Category Archives: Arsenal

Coquelin, Flamini, Chambers, and Ramsey. Plus, the ball must be shared

As expected Francis Coquelin is out for two months. Maybe he will be out for more, maybe less, we really just don’t know. As I wrote yesterday, combined with Arteta’s injury, it’s a big blow to Arsenal’s midfield. Just how big? I will have to look at the numbers and show some different options but I’ll do that tomorrow. Actually, Arsenal have a match tomorrow, not so that you’d notice it with all the hubbub about Coquelin’s injury, so maybe I’ll do that stats piece later in the week.

Wenger spoke of possible replacements saying

We have players that play in Coquelin’s position like Mathieu Flamini and others that can play in his position like Calum Chambers. Sometimes it is an opportunity for others to show they can do the job.

I like Chambers a lot. I think he’s got the capability to play in midfield as a defensive midfielder if he can learn some composure with the ball. For most folks tackling hard or getting spectacular blocks is what they want to see from the DM position but for me it’s all about composure with the ball. More than almost any other position, they have to be able to hold the ball up under pressure and make the right pass. A mistake there, a little bit of panic, and the ball goes to the opposition in a dangerous area.

That composure is difficult to teach. Some people are just born certain, as if for them there was never any question that they would be the best. For others it takes hours and hours of playing under pressure to learn the patience needed to be a successful defensive midfielder. From what I’ve seen of Chambers he doesn’t have that same tranquility that Coquelin has. So, realistically, while Wenger is talking up Chambers I don’t see that as an option. Maybe Chambers could pull a “Coquelin” and surprise everyone but I’d be surprised if Wenger could catch lightning in a bottle twice in the same position in less than a year.

Personally, I think a player like Ramsey has to sacrifice himself for the team and play the position. He’s got all the tools to be a good DM. I’m sure some of you will complain about his lack of pace, as if you know what his 40m run time is, but I don’t see him as less fleet footed than Coquelin, who wasn’t exactly the fastest player on the pitch. As an added bonus, if Wenger can leash Ramsey to the central midfield position and tell him he’s not allowed to go past the center circle, it might help with his hamstring problems. You know, fewer sprints? Maybe?

That’s all wishful thinking isn’t it? Ramsey isn’t going to curtail his attacking instincts. That’s like trying to teach a cat not to pounce on a moving object.

I guess it’s Flamini then. God save Flamini’s strings.

That’s your discussion for the day.

I do have one other thing I’d like to talk about, the thing I wanted to write about today but for the Coquelin news, the ball.

In Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors there’s a bit between Dromio and Adriana where she is telling him to go fetch his master but he resists because he doesn’t want to get a beating. At last he says:

Am I so round with you as you with me,
That like a football you do spurn me thus?
You spurn me hence, and he will spurn me hither:
If I last in this service, you must case me in leather.

I actually learned of this quote from Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Eduardo Galeano was writing about the history of the sport, just a blurb, but it contains this quote from Shakespeare.

I remember reading that football was played in England for centuries before it was actually codified into rules in the 19th century but here was a glaring proof that not only was there a game but it was called “football” as early as 1594, 300 years before the first “football association” was formed. Next time some American football fan says “you mean SOCCER?” when you’re talking about football, you just bust out that little tidbit on them.

It’s amazing also that the ball in Shakespeare’s time was a leather ball. It was probably stuffed with all sorts of stuffings which would have made it weird to kick. But it was essentially the same ball that some kids play with now: anything that they can bundle into a ball and kick around will do in a pinch.

A few chapters later, Galeano writes specifically about the ball. He calls the ball a lady. He says that the lady doesn’t like to be kicked or hit out of spite. She likes to be caressed and lulled to sleep in the nook of one’s foot.

I’m not sure that we should call the ball a lady. After all, that could lead to jealously guarding her, keeping her away from others, ball hogging. My philosophy is that the ball must be shared. Perhaps jealously guarded from the opposition, but certainly shared amongst the 11 on the team, the 11 in our tribe. That makes for a bit of an uncomfortable metaphor if we think of the ball as a woman.

