numerous occasions to great effect. He’s not going to play defense and you almost don’t want him to because when he does it’s usually messy. He is almost certainly a better forward in a two striker system, but you can’t really play him as a number 10 because he’s not creative enough.

Fortunately, he is perfect for the final five game run in. First, Arsenal will be playing all little clubs for the remainder of the season. Second, Arsenal’s 4-3-3 is a fluid formation meaning that Podolski is basically playing as a second striker, albeit a wide striker. And third, while the defenders were yelling at Podolski to drop back against West Ham, Cazorla, Kallstrom, Arteta, and Vermaelen were all able to cover for him. So, Podolski’s good qualities should win out over the bad, I think, for these last 5 games.

Giroud also suffers from post match anti/pro hyperbole and he’s also not really much of a mystery. He’s a hard working player who, because Arsenal didn’t have a viable backup, has basically run himself into the ground — he had a combined 14 lost possessions yesterday (dispossessed, turnovers, offsides) which is high even for him. Even when fully fit he has a tendency to miss gilt edged chances and his record over the last two seasons as the player who has missed more of them than any other proves that. But if he just plays instinctively, he’s able to pull off moments of football so beautiful that you wonder if he’s even the same person! Yesterday was a perfect example of Giroud: playing little chips in to teammates, being harassed off the ball, missing a shot one-v-one with the keeper, and scoring a goal from a long pass which he plucked softly out of the air and simply powered past the keeper.

Every match is critical now in terms of earning a 4th place finish and the team knows it. Podolski was interviewed after the match and his assessment of the end of season run-in was perfect for its simplicity: “The FA Cup is after the season. We’ll leave that for the moment and focus on the Premier League… we must understand that we have hard matches to come – we play away at Hull City and Norwich. It’s not easy but if we win all of our matches we’ll qualify.”

For anyone who feels like finishing in the top four isn’t important you only need to take a look at how the media (ironically) play up the fight for fourth between Arsenal and Everton. These same reporters who guffawed at Arsene Wenger’s suggestion that 4th place is an achievement are snapping at the story that plucky upstarts Everton might nip Arsenal to the 4th Place Cup. Finishing 4th is worth 10s of millions of pounds, both in terms of prize money but also in terms of player recruitment in the off season. Everton want to convince Lukaku to stay and they will have a powerful hole card if they can offer Champions League football. Meanwhile, Arsenal need to recruit possibly 4 players this Summer and the cost of doing that kind of business will be doubled if we don’t have Champions League football to offer.

In the end, a good win for Arsenal and puts the Gunners back on track for 4th place. We still have to win every remaining fixture and hope that Everton drop points but given the opposition that they face I’d put the money on Arsenal to finish 4th again. I’d also put money that our three most talked about players from yesterday’s match, Podolski, Giroud, and Ramsey will have a big say in where we end up in the League table at the end of the season.

Qq

Arsenal v. Wigan: preview

I was sitting in the hotel bar the night before Arsenal’s League Cup final against Birmingham and two Blues supporters sitting next to me were talking about the game the next day. The one who looked remarkably like Mr. Rat was loudly talking up his team’s chances whilst the one who looked like Mr. Mole sat quietly looking rather nervously around the room to make sure no 6’4″ Arsenal supporter came over and smashed their faces in. Mr. Rat then proclaimed “these Arsenal supporters are all the same, they talk big about how they are going to do us but you offer one a bet and watch them melt. Because they know, we have a real chance. I think we will win.”

I sat there snorting into my drink at each proclamation and thought to myself that I should go over and take this guy up on his bet. Why not? I was full of confidence, we were the much better team, and we had beaten them just a few games prior. But instead of confronting the braggart and taking the bet, I finished my whiskey and went off to bed.

Seeing how Arsenal lost that match and I didn’t take his bet I guess he was right on both counts.

A similar, if amplified, mood pervades today’s FA Cup semi-final between Wigan and Arsenal and it’s quite understandable why: Arsenal are once again over-dogs, Arsenal are once again on the brink of winning their first trophy in years, Arsenal are missing a number of key players, the manager’s position is being questioned from all quarters (including Tim Stillman), Arsenal have a recent history of stumbling in big games against small opponents, and that 6-0 loss to Chelsea on the occasion of Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game seemed to cause many of us to join the other lemmings going over the cliff at full pace.

Arsene Wenger seems to have learned a lesson from the harsh losses of the last few weeks and is vowing to get the team to focus more on defending and attacking as a unit. Arsenals defense has been fantastic when they play within themselves and have proven that time and again against Liverpool, Tottenham, and the comeback win over Everton in this same competition when I was there last month. In each of those matches, Arsenal were able to sit back and invite the opposition to attack and yet repel each attack with solid, organized defending.

Wigan will probably come out looking to hit Arsenal with the 1-2 punch like they did against Man City at the Etihad stadium. Once they went ahead, they defended as well as I have seen from any team at Man City’s ground.

