Things I got wrong

Ospina — After throwing the ball into his own net against Olympiakos I figured he was done at Arsenal. I figured wrong. He had a great stop against Andre Gray this weekend and it looks like Wenger is going to keep his promise to play Ospina as the “cup keeper”.

Elneny-Coquelin — I never thought Wenger would play them together because I thought they were too similar but it turns out that Elneny is much more box-to-box than I thought. So, it was a decent pairing and one which we will probably see more of. I am curious about whether Elneny can also play in the Coquelin role. Wenger said that he is “a bit more defensive” than Ramsey and that makes me wonder if, over the long term, Wenger might play Elneny not as a Coquelin but more as an Arteta: someone to deploy at the base of the midfield who can control the game through possession. Elneny’s versatility gives him options.

Burnley — They sprung a surprise and pressed Arsenal’s midfield. Based on their stats they aren’t a team who actively try to win the ball back but against Arsenal they had 27 tackles and 30 interceptions. They average 29, tackles and interceptions combined, in the Championship. It was a baptism by fire for Elneny and he did fine.

Walcott — Is there any player at Arsenal more bereft of confidence than Theo Walcott? One-v-one with the Burnley ‘keeper on Saturday and with a golden chance to put the game away, Walcott tried to dribble and coughed up the ball. I expected Walcott to crack on this season and be that player who scores the 15 extra goals we all thought Arsenal needed to challenge for the League.  he is getting himself into great positions to score, in fact, he’s had more big chances than any other Arsenal player 13 in the League alone. But he’s only scored 2 and that’s indicative of a player who isn’t finishing well at the moment. Maybe he’ll come on strong in the final part of the season?

Barton — what a real reformed character, eh? Came on in the late stages of the game and within a few seconds he had already taken a dive to get a foul, then elbowed Arteta in the head, and then while Arteta was on the ground, went over and tried to lift him up as if to say “quit faking, you’re all right.” So, I wasn’t wrong about Barton, what I was wrong about was that this Arsenal team didn’t rise to his bait. I guess it makes sense though, after all Arsenal have played twice with Costa and he is the Premier League’s master baiter. Joey Barton in contrast looks like a guy who beats up kids.

I worked hard for that joke.

Southampton — Arsenal play tomorrow. Which seems unreal to have a League game so soon after a cup tie but that’s the Premier League. I loved the pictures from training today; there was a full blooded challenge between Coquelin and Alexis, (ed. I somehow published before I finished this thought! Ha ha, brimming over with wrongness this morning) Welbeck was back and smiling, and four players busted out the infamous snood — Ozil, Giroud, Arteta, and Koscielny. Weird group there eh?



So much depends upon Alexis

Jack Wilshere collected the Besiktas clearance at the top of the box.

The ball had bounced hard and Jack had to gather with his left foot, about waist high. He had time to settle and to find Özil standing in the D at the top of the box amid a crowd of defenders.

Jack slipped Özil the ball, and with the defender’s footsteps thudding in his ears, Özil immediately poked the ball through the rush of legs and into open space near where Jack had made his run.

It was a classic give and go play and for a second Jack looked like he was going to shoot with his right leg from close range. But before Jack could compose himself, Alexis Sanchez simply ran past Jack and kicked the ball into the back of the net, scoring his first Arsenal goal and announcing himself to the Arsenal faithful: a hungry, aggressive, scoring threat who wouldn’t let anyone stand in his way, not even a teammate.

Countless column inches have been written about the imminent return of Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin and the maybe start of new signing Mohamed Elneny. Few would disagree that Arsenal have missed Coquelin’s solidity in midfield. And as you can see from the chart below, the numbers bear out that perception:


Anywhere where you see blue indicates Arsenal shot dominance: Arsenal took more shots than their opponents. Anywhere you see that orangey red indicates opposition shot dominance.

On this chart, Arsenal dominated shots in all but 2 of the first 15 games: Chelsea and Tottenham. And in the last 8 games, Arsenal have been dominated 6 of 8.

And if we look at offensive output versus defensive solidity, we see that there has been a reversal at Arsenal — the Gunners are being dominated in the total shots department, not the other way round as we would normally expect to see from a top club:


Shots for and against tug on each other: pull one down and inevitably the other goes up. At least this is a hypothesis I have.

Even if I am wrong and getting Coquelin back in the team will bring the opposition’s shots per game back down to where it was before he got hurt, Arsenal’s offense is still below the opposition. That’s why, even though I am excited to see Coquelin’s name included in the likely players this weekend, getting Alexis back in the team is the real key.

Arsenal need more offense and they need it badly. They won’t beat Burnley tomorrow with defensive solidity alone. And going forward Arsenal need to get their offensive output up to at least somewhere near the start of the season if they are going to win the Premier League.

Alexis is the key. He has to get back that desire he showed for his first goal and take control of this Arsenal offense. He has to get Arsenal firing again.

