Arsènal

It's a mineral...

Today marks Arsène Wenger’s 13th year at Arsenal, making him the longest serving manager the club has ever had and also the only Arsenal manager that I have ever known. To some folks this last fact is a criticism but I don’t see it that way: when you start following a club, you have to start with some manager and who better to get my addiction off to a really good start than the man whose name is synonymous with the club?

Wenger’s most obvious successes have been well documented: articles about the two doubles, the invincibles season, and the huge sums of money he’s generated in player sales dominate this morning’s journalistic landscape and obviously he deserves all that praise, those are his achievements.  In fact, as I like to point out, Arsene Wenger’s record is so impressive that under his stewardship he has won the same number of league titles as Chelsea has in their entire 104 year history.

But those are the easy stories to write about. What’s often left uncovered is how profoundly Arsène Wenger has changed Arsenal football club, English football, and perhaps even world football in general.

At the club, the change has been dramatic. Arsenal have been transformed from “boring boring Arsenal” who played a defensive brand of football in a 30,000 seat arena (magnificent as it was) to a fluid, attacking, “total” football team which entertains 60,000 people in person and thrills millions worldwide. Moreover, Wenger’s attention to detail and tireless work ethic created a world class youth academy that has produced countless footballing professionals. And those same personal qualities created the London Colney training ground, the envy of every club in the world and the basis from which springs our beautiful football. He even had input on the design of the Emirates Stadium. As Ken Friar points out in his interview on the dot com, Wenger’s fingerprints are all over the permanent parts of this club.

Across the EPL, his training and dietary regimens, scouting and youth academy, and brand of attacking football has inspired changes in the way the game is played, coached, and even the types of players that teams buy. If you want to be in the top four of the English Premier League then you need to have a top class training regimen, you need to have a world-wide scouting troupe, and you need to play (at least somewhat) an attacking brand of football. That’s down, in large part to teams looking at what Wenger is doing and wanting to imitate. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read a story about a club like Tottenham where a new manager comes in and comments on the lazy training, or where a team is lauded for playing “Arsenal-like.” Chelsea’s owner’s wet dream is that his club would be as big as Arsenal, would play the attacking style of football that Arsenal plays, and that the club would be as successful as just one man has been. That, for me, is one of the biggest compliments that Wenger could receive.

And now here he is pushing the boundaries of the whole league’s reserves system and has changed the League Cup from a burdensome tournament to a sparkling showcase for England’s finest youth prospects.  I could go on and on about the ways that he’s changed English football but it’s his world-wide impact that is probably most remarkable. In Scotland, you have Tony Mowbray trying to play like Arsenal, in America Sigi Schmid is saying that they want to play open, attacking football and that’s just two off the top of my head. It seems like every time I turn around I hear a pundit saying that such and such team plays “Arsenal like.”

The thing is, teams aren’t really playing Arsenal-like, Arsenal-like has been dozens of different things since 1886. No, across the globe, teams are playing Arsène-like. It’s just that in 13 years Arsène and Arsenal have become so synonymous that people can’t tell them apart.

So, the club might as well go ahead and add the grave accent over the “e” in Arsenal, because for a long time to come this team and Arsène Wenger will be synonymous.

For a long time to come we will be Arsènal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Arsenal 2-0 Olympiacos: the joie de vivre, effervescence, and Sophocles

Preamble:

Fun night all around. First off the high definition broadcast is simply amazing. Up till now, I’ve only seen Chelsea or some other team in HD, and crap in HD is still crap, though in HD you get to see what they had for dinner last night.

Second, I had company as Phil the mechanic came over and helped me re-assemble the rear rotor and tire on my motorcycle. I had already spun through the first half of the recording when he showed up and after I served him some dinner we fired up the second. For him, a novice football fan, to see those two Arsenal goals must have been a bit, erm, odd.

The first goal was as “Arsenal” a goal as I have ever seen. The move starts with Song winning the ball, and his subsequent mispass falling to Eboue who quickly lobbed forward, where Robin van Persie had dropped deep to claim the ball off his chest with what Wenger hails as amazing touch, and it was. Robin drops the ball for Cesc and starts his attacking run. Cesc carries the ball forward, and  picks out Eduardo who had timed his run off the shoulder perfectly and who expertly controls the ball, dribbles to the end-line and puts the ball in just about the only place where the keeper couldn’t get to it and there’s Robin van Persie who simply puts in a rare left-legged goal.