No, the ball is cruel, it is fickle, it sometimes need caressing and sometimes needs a good punt up field but it’s just a ball and its only imperative is that it must be shared.

I was thinking about that two weeks ago before my Sunday pickup match. We have an 11 year old kid who just appeared at our pitch one weekend. His name is Boubacar and the first thing he told us is that his favorite player is Cristiano Ronaldo. I can only assume he’s never seen Alexis Sanchez play football or he would rightly switch allegiances.

Boubacar came with a ball, a $10 size 4 that had been flattened by a dog. He didn’t seem to mind that his ball was flat and bitten up. It was a ball.

I tried to help him pump his ball up but it wouldn’t hold air. I looked at him for a second and gave him my ball. “Here, you can borrow this. Bring it back next week.”

The ball I gave Boubacar was given to me. Because I write about football, I get stuff from companies all the time. My friend Tise at gave me a match replica Adidas Nativo. It’s a $130 ball and everyone in our group loves playing with that ball. It’s kind of an amazing ball, some kind of genetically modified advancement on the whole ball genre.

Boubacar brought the ball back this weekend and I told him, “that’s your ball now, write your name on it, take care of the ball, don’t let your brother kick it over the fence where the dog will bite it.” He was genuinely chuffed, even if he didn’t say thanks. Kids these days and their lack of manners.

Giving him that ball was a bit reckless on my part but I got the damn thing for free and I don’t use it during the week. He will probably use it every day. It seemed worse for me to jealously guard the ball in my truck, to hide it away, than to give it to someone who will love it. Besides, he’s got a job to do now; he’s got to bring the ball back to us safe and sound. And then he’s got to share the ball with all of us.


P.S. if you feel like sharing the ball with some kid in your neighborhood, check out They have a wide selection of balls to choose from, you don’t have to be reckless and give a kid a $130 ball, I’m sure that most kids, especially if they have a bit up old dog ball, would be happy with anything round that holds air.

There is also a huge selection of balls on Amazon, of course.


Arsenal Injury Elephant: The injured players you want replaced are all fan favorites

Arsenal lost 2-1 to West Brom, giving away a lucky goal on a harsh call for a set play, missing a penalty, giving up an own goal, and whiffing on big chances wide open in the box. As Wenger put it, it was a nightmare, and yet, all of that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was losing Coquelin to a knee injury which might sideline him for the rest of the season and losing his replacement Mikel Arteta to a calf injury. On top of all the other injuries that Arsenal have suffered this season, the Gunners are left looking like a Napoleonic War painting, with bandaged and dead strewn all about while the Hussars break through our once world famous lines.

Arsenal’s injury situation is frustrating. The Gunners are now missing Coquelin, Arteta, Wilshere, Welbeck, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky which is a huge blow to any club but given yesterday’s performance, especially hurtful to the Gunners and their title chances.

Arsenal are two points off the top of the table and the underlying stats all suggest that Wenger’s boys are the only other legitimate title contenders, next to Man City. But injuries to key players like Coquelin won’t show up in lagging indicators like expected goals for a least a month, maybe even two. So, while all signs are still pointing to Arsenal being title contenders right now, it’s ok to feel like that might not be the case come January.

As soon as Coquelin made the substitution motion, spinning his fingers like the ever spinning wheel of Arsenal’s injury cycle, fans took to twitter to bemoan Arsene Wenger’s summer transfer policy. Well, the lack of transfers really.

The debate about Arsenal’s lack of depth revolves around the well founded argument that Arsene Wenger should have known that he has a squad full of players who are going to miss 20+ matches a season. Given Arsenal’s injury record, goes the argument, Wenger should have stocked up on players in the midfield positions and given Arsenal a real chance at the title.

