Category Archives: Arsenal


Arsenal v. Besiktas: fireworks

It’s amazing how the attitude of fans can change. As soon as the final whistle went against Besiktas last week I felt completely confident that Arsenal would get past the Turkish team at the Emirates. The thinking being that while they gave Arsenal a scare in the first leg, fighting hard in midfield and putting in some excellent service to Ba, Arsenal gave as much as they got and a draw was the right result. Given the history of teams of Besiktas’ caliber and their travel woes, it was only natural to assume that Arsenal would easily put them to the sword at home.

But then Ramsey got sent off for a light foul (and dive) on Ozyakup. And Arteta limped off with an an ankle injury. And now Olivier Giroud trod on a ball or something and is ruled out for the rest of the year. I think it’s safe to say that my attitude toward this game has gone from quiet confidence to a slight feeling of dread.

The injury to Giroud has set the “I told you so” crowd on fire. This week’s news about Arsenal’s strike force has been like a small packet of fireworks were set off in a crowded theater: everyone went screaming for the exits. Then the theater management gathered all the customers together and promise them a free ticket to another movie. At the second movie some joker again threw a string of lady fingers into the crowd and this time instead of running for the exits the crowd turned on the prankster with blood in their eyes.

The first cracker was probably Alexis’ poor performance through the middle for Arsenal at Goodison park. It was quite the scene: Arsene has been widely criticized for not having a plan B and then suddenly here he was setting out his side in a counter-attacking mode with Alexis in the middle of the park and no one noticed. I know you won’t believe me that Wenger’s use of Alexis was part of a counter-attack plan, but that’s what the plan was. If you need an expert opinion I will point you over to Julien Laurens on the Times podcast ripping the often wrong Alyson Rudd by saying the exact same thing (20th minute) pointing out how Alexis was used to devastating effect as the focus of their counter at Udinese.

Rory Smith backed Julien Laurens (and Arsene Wenger) in that assessment as well saying that Alexis will get better as he is bedded in and given a chance to run in that role. Again, this is where I land on this debate: Alexis is far from a failure but rather a player who looks like he needs time to get fit and match time with his teammates to get a sense of how they play.

Still, if Arsenal set up as a defensive side against Everton in the first half, it didn’t show. Or maybe it showed that the defensive midfield is still a bit unsure of how to cover for each other when the fullbacks make overlapping runs.

I kept wondering why Everton were able to easily counter into spaces vacated by the Arsenal fullbacks and yet when they got Coleman and Baines forward, Arsenal weren’t able to counter attack them. Then I paused the action and snapped this photo:

counterAs you can see, their defensive midfield tandem of Barry and McCarthy were covering for the fullbacks.¹

All that said, I don’t know if this is the kind of game that Arsene will set up as a counter attacking team. The Turkish team will be the ones inviting pressure and Arsenal will probably spend a ton of time in their box.

But that might actually benefit Alexis in the lone striker role. Now, instead of looking to hit Besiktas on a quick counter, Arsenal will have Cazorla, Alexis, Ox, and Özil exchanging quick passes in the Besiktas final third. Alexis, Cazorla, and Ox are all excellent dribblers as well, which Arsenal will hope to use too cause panic among the Turkish defenders and with three nimble forwards up front, hopefully Arsenal can get good movement as well which will cause further trouble.

If Arsenal get an early goal, then Alexis up front by himself is all the better because Arsenal (with Ox’s speed down the wings) can revert to that counter attacking team that we saw used to such great effect over the last two years.


So, while I think Alexis is mostly going to be deployed in the lone striker role against top teams in away games, I think he may get the start there tonight against Besiktas because Arsenal really have little choice and because he could be used tactically to Arsenal’s advantage.

In midfield this is a big game for Jack Wilshere. Quick passing and movement are the keys for the Arsenal midfield today and without Arteta (passing) and Ramsey (movement) I have to wonder who Wenger is going to deploy next to Jack and what role Jack will occupy. I don’t subscribe to the theory that Wilshere is going to be some kind of defensive midfielder one day. He’s talented enough to do anything in midfield, no doubt, but his natural inclination is to play in the Ramsey role and get forward to try and score goals. That said, I could see Rosicky starting next to Jack today and Jack playing the deepest midfielder role. I like Flamini but Tomas’ movement and energy in midfield is key for me.

At the back, Chambers and Mertesacker need to keep Demba Ba in their pocket, especially early. Besiktas used big diagonals from Ozyakup to near devastating effect in the first tie and I wouldn’t expect them to do anything less again today. Mertesacker’s presence there and on corners (which the Turks will also look to score from) will be crucial.

Early on as Arsenal press to look for the opener, Besiktas will try to spring Ba on Chambers. The former Southampton man had one mistake in the last outing and as such his first taste of what it means to play center half at Arsenal: as I always put it, 88 minutes of boredom and 2 minutes of sheer terror where any slip is magnified into the worst possible moment imaginable.

On paper Arsenal are the better team, even with all the injuries: Sanchez, Wilshere, Ox, Özil, and Cazorla all ooze class.Moreover, Arsenal haven’t lost yet this season and have shown great composure coming back against Everton on the weekend. This should be a game the Gunners can win easily. I’ll try to remember that whenever I have a nervous glance around the room any time there’s any flash of light that might indicate someone is lighting off fireworks.



¹How many things can you count wrong with this picture?

What we have here is a fine example of Ivory Coast center forward, and he ain't too damn "Bony"

Giroud (unconfirmed) ankle break: which forwards could Arsenal buy to replace him?


Pros: Christian Benteke took the footballing world by storm two years ago when he scored several goals for Aston Villa. How many goals? 19! He followed that season up with a lacklustre 10 goals haul. But if you’ve ever watched Benteke play you know that scoring goals isn’t really what he does best: it’s winning headers.

