Category Archives: Arsenal


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.


Alexis, rest, contracts, injuries, Bellerin, Tom Parker, and Galeano

I have 9 minutes. 9 minutes until my daughter wakes up and I have to shepherd her through the morning routine. Sometimes I leave it a bit late.

Arsenal haven’t begun to speak to Alexis and Özil about their contracts. Arsenal will start that talk in January, said Arsene, killing that story with a single stroke of his broadsword. And please, spare me the stuff about “Arsenal could lose them on a Bosman” or “Arsenal never would have been able to keep Alexis 4 years ago”. Yeah, Arsenal wouldn’t have even been able to sign Özil and Alexis 4 years ago, much less offer them new deals.

5 minutes.

None of Arsenal’s bandaged masses will be ready to play against West Brom this weekend except Hector Bellerin. When I was a kid I loved the Napoleonic Wars, not because I loved suffering, but because there were so many oil paintings of the battles. Brightly colored soldiers with comically large hats would shoot fire from their muskets into a phalanx of wild-eyed cavalry horses. I have a memory of a painting that featured several bandaged soldiers. Leaning against a crumbling wall. A dog licking out of a bowl of milk. This is how I imagine Arsenal’s physio room. Poor Tomas Rosicky, hobbling on a crutch in the background. Mikel Arteta, legless, on a wheeled cart. Victims of the wars.

Please Arsene, don’t send Generalissimo Sanchez to the front to fight Perfidious Albion! Save his powder for the battle at Man City!!

-1 minutes. Now I’m going to be late. Best not to blame the child. That’s how I was raised, if the parents were late it was the child’s fault. It’s never the child’s fault. Next time start writing earlier.

Arsenal published a large piece on Bellerin. Never before have so many words been written that revealed so little. At the end of the article there is a poll: who is Arsenal’s greatest ever right back. I chose Tom Parker. I chose him because his name was the only one on the list I didn’t recognize. Born in 1897, died in 1987, Tom Parker won the League with Arsenal in the old WM days of Chapman. Someone was being cheeky including Tom Parker. None of us ever saw Tom play. I chose Tom.

-8 minutes. Sigh.

Tony Pulis said something right for once and he actually managed to draw sympathy from me. His interview will probably be characterized as another “kids these days” piece because he has a moan about players putting on their headphones and looking at their computers and how they are all multi-millionaires now. But Pulis is right. People don’t like to interact face-to-face anymore. Go into any bar and there are dozens of people looking down, their faces illuminated by their phones.

If you want to know what happened in football this weekend, you don’t talk to your friends, you ask your phone. If you want to know about the latest emergency, you don’t look out your window, you turn on your phone.

We used to look up to see what’s going on in the world. Now we look down. It’s a bit of a loss, you have to admit, having your life mediated by what other people see/saw/say.

One day, there will be a writer who looks up. He will capture the world you’re all missing when you look down.

-15 minutes.

You should read Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano. If you have Kindle Unlimited it’s free. If not, go to your local library and check it out. If you’re a collector, like me, you’ll want to buy this book. I have to thank Ian for buying me this book. It’s fantastic. Thank you Ian.