Amazing.

It’s funny too, because when the goal came I had just been complaining to Phil about how Olympiacos literally had 10 men in their own half for the first 70 minutes. I think when Sky showed the possession stats at 58 to 42 in favor of Arsenal I scoffed that Olympiacos couldn’t possibly have had 42% of the ball. In fact, the Telegraph shows 66% in favor of Arsenal, which I think is still generous for Olympiacos. Maybe they saw 34% of the ball when their keeper was picking it out of the net.

Irregardless the stats, it was great to see the club break down a stalwart opposition who clearly came to the Emirates and parked the bus. Last year, getting a result against a team like that wasn’t a guarantee. This year, I honestly never felt like the result was in doubt.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Arsene Wenger continued the quest for the one thing missing from his Arsenal CV as the Gunners maintained their 100% record in Champions League Group H with a 2-0 win over Olympiakos at Emirates Stadium.

Telegraph: Arsène Wenger has mocked those urging him to spend the club’s latest profits, pointing out that the transfer window is closed and “you don’t buy players at Waitrose’’. If you could, Arsenal’s manager would be the one peering over the Continental produce counter, hunting more bargains like Robin van Persie, who cost only £2.75 million.

Match Video

The Arsenalist has the highlights today!

Man of the Match

A bit tough here as I can see arguments for Arshavin, Cesc, van Persie, and Song. After the match, the boss pointed to Arshavin’s close quarter skills as a decisive factor against a team that tries to shut up shop. Robin van Persie in the goal that broke the game open showed his hard work, control, and importance to this team overall. And Song was easily our most mature and calm player on the pitch, holding the ball in their half, and for much of the second half playing as one of only two midfielders as we switched to a 4-2-4. Hell, I could even see an argument for Eduardo who simply came on to the pitch, with a muscle injury, and immediately changed the game.

But, because he was involved in every attack, just missed a goal for himself by the slimmest of crossbars, had a hand in both goals, and because he looked like his old self, I’m giving Man of the Match to Cesc. Here’s hoping he can keep this form through the weekend.

The Good

Arsenal have now won 5 matches in a row and have kept 4 consecutive clean sheets. Moreover, this same team last year was incapable of breaking down teams who played for the draw, but last night I never felt like the result was in danger.

As I’ve already pointed out, Song looked very assured in the midfield, Arshavin looked predatory, Cesc was on his game, Eboue looked great as right back and reminded me of why he was a fan favorite 3 years ago, van Persie worked his ass off, and Eduardo came on and simply changed the game. Wenger says that the team has matured and if last night’s performance is any indication I agree wholeheartedly.

I also want to give a shout out to the crowd who were awesome for 85 minutes. Yes, they went home after Arshavin scored the second, but who can blame them? It’s late on a Tuesday and who wants to be sitting on a train platform for an hour after the match?

Bad quote of the day:

The only thing I was slightly disappointed with was Arsenal’s continued inability to put in a good ball off a set play. Yesterday they tried everything, even Arshavin had a crack at a dead ball, yet it didn’t matter who took the free kick, they can’t seem to get the ball over the first defender. FRUSTRATING.

Anyway, it’s a minor thing, and is completely overshadowed by this mind-bogglingly stupid quote:

It was not just us sitting back and not playing. We went forward, but could not get any passing going and suffered from Arsenal’s way of playing. — Olympiacos manager Zico

Uhhh, lobbing the ball out of your end for our defenders to collect is not “going forward.”

Ugly sentence of the day

The Telegraph serves this gem up:

Clad in funereal black, the Greeks performed as if auditioning for one of Sophocles’ tragedies and their complete lack of joie de vivre was a contrast to Arsenal’s effervescence, not to mention the playing days of their coach, Zico.

Only the English language can take a Germanic structure, toss in a smidgen of Greek, French, and Latin and output this turd of a sentence. Oh and yes, it’s pronounced few-ner-e-al which rhymes with venereal.

Conclusions

Arsenal are now on maximum points in our Champions League group and in complete control of our own destiny. Winning this group was considered a given after the draw and seeing our form over our first two opponents — coming back from 2-0 down against Liege and opening up a doggedly defensive Olympiacos — you’d have to think we are clear favorites.