Won 229/403 aerial duels last season, 8.8 per game. Attempted 15.5 aerial duels per game, that’s like an aerial duel every 5 minutes. Slightly better at winning aerials than Giroud (56% v. 52%). Imagine a battering ram, on a pogo stick, that’s Christian Benteke.

Cons: People say he can dribble but in two years at Aston Villa he has only completed 40 total dribbles. Giroud has 36, so that makes Benteke four times more dribbly! Another con is that he’s injured. He may be back next month.


Pros: I have a soft spot for Bony. Wait. No. I have a hard… ummm… I like Bo.. Bony is good. Bony also wins headers even if he is only 5’3″ — he’s like the Spud Webb of winning headers. Remember Spud Webb? Spud Webb can still dunk at age 47. I can barely dunk a donut.

Bony wins a lower percentage of aerial duels than Benteke (42%) but scored the same number of headed goals, 5, last season. He’s also a better dribbler than Benteke, completing 24 in his first season at Swansea.

Has a £20m release clause. Which makes buying him a snap.

Has to play in the ACN and the qualifiers, which means that he will be out for most of January. Why is this a pro? Because that’s when Giroud will come back.

Also, his manager calls him a hard worker: “We saw a very good Wilfried last season but with the work ethic he has and what we’re trying to do I think he can be even better this year. If he listens to what we’re telling him – and he does, because he’s a great guy and a great person to work with – you’ll see a better Bony.”

Cons: turns the ball over a lot, not great at picking out teammates with his passes. Actually, a lot like Giroud.


Pros: Scored 7 headed goals. But apart from his aerial ability, whenever I’ve seen him play, I’ve actually been impressed with his touch. He has good touch for a big man. Which is exactly what I say any time I see Andy Carroll play.

Speaking of Andy Carroll, I have this weird way of remembering names where I make their name into a spoonerism. So Gary Cahill is Cary Gahill, Andy Carroll is Candy Arroll, Jack Wilshere is Wack Jilshere. The problem is that this only works for English guys. Try it with Stefan Kiessling… see?

What else is good about him? Let’s see… won 12 aerial duels in his first game this season, had 5 dribbles, committed 7 fouls… and he has done this kind of thing for years at Bayer Leverkusen.

Cons: Can someone explain to me why this guy, who has averaged 19 goals a season for the four yeas he was healthy at Bayer, who wins a ton of headers, who can dribble, who can pass, who creates for teammates… can someone tell me why he’s not been picked up by a club like Liverpool? Or anyone? There must be something wrong with him. I’ve heard its his attitude but that always ticks people off when I say it. Was left out of the German World Cup winning team.

Another con is that he’s as tall as Peter Crouch but has never shown any ability to do the robot.


Pros: he was good at scoring goals two years ago. Had the number one hit in 1985 with Rock me Amadeus.

Cons: Literally not good at anything except scoring goals. I suppose that’s not a bad thing to be good at if you’re a striker. But if you’re looking for a player who can hold the ball up and bring teammates into the game, who can take on an opponent, and who can pass, Falcao is not that guy.

Monaco are flogging him harder than Dominic Loricatus after a long day’s penance and yet I’ve heard that taking him on loan would cost Arsenal £20m. That’s What Bony would cost. No way Arsene does this deal.


Pros: Weapons master, procurement specialist, tis a laird of the Scottish highlands, rubs elbows with sheikhs and oligarchs, silver head reflects light into the eyes of opponents. Probably incredibly good at winning headers but I have never seen him play football.

Cons: Not sure Cobra will let him go for cheap. Has a taste for the finer things. Tends to run away when the fight gets tough. Totally in love with the Baroness.

There is no way that Arsenal are signing the guy from Roma so I’m assuming we are going after Destro from G.I. Joe.


Pros: like a new signing! Free! Runs around a lot. Good at being annoying to the opposition. Already plays for Arsenal. Did I mention that he’s free? Huge upside.

Cons: hasn’t scored a goal for Arsenal, because the quad trick he scored in the Emirates Cup doesn’t count.


Do you need a 30+ goal scorer to win the League?

- The Golden Boot winner has won 9 of 22 Premier League titles (Shearer, Yorke, Henry, van Nist, Henry, Ronaldo, Drogba, Berbatov, van Persie)
- There have been 9 players who have scored 30+ goals in the Premier League (in 95 Cole and Shearer both scored 30+) and only 3 have won the League (Shearer, Henry, Ronaldo) in 22 years
- There have been 6 players who have won the League and scored 25 or more goals
- The average goals scored for the leading goal scorer on the League winning club for all 22 Premier League seasons is 21 goals
- The average goals scored for the leading goal scorer on the League winning club since 2005 (the “post-Abramovich era”) is 21 goals
- The average goals scored for the leading goal scorer on the League winning club since 2011 (the “Shekhigarchy era”) is 22 goals
- Cantona once won the League scoring just 14 goals. A low water mark which was only lowered by Lampard in Chelsea’s rampant 90 point season when he scored just 13 goals to lead Chelsea
- Lampard is one of two midfielders to lead their team’s goal scoring efforts and win the League, Lampard did it twice, Yaya Toure did it last year with 20 goals
- Drogba is often associated with Chelsea rampant yet he only won the Golden boot once, the season he scored 29 goals
- Do you need a 25-30 goal scoring forward? It’s nice to have one but I don’t see any evidence that proves a team must have a dominant striker. In fact, having a goal scoring center mid, like Arsenal have with Aaron Ramsey, is just as likely to win the League as having a 30+ goal scorer.
- What the evidence shows is that you need a good team to win the League

Golden Boot