Arsenal beat Fulham 3-1 at Crave Cottage on Saturday to cap off an opening week of football that took us on a clichecoaster ride of downs and ups. In fact, the more I think about cliches, this week has been exactly like that song by that band. You know the song, by that band, and how they are all “struggles, overcome, a little, but not permanently, and yet we endure.”
Oh wait, no I mean that song by Daft Punk, “Get Lucky.”
I don’t know why but in all my years following football I never gave luck its due. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a plebe when it comes to understanding football. But still, I’ve been following Arsenal since the before the turn of the century and you’d think that in 15 years or so I would have picked up on something so fundamental as the large role luck plays in football.
The fact I never gave luck much credence makes even less sense when you know how much work I’ve put into trying to find statistical correlations between shots and goals and games won. Or how I look so closely at errors and play in the final third. Or the fact that I have ever watched a Stoke City match, a club which relentlessly relies on the six-yard-box scramble to stay in the Premier League.
They’re up all night to get replay.
But Wenger plays the long odds: the season is a marathon, he’ll tell you, and you need to build a team that can run the marathon. So, one unlucky break shouldn’t kill the season.
Losing on opening day is really no different than losing on December 26th or May 8th. It’s all just a loss, mixed in with, hopefully, a lot of wins and a few draws. It doesn’t hurt any less for us fans and especially coming as it did on the tails of our summer of discontent but I do understand the long-haul theory.
I can also understand Arsenal fans anger at the referee in the first match. Arsenal don’t get the benefit of a clear penalty call by Anthony Taylor, who gives Villa two penalties, and makes a whole host of other poor calls. Meanwhile just down the Seven Sisters Road, them lot have scored just two goals so far this season and have had both from the penalty spot. Those who are looking for the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify Arsenal’s bodily fluids have been in full overdrive this last week.
But I’ll tell you what would fix the problem with referees instantaneously: instant replay. And don’t give me this guff about “delaying the game”. There are around 30 minutes or more of every game where the keeper is taking a kick, the players are throwing the ball in, someone is rolling around waiting to get treatment, Stoke are playing with their balls, etc. Football is a fast-paced game, but it is punctuated by plenty of down-time for kicks and arguing with the officials. Plenty of time for the rare instance of a review for an uncalled penalty or a penalty given.
Podolski just likes to have fun
Arsene Wenger admitted that he wants to hold on to Lukas Podolski after his two-goal haul against Fulham on Saturday and I see nothing wrong with that. Lukas isn’t the complete striker we all wish that he was and he’s actually not very consistent but he certainly adds value to the squad.
There was a lot of talk about his fitness last year and the fact that he played 51 times for club and country yet only completed 5 games is a clue that perhaps his fitness really was an issue. This is a player who averaged 80+ minutes per appearance over the three seasons prior, dropping to just 60 minutes average per app.
If he’s willing to take on a bench role he could be a super-sub. Though, I wonder if he’d willingly do that during a World Cup year.
Giroud’s putting away with aplomb
The one place that Arsenal have been lucky is that our big French forward has found his close-range shooting boots. I suppose I should have seen that coming but I was too busy fawning over Theo Walcott and his growth curve to see that Giroud would start finishing those big chances. He was 4 for 23 in big chances last season and that led everyone to conclude that he’s not a finisher. But he’s now 2 for 2 in that department and already off to a cracking start with three goals in three games.
Both goals had an element of luck to them but still all credit to Giroud for finishing. The goal against Fulham at the weekend was especially lucky, Ramsey takes a shot from distance, it gets tangled in legs and pops to Giroud who has the defender on his back and the keeper left to beat. Quick thinking little flick and boom he’s off watersliding into the corner flag.
We’re all uptight about Ramsey
You may have noticed this but Arsenal fans talk in metaphor based on a shared folklore. It’s like that episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where Picard is trapped on that planet with the Tamarian and he keeps saying “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”. Instead of Darmok we have “Rooney, bombing past Denilson against Man U” and “Fabregas backheel at Barcelona” or “Bin-bag in the bus to Liverpool” all metaphors for our shared experience of Arsenal.