This puts a lot of onus on Arsenal’s early game because Arsenal play the same way, early high pressing, and we could have a wide open free for all in the first 15 minutes. What has many Arsenal fans worried is that this is exactly how Arsenal have been undone in each of their huge losses this season. Each time Arsenal have lost big it has been because the opposition have adopted Arsenal’s exact same tactic.

Another concern is that Wigan employ a 3-5-2 combined with a high pressing game so that they play a lot like Liverpool. Arsenal did beat that system twice this season and both times were able to do so by not allowing the opposition to overload the Arsenal fullback areas. Everton and Chelsea played a similar tactic in that they invited the Arsenal fullbacks forward and reserved an attacking player in behind the Arsenal midfielders. Shurrle and Lukaku both played on the right (Arsenal’s left) cutting back in in those games (and Liverpool played Suarez there to do the same in their 5-1 win over Arsenal) and I’d put almost any amount of money on Wigan trying the same. Basically, if we see both Arsenal fullbacks in the Wigan final third, it’s time to panic.

Wenger himself acknowledged that Wigan is a team full of Premiership players who happen to be playing in the Championship. So, as much as we’d all like to say that this is a lower division team playing against an upper division side it is nice to hear the manager aware of the threat that these guys possess. Fortune (the Wigan forward and not every gambler’s harsh mistress) in particular is a real threat off the bench. But I’m hoping we get to the point where Wigan are looking to the bench for a little good Fortune.

Wigan are not a crap team, again a fact Wenger points out by mentioning their record getting to the FA Cup semi final. They are second in the Championship in shots taken per game (15.1) and 5th in shots conceded (12.5). Defensively they are 4th in tackles made per game and 5th in interceptions (14.1). They are also a real threat from set plays having scored a 3rd best 16 goals from that position and they love to cross the ball with a 3rd best 24 of those per game. Like Wenger has said, this may be a Championship side but they are full of Premiership players and they play like it. Wigan are a hard nosed defensive side who get in the faces of their opponents and get goals off set plays. They have had a bit of bad luck in the last few matches but their losing margins have been slim.

Still, despite missing a number of players, Arsenal have four crucial players available for tomorrow’s match: Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud.

Even though he missed much of the season with injury, Ramsey is still Arsenal’s best player statistically. He is fearless in midfield. He works tirelessly to get open for passes and never hides when the team needs an outlet. He is also an underrated tackler (leads Arsenal in per game tackles) and constantly presses to get the ball back high up the pitch. And is if that weren’t enough he is third overall in scoring and assists. Truly a stats stuffer and while people poo poo stats, they show that Ramsey is a player with tremendous heart and work rate.

Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud are all this competition’s best scorers remaining. Podolski and Giroud have 6 goals between them and Podolski’s goals have all been winners. Cazorla only has 8 goals and 5 assists but having been shunted off to the side and playing second trumpet to Özil has really limited his ability to contribute. Meanwhile Giroud is Arsenal’s leading scorer with 20 goals this season. He’s only scored once in his last six matches but he scored a double against Everton in the FA Cup match before this one.

I expect Arsene will start with Giroud up front, Podolski as second striker, Ramsey in midfield, Cazorla on the left, Ox on the right, Arteta as defensive mid and the back four picking itself (Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, and Gibbs/Monreal). Fabianski will be in goal.

I’m expecting a very tough game from Wigan but hopefully the Arsenal quality will shine through and Ramsey will get us an early goal which will allow Arsenal the chance to sit back and defend for a while.

Something they are very good at.

Qq

pizza

Mighty Arsenal Pizza Recipe

Arsene Wenger spoke today about getting Arsenal back to basics and having the team play solid defense against Wigan tomorrow. This is a great idea. I actually wish I had recommended that idea on my blog before the Chelsea match, or recommended that idea before the Everton match, or on my most recent Arsenal America Podcast appearance prior to this match against Wigan which if truth be told I am very worried about Arsenal losing.

But what is more basic than defense? Bread. And more basic than even bread? Pizza. If you want to learn how to bake bread, you should really start with pizza. Because you basically cannot donk up pizza. No matter how badly you shape the dough, no matter if you accidentally leave the dough on the counter overnight, as long as you even vaguely get the ingredients and technique right, you can (probably) still make pizza.

Special Equipment You (might) Need

Scale
Dough bucket
Baking stone (or a sheet pan!)
Pizza peel (or a silicon baking mat!)

Measurements

(Makes 6 individual pizzas)

325g – Water
25g - Olive oil
450g - Flour (I use a mixture of all purpose (350g) and whole wheat 100g. You can vary this as much as you want knowing that the more whole what you use, the more water you need to use)
10g – salt
8g – yeast
7g – sugar

__________________________________________________________________________

150g – cheese
100g – olives
100g – salami (we use Genoa salami, you could use pepperoni I guess)
Sauce - I use store bought marinara. Yes I do!

nutrition

 

Sorry, but the Mighty Arsenal Pizza recipe does not convert measurements to cups and tablespoons. Why? Because

Dough Method

Put everything except the marinara (ed.), cheese, olives, and salami in your dough bucket.
Mix together until it starts to form a sort of… dough.
Put the lid on it and let it sit on the counter for a few hours.
Throw it in the fridge over night. Or for a week if you want.

