Arsenal v. Birmingham; match preview

Lots of injury news today so lets jump straight in with a knee-high, studs-up lunge, shall we?

The boss broke down the injuries list and it is as follows: Vela will not be involved because he hasn’t even landed yet, Bendtner’s out with a ‘recurrence of his groin’ (what happened, did his groin multiply?), Eduardo is out, Fabianski is still out even though he is practicing normally, Clichy picked up a knock and is out, Nasri is out and Denilson and Djourou are still out.

Almunia is available, having recovered from his chest cold and I think he presents a bit of an interesting selection challenge for the boss. If he was legitimately injured then in my mind, he starts because players shouldn’t lose their starting spots to injury. If, however, there’s something more to his absence than just injury then the boss could start him and see how he does or could start Mannone and see if he is gaining consistency. Wenger was coy about the keeper selection in his pre-match presser.

We all know how tight lipped he is about the team before the match but I have to wonder, if Almunia is #1, and he’s healthy, then he’s not letting anything out of the bag by saying “yes, we will be playing our #1 keeper.” He had no problem naming Gibbs as the starting left-back, so exactly what the deal is with keeper is going to have to remain a mystery until tomorrow. If he picks Mannone, then clearly something is up with Almunia.

The good news is that the core of this team is healthy; Diaby is 100% after sitting out for France (do you see what I did there?), Cesc is available, and Arshavin is available. My team selection is as follows:

Arsenal-v-Birmingham-xi

I suspect that Sagna will get a rest, Diaby is our only real choice in midfield and Wenger will deploy our dream forward three of Arshavin, van Persie, and Rosicky. This lineup means that Diaby will need to temper his tendency to get forward and by ‘temper’ I mean: STOP IT. Diaby’s going to have to let Cesc and those guys do the fun stuff up front and do the dirty work with Song in keeping the Birmingham counter attack in check.

On thing I found a bit odd is that the boss looked surprised when a reporter told him that 24 goals in the first 7 games is a Premier League record goals tally for the start of the season. Honestly, it was news to me as well, but when you stop to think about it, 3.4 goals per game is really incredible. That puts us on pace to score 130 goals this season and that, I can assure you, has never been done. In fact, not even close. If you go back to 2001 there are two teams which tied for most goals scored in a season at 87; Manure and Arsenal.

87 goals in a season is a little under 2.3 goals a game and is still considered scoring at a really good clip. 3.4 goals a game is off the charts and I don’t think we should even start to think that this pace will continue. Could this team get 100 goals in a season? They’d have to score 2.63  goals a game to do it. I don’t know, as I wrote about the other day, it’s clear that this Arsenal team is purpose built to score goals so if anyone could do it it’s us. Wenger even chalks the goals for tally up to the style of play, the talent, and the drive forward by this team and says that they “want to express themselves” so maybe that’s just the way this team wants to play: score a monstrous number of goals.

But let me be clear; 100 goals in a season is spectacularly spectacular. I’m talking on the level of The Invincibles. It’s just not done. But if they did it? We could call them “The Centurions.” In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this team will score 100 goals this season. Only 76 more to go!

Of course, that’s all speculation, and right here in front of us we have Birmingham a team, who, to be fair, are going to park the bus, set out the awning, set up a blacksmith shop, and start making horseshoes. If they get 5 shots on goal I will, literally, shit my pants. Literally.

Getting 3 goals against this team will be quite a task. Again, as I wrote two days ago, teams who play for 1 point a game are relegation fodder and that’s what Birmingham journalists are admitting that this team is doing. It’ll be a bit different in January when their rich owner springs some cash for transfers but right now, Birmingham City has one thing on their mind: get a draw.

The one thing on our minds, however, is to get a massive win. Of course, the topic of Taylor breaking Eduardo’s leg being the last time these two met comes up, and from the following quote it really does dound like Arsenal and Arsene might have put this behind them:

I’m not worried about that. It’s a bad memory but I do not go in to the game tomorrow thinking it was against them that it happened, that could have happened against any team. It was very unfortunate and it was a big, big turning point in the season on the day because of the many negative events happening on the same day. But, we do not go into the game tomorrow thinking that we are going to take revenge on them for that. We want to win the game tomorrow because it can strengthen our position in the league.

I don’t expect him to say any less, but still, you have to think that the players who were there will want to show Birmingham a warm welcome back to top flight football with an old fashioned ass whuppin. Before that match, we looked like the team that was going to win the league. Soon after the game we were dumped out of all competitions in spectacular fashion and by the end of the season we fell to third and I trace it all directly back to that game. That has an effect on players. You can’t tell me that a guy who is as competitive as Cesc Fabregas is isn’t going to want to go out there and pick Blackburn apart: eviscerate them and pick the meat off their bones.  Wenger’s statement is all well and fine, and I expect no less from the manager, but I also expect that El Capitan will want a scalp tomorrow.

For their part, Birmingham will play with a single “forward” who will rarely venture past the half way point. Blah blah, injuries, blah blah, new owner, blah blah, relegation battle, blah blah blah. With these teams it’s always the same old crap. The only difference is that unlike in the past, Arsenal has players like Arshavin, Rosicky, and Fabregas in forward roles and they can use their dribbling skills, close control, and precise passing to open up teams who try to park the bus. My only question is this: will Arsenal score more goals than the number of Birmingham supporters who show up to the away section?

That’s it for the match preview. I’m not going to get into the Sol Campbell thing, it’s just training, he’s not coming back. Similarly with Fergie and all the other stuff that the press wants to pull us into. Screw that stuff, we’ve got football in the morning!

As for viewings, if you live in Seattle/Tacoma the match is a traditional 7am kickoff and several of us are gathering at Doyle’s (link on the right) to buy Trav the Chav some drinks in honor of his birthday. If you live in Seattle, you can go to the George or to Fado, both will have live viewings.

I will post a discussion thread for those of you who can watch the match live to make comments in but I won’t be near the internet during the match tomorrow, so you’ll all have to carry the load. UPDATE: Doyle’s now has wi-fi and I will be tweeting live from the match, follow me over at my twitter feed. I will also post a good, bad, and ugly right afters.

Right, that’s it for today, come by tomorrow for some discussion at 7am and for a post match reaction around 10-11.  See you then.

What’s Past is Prologue

She