From that fact the fans tend to divide into two camps: those who felt that the squad was already deep enough, and those who wanted more depth, specifically, in the forward and center mid areas. The argument against depth tends to ask “how are you going to find someone good enough to be a starter but willing to be a backup” and the argument for more depth tends to be seriously ruthless and just say that players like Arteta should be cut.

I asked on twitter if they were willing to get rid of the players who were serially injured — Walcott, Wilshere, Welbeck, Ramsey, and Ox — and the response was “why not?”

British core

The reason I asked is because I think this discussion about depth and the injury record has an elephant in the room: the players who are most hit by injury are all fan favorites, and most of them are British.

This is why people keep saying that they want the very unrealistic “adequate backup”. That they want players who are as good as, say, Ramsey, but who are happy playing from the bench and who will happily go back to the bench when Ramsey is ready to play again. The reason they want that is because they don’t want to suggest the realistic solution, which is to buy players who are better than the Ramsey’s and relegate the Ramsey’s to the bench instead.

That’s the quandary that Arsenal fans are in. The players who are most often injured are the British players. They are the players that the young kids in Islington look up to. Do you really just shelve Jack Wilshere for a better center mid? We don’t have that debate because it’s too real.

Another good example is Coquelin. Many folks wanted a backup for Coquelin and players like Kondogbia are typically mooted to be that guy. But Kondogbia is not going to be Coquelin’s backup. He’s the starting defensive midfielder for Inter Milan and France. He’s better than Coquelin.

I’m as sentimental as anyone and I love Ramsey, Wilshere, Welbeck, Ox, and Walcott but I’m also realistic. If Wenger had bought Paul Pogba (a Ramsey replacement) or Morgan Schneiderlin (a Coquelin replacement) I don’t know if I would be too upset. I’d probably feel like many people do in those situations “if Ramsey is good enough and works hard enough, he’ll get into the team, the competition for places is healthy, and will produce the best team.”

But Wenger didn’t buy Pogba, or anyone for that matter, and so talking about transfers on the 22nd of November is peak pointless. We’ve been over all these arguments about if the player wants to come, if he’s available, if Arsenal can afford him, and we all know that on top of all those factors Wenger is a loyalist. He is going to stick with the players he’s got over bringing in a bunch of new faces, especially after his team won back to back FA Cups.

The cynical among us will predict out that all these players will probably be back in January, that Arsenal will win a bunch of matches and look like title contenders again, Wenger won’t buy anyone, and the injuries will start mounting up again after the transfer window closes. I can already hear the comments “I’m not cynical, I’m realistic!” But you are cynical, there are no Paul Pogba’s on the market in January. If we are buying a center mid in January, Arsenal are in real trouble.

The realists are worried about Sanchez, Özil, and Cazorla. Sanchez is some kind of miracle. I don’t know what his parents fed him growing up but that man’s body must be made of steel, I don’t think even jet fuel could melt him. The minutes he’s played for club and country combined with the way he plays the game, he should be out injured all the time. Somehow he’s not only not injured but flew back from a draining international break on Thursday and put in an amazing performance against West Brom on Saturday. If only his teammates had been up to his level, that match would have been a cakewalk.

Özil, on the other hand, has been out injured all the time but he’s playing his very best football at the moment. Losing him would certainly mean Arsenal drop out of the title race. And Cazorla is actually starting to show signs of mental and physical fatigue. His last two matches were poor by his own very high standard. But it looks like he can’t be rotated, in fact none of them can, yet another problem caused by Arsenal’s injury record.

All this talk of injuries and transfers is depressing, but I think it needs to be done. Get it out of your system. Then we can switch the debate to “who should play in central midfield while all these others are injured?”


Tony Pulis pontificates on the meaning of referees in the Premier League

West Brom v. Arsenal: a drab afternoon in the Midlands

Arsenal have a  great chance to go top of the League this weekend when they take the Gun show on the road and face a West Bromwich Albion side with the second worst home record in the League.