Pizza Method

Take the dough out of the refrigerator, pop the lid off, and smell the dough. Just like the FA Cup, that’s the magic of the fermentation tub.

Get your bucket of flour near by.

Take a little flour and dust the top of the fermented dough. Then reach your clean hands in to the bucket and grab a hunk of dough. Feel how wet and stringy that is! It’s just how I imagine that Alan Sunderland’s hair felt after a shower. Pull out about 1/6th of the dough. This is for individual pizzas. Use more dough for bigger pizzas, though you can be sure that Arsene Wenger will have a look at you if you’re going to sit down and each a huge pizza all to yourself. Why not have a piece of fruit or a salad and a small pizza instead of some big calorie feast?

Turn and fold the dough under several times to form a ball. Use a little flour to keep it from sticking and put a little flour down on your resting surface. Technique is everything here. This is where your magic happens. Aveline and I will post some photos later to show you the technique. For beginners I recommend to rest the dough on a silicon baking mat. They are the Robert Pires of cooking, nothing sticks to one of those.

Now you have to let the dough do its thing for a while. How long? 70 minutes. Do not do anything for 70 minutes. I don’t care what the situation demands. Crying babies in the terrace. Armchair pizza chefs at home. Do not touch that dough for 70 minutes.

Well, that’s not entirely true. You do let the dough sit for 70 minutes and do nothing to it, but if you’re using a pizza stone, you need to get that pre-heated to 500F, 260C, Gas Mark 10 for at least 20 minutes. So a simple recipe here would be 1) shape the dough into a ball and let it rest for 50 minutes 2) put the pizza stone in the oven and turn it on for 20 minutes 3) shape your pizza into a pizza shape and pup it in the oven.

 

Anyway, you have time. Now is a good time to read a chapter in Rebels for the Cause. I recommend chapter nine, “Big Willie” about former Arsenal defender Willie Young.

After the 70th minute, your dough will be soft, pliable, and full of holes.

If you’re using a pizza stone you should have already put it in the oven. If you don’t have a pizza stone and can’t afford to buy one in the January transfer window, you can use an inverted sheet pan, this is the equivalent of playing Mertesacker as a center forward. It will work, just watch that you don’t burn your pizza. Really, I recommend buying a striker in January instead. I mean a pizza stone.

Now you shape the dough ball into a pizza. Start from the center and use your thumbs to stretch the dough. It’s like driving a car: the dough is the steering wheel and you’re Nicklas Bendtner, all thumbs. Drive the pizza dough car into a ditch, flip the pizza dough car, then get caught on video drunkenly begging for pizza.

All you have to do now is put a little sauce, some cheese, and some toppings on it and put it in the oven. Don’t overdo the toppings. Seriously. Americans tend to be obsessed with building these god awful gigantic pizzas, cover every inch with pepperoni, and put a pound of cheese on every slice. This is the reason we are so fat. All that pepperoni and cheese reacts with the GLUTEN and you get fat. If you use less meat and cheese on your pizza the gluten has nothing to react to and you get less fat. These are stone cold facts that I have pure anecdotal evidence to back up.

One last thing, there can be a bit of a problem with the transfer. What? You thought making a pizza was as easy as buying a defensive midfielder? This is where a pizza peel comes in handy. The pizza peel is the David Dein of pizza cooking. You throw a little corn meal on that sucker, put your pizza shaped dough down, then your toppings on the dough and you can shake the finished pie right on to your baking stone, or your inverted sheet pan. Or you could just form the whole pizza right on an inverted sheet pan and toss the whole thing in the oven and bake until it’s sort of done.

Here’s a pizza that Wenger would be proud that you ate.

8339447012_62d69c963b_b

 

Note the hole structure, indicating good technique and the fact that I am basically eating a salad and bread with a little cheese and meat.

Qq

P.S. I will upload photos demonstrating the technique for forming the dough into a ball and for stretching the dough into a pizza round tonight. With the help of my assistant.

Update

mountain

Looks like Mt. Rainier!

ball

A shaggy mess.bucket

After a day in the fridge

 

 

 

 

silpat

Silpat for the winglutenRoll that beautiful gluten footage

turn

See how I’m turning the dough inside out? That develops the gluten cloak.

rest

Rest your balls.

DAD

Finger licking good!

pre-zza

 

Too many toppings ruin the final product.

pizza

Mountains of the moon.
sdone

We cut our pie into five slices with four cuts.

holesThe money shot. Look at those holes. And that’s with a whole wheat crust.