Arsenal now have 5 days to recover before they face Blackburn on Sunday. It’s another home game so that means no traveling and maximum rest for the squad after two big games.

After last night’s determined performance, they’ll probably relish the rest.

Arsenal v. Olympiacos; Beware of Bloggers Bearing Clichés

Nicholas Bendtner practices his Om Song before the Champions League clash between Arsenal and Olympiacos

Preamble:

I’ll admit it. I don’t know anything about Olympiacos FC. Aside from the reports that have flooded in over the last two days (Journo’s do have a purpose) I don’t know dick about this club, mostly because I’ve never seen them play. If you have seen them and want to share your experiences with us, please do, that’s why the gods created comments on blogs.

I do know that they are Greece’s most successful club, that they will be wearing black kits tonight, and that they are very good at home in European competitions and very very bad away from home in European competitions.

I also know that they have shared their “tactics” with us all and that their cunning plan will be to 1) deny Cesc the ball and 2) deny us space. Genius, they must have watched a film of us play or something.

Injuries

Nicholas Fender Bendtner wrecked his Aston Martin yesterday and from the looks of it he finally finished something. This was no minor slip off the road into a sapling, but a full on death defying car crash… at 10am, sober. He’s being withheld as a precaution and so he won’t play today.

As I reported yesterday, Denilson is out for “two months” with a fractured back. A lot of folks are reminded of Gilberto’s fractured back and how he was out most of a season and I too feel like this “two months” estimate might be a bit optimistic. As Mia pointed out in yesterday’s comments, players who return from this type of injury often go on to pick up other niggling injuries as they work their way back to fitness and I think this is especially true in the engine room of the team. Let’s all touch wood (he he, touch “wood”) that Denilson has a speedy recovery and that by some stroke of luck is never injured ever again. EVAR.

Nasri is still out with the broken leg and combined with all our other injuries that means that our midfield options are very limited. Remember how at the start of the season I was all bragging about how stacked Arsenal were in midfield? I do still believe that we are stacked and am grateful that we are so blessed to have Diaby, Eboue, Song, Rosicky, Cesc, Ramsey and Merida available. That said, a lot of those names are real question marks as for their match readiness and only a precious few of those players can truly play the holding role. So, it’s a mixed bag for me. The boss could, for example, put Rosicky in Cesc’s spot and move Cesc into a more holding role. As you can see from that example, though, it might not be the best use of Cesc Fabregas. Whatever Wenger chooses to do today, sorting this sort of selection nightmare is where Wenger earns his pay. I’m sure he’ll get it right.

Or he’ll play Eboue in the holding role like he did last year, to GREAT SUCCESS!

Walcott is ready and begging to play but the boss is saying that he lacks match fitness. Almunia is still out with a “chest” infection. And finally, Fabianski and Djourou are both still out recovering from surgery.

Starting XI

arsenal-v-olympiacos

I don’t really think this is much of a controversial selection on my part. The boss has highlighted van Persie’s touch and creativity as the reason why he plays him alone up front instead of Fender Bendtner. He talked about Eduardo being available for the match, and Rosicky needs a run out I think, so that’s why I put those two in. The rest of the team selects itself really.

Feel free to disagree!

Where to watch the match?

If you live there, I’m sorry but it’s sold out so you can’t go. You can watch it on Sky Sports Xtra if you have that or maybe you’ll have to go to the local boozer.

Here in North America the match is being carried on your local Fox Sports Net channel. This is different from your Fox Soccer Channel, it’s usually part of your basic cable and usually shows regional sports programming. Here in the PNW, we actually have a High Definition feed for our local Fox Sports Net, so, and this is super exciting, I get to watch Arsenal in High Def for the very first time. I’m so excited all six of my nipples are tingling.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, so if you live somewhere other than England or North America, please feel free to share where you can watch the match in the comments.

Predictions

  • Arsene Wenger was not handed a £60m “war chest” and even if he was, he won’t spend it until he finds a “Goldilocks” signing.
  • Carlos Vela is not going to Xeres.
  • Fabregas will have 1 goal and 1 assist tonight
  • Arshavin will come on in the 70th minute
  • Arsenal will win 3-1.

That’s it for today, Kickers, see you tomorrow for the Good, Bad, and Ugly.