So much depends upon our Chil-ean forward; glazed with sweat, waiting.. beside the white goal posts.



It’s the return of the bully: Joey Barton

Seven years ago Arsenal lost to Burnley 2-0 at their home stadium of Turf Moor. It was December 2008 and the two teams were drawn together for the League Cup. At the time, Wenger always played the kids in the cup and so the lineup for Arsenal that day was Fabianski, Hoyte, Silvestre, Ramsey, Gibbs, Rodgers (Lansbury 46), Randall (Bischoff 72), Merida, Wilshere (Simpson 63), Bendtner, and the ever chippy Carlos Vela.

Wenger was criticized for using young players in those League Cup ties, people claimed that Arsenal were “disrespecting the cup” as if the League Cup was some ancient tradition in football. But Wenger was right to play the kids because it gave them experience, even in, especially in a loss; Wenger was building the character of his young players.

Most of the names on that team sheet are gone. Some for good riddance, others because they were simply not good enough, and still others because they deserved to play football full time at another club. I still get a chuckle when I think of Amaury Bischoff coming on in the 72nd minute, Wenger’s last throw of the dice.

But some of the players are still with Arsenal and will be available for Saturday’s match against Burnley. Ramsey and Gibbs in particular will almost certainly start, and if Wilshere was healthy he would probably start as well.

Since that match in 2008, Aaron Ramsey has gone on to recover from a terrible double-leg break and played a pivotal part in back to back FA Cup trophies for the Gunners. Ramsey will remember that night at Turf Moot, the sting of defeat at the hands of the smaller club, and he will be up for this game.

And marking him in midfield will be Joey Barton. That’s right, wearing the number 13, and playing in the central midfield role for Burnley is the Donald Trump of modern football, Joey Barton.

What makes Barton so Trump-like is the combination of an insanely irritating personality, a weird popularity sparked by a good sense of showmanship, and it’s all wrapped neatly in a megalomaniacal package. The one thing that Trump and Barton like best in this world is Trump and Barton.

Watch any Trump speech and what you’ll notice is a starting lack of any specifics to the hundreds of ideas he has already said that he will make reality as president. He claims he will build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. How? Well, you just have to understand, he’s a great negotiator. He will just force Mexico to do it.

Joey Barton has the same kind of attitude. This summer he was released by QPR and no one came calling. Well, he claims there were a few. But when he was picked up by Burnley on a free he gave his first interview and stated unequivocally that Burnley were smart, for hiring Joey Barton.

It reiterates how fickle this industry is and how lazy people are. There’s a lot of lazy people out there. If you did your due diligence and were smart and a forward-thinking organisation – certainly in the Championship – I was a no-brainer really if you wanted to get promotion.

You see people spending money on players in that position, I am thinking: ‘Wow’. But Burnley are obviously smarter than the average bear when it comes to that, you can see that in the recruitment over recent years.

See, it’s simple, really, everyone else is lazy and stupid for not picking Joey Barton. He’s a no-brainer and Burnley are smarter than the average bear, boo boo.

I don’t know how smart it is to take Joey Barton in your team. He does have the ability to rile some players up, he got Arsenal’s Diaby and Gervinho sent off after they retaliated against him for his assaults on them. And if you watch that Gervinho video above, you will see what Joey Barton is all about: hauling Gervinho up by his lapels for a dive and then when Gervinho touches Barton’s face, taking a dive himself. You can also see Berton kicking people in that video and getting stamped on by Alex Song, again in retaliation. He does have a knack for riling up the Arsenal players.

Barton and Trump are both bullies. And when their bullying fails they both have a tendency to explode into ugly scenes.

Trump is currently in a non-stop twitter war with Fox News over them using Megyn Kelly in the latest debate. He doesn’t like  Kelly because she asked him a question he didn’t want to answer so he is boycotting the debate and sending out all kinds of crazy tweets about Fox News. I’ve never seen anything like it from a Presidential candidate. He is literally acting like a spoiled child.

And when his team needed him on the final day of the 2012 season Barton lost his rag in a similar fashion. QPR needed a result against Man City on the final day of the season, or for Stoke to beat Bolton. Not knowing the outcome of the Stoke-Bolton match and seemingly unable to bully the Man City players into submission, Barton lost his mind and elbowed Carlos Tevez. The moment he saw the red card he went even crazier, kicking Aguero from behind, trying to headbut Kompany, and going after Balotelli on the sidelines.

If Barton is looking forward to any match this season it’s this one. He loves to get under Arsenal’s skin and it works. Add to that history the fact that this is an FA Cup tie and that referees tend to let a lot more go in these matches and we could have a real ugly match on our hands.

And considering Joey Barton’s latest line from Burnley’s 4-1 win over Derby — 0 goals, 0 shots, 0 assists, 5 fouls, 0 cards — we can get a sense of exactly what Barton will be up to.