Ramsey seems to have an unusual number of strong metaphors tied to him. “Ramsey at Stoke” is the most prominent and will probably remain his most prominent metaphor, though he does seem to have been nudging the meaning of that metaphor slowly away from a sort of lode stone around his neck and into something much more triumphant. Maybe one day “Ramsey at Stoke won’t conjure up images of Ryan Shawcross breaking his leg but rather Ramsey getting a trophy winning goal.
Like Giroud and Podolski above I don’t want to get too excited by Ramsey’s play but the kid has been outstanding so far in the Arteta role. He’s leading Arsenal in tackles and passes, both things that Arteta did in his time, and he never hides when the club need someone to drop back and pick the ball up. A lot of defensive midfielders don’t want the ball, but Ramsey loves the ball.
He’s added a bit more guile to his game and watching him dance on the edge of the box then provide the pass for Theo to get the assist was pretty special. He followed that up with a goal and I wonder if it was a “Ramsey at Fenerbahce” moment?
We’re all in for Flamini?
I’m not kidding when I say that I have a Flamini shirt. I got it in 2008 when I went over and saw Arsenal play Blackburn on a freezing cold February night. Senderos got the opener in the 4th minute and Adebayor got the clincher in the 90th but in between it was Flamini who ran the show in the Arsenal midfield.
Flamini was so fantastic that night that the guy next to me remarked that Flamini was man of the match. I was all bundled up so he couldn’t see my shirt and I was still a bit shy about talking to strangers at games but I smiled broadly thinking I had bought well in the team shop.
The thing that gave Flamini that extra oomph was that he had a flare for the dramatic. Never one to just let a guy like Nani seal dribble all over the Arsenal midfield, Flamini would come from the other side of the pitch and put an end to that showboating.
By the time I returned to the States, Wenger was so full of praise for Flamini’s ability to control the tempo of the game and to get stuck in that he dubbed him “Flattuso”.
But the thing is, that was five years ago and he’s been a little used player at AC Milan during his time away. I can’t see him controlling the tempo of a game any more but I can see Cabaye doing that Flamini role with Cazorla.
Cabaye has gotten a rep as a pretty player but he has that flare for the nasty that marked Flamini down in everyone’s copy book with the phrase “prick” happily double underlined. Cabaye’s put in some rather nasty challenges, the one on Jay Spearing which had Kopites all reaching for their copy of Dr. Strangelove to see if the International Communist Conspiracy was against them the same way it’s against us (it’s a busy conspiracy).
I would welcome Cabaye at Arsenal. I liked him before he came to Newcastle and I think he’s got the bite we need, mixed with the class that Wenger needs. However you slice it, he’s a better buy than Flamini on a free. I mean, unless we just want someone to come on and kick people. In which case just play Frimpong.
And frankly? I’m kind of ashamed of my Flamini shirt.
Let’s raise our cups to the stars
Cabaye is the only player so far with a strong Arsenal link. I’ve said that phrase before and gotten people shouting at me but read it again, strong link. I’m hearing loads of rumors for other players but Cabaye is actually on strike and Pardew today said that they are looking for a quick resolution so I think that will happen Monday or Tuesday.
The Benzema deal was never going to happen, and his agent/dad/best friend’s cousin’s sister’s brother confirmed as much, but it was fun to dream for a minute that somehow Arsenal would steal the guy with the number 9 shirt at Real Madrid. Di Maria looks more likely than Benzema as they need to raise the money and Bale will take his place on the right side of the Real Attack.
Di Maria is a truly dribbly, left-footed wide player who has been deployed on the right to cut back in on his left in the trademark Mourinho fashion. He can play either side of the attack but would be especially suited to the left where Podolski is playing now.
In center back I wonder if Arsenal wouldn’t do better to just keep Sagna there and buy a fullback to compete with Jenkinson for the starting spot? I really like Sagna’s solid frame in the center of defense and he’s great in the air. He also seems to have lost a step since his two leg breaks and had some trouble keeping up with the speedy, younger wingers the last few outings at fullback. There are a lot of good right backs out there right now any of which would add depth to the club.
And finally, I’ve heard a lot about keepers this week and here’s my take on Wenger and keepers: I have no idea what he’s doing. This is a manager who tried in vain to get Schwarzer but wasn’t really going all out to get a keeper in for the last 5 years. It was more of a tepid attempt to sign a keeper than anything. And now I read that he’s after Casillas and Krul. Let me put it this way, I’ll believe that Arsenal have a new keeper when I see him playing for Arsenal.