Albion have shipped 16 goals in 12 matches this season and 12 of those have come at home on the way to a 1-1-4 record. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to Albion to call out their home record out since the opposition they have faced at home so far this season has been Man City (0-3), Chelsea (2-3), Southampton (0-0), Everton (2-3), Sunderland (1-0), and Leicester (2-3).

Three 2-3 losses at home in the opening 6 matches is an odd record for sure. And considering the teams they faced it might be a bit reckless to suggest that this will be a walk in the park. But Arsenal have title aspirations and if Arsenal want to claim the League they are going to have to match or best what Man City and Leicester have come and done before them.

City also have a much tougher match, facing Liverpool, as the late game for Saturday. An Arsenal win over West Brom would pile a bit of pressure on City. As an aside, Leicester (and Man U) could also go top of the table, if they beat Newcastle and both Arsenal and City drop points.

West Brom have some underlying stats which show that they can’t be taken for granted. They have only conceded 1 goal from an error and 5 errors total this season. That ranks them 3rd best in the League in that category, tied with Man U and Leicester, and just above Stoke and Southampton. This indicates a team that is well drilled by Pulis. As an aside, the phrase “well drilled by Pulis” was originally going to be the Killing Word for the Weirding Module in David Lynch’s Dune.

But the reason why West Brom have so few errors is that West Brom play an Allardycian system: they spend more time getting restarts and time wasting than they do playing football. This is similar to the van Gaalian system, though van Gaal is known for keeping possession and killing off games that way. Either way you slice it, Pulician, van Gaalian, and Allardycian squads are remarkable for their overall lack of activity.

West Brom have the lowest possession% in the League at 43.5% and they are also 3rd lowest in tackles. West Brom also commit the fewest fouls in the League, take the fewest overall shots in the League, are 15th in the League in dribbles, and draw the third fewest fouls. Like all teams who hate playing the game, these teams put out very few stats in general. Their goal isn’t to play football, it’s to kill off games.

As Eduardo Galeano put it in Soccer in Sun and Shadow, men like Allardyce and Pulis are technocrats:

His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom, and maximize the productivity of the players, who are now obliged to become professional athletes.

Pulis has players, Sessegnon, Berahino, and Rondon all have the ability to turn a drab afternoon at the Hawthorns into a night to remember with a deft dribble or a delightful moment of interplay. But under Pulis, these men are left to be just another cog in Pulis’ anti-relegation machine. It’s no wonder that Pulis can’t find a place for Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry, another in a long line of precocious Arsenal players, because Gnabry is probably smart enough to see that Pulis doesn’t teach people how to play football.

There is a lot of talk about the cost to watch a football match, with Arsenal often the focus of fan’s ire because of their prices. But what price would you pay for a season of Pulician football? The Midlands of England is a dreadfully boring place to live — their star attractions in West Brom are a climbing wall, a laser tag place, and a pub — but in those conditions wouldn’t you want your football team to do more than simply “survive” relegation? If I lived there, I’d rather my team got relegated with a manager who had a vision to bring something magical to my existence rather than watch a single minute of Pulis’ team time-waste their way to a 1-0 victory over the equally dreadful Sunderland.

Lost in the debate about “greed” in football is how teams like West Brom don’t even try to bring beauty into the lives of their fans. Hiring a man like Pulis is simply telling the local fans that the only thing that matters is saving the team from relegation. Hiring Pulis is like calling the ambulance. How much money would you pay to watch Tony Pulis perform CPR on the WBA corpse for an entire season?

Arsenal and West Brom are on the opposite ends of the spectrum: one plays beautiful, attacking football with unpredictable players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil serving up incredible moments of skill and the other plays cheap, boring, anti-relegation technocratic football which essentially cheats all viewers out of the joy of the game.

My prediction is Pulis will double down on his efforts to close castle West Brom. He will note Arsenal’s injuries to key improvisational players like Ox and the possibility that Arsene might rest Alexis for this match and he will set his team out to take a 90 minute match and turn it into about 5 minutes of play. It’s in those 5 minutes that the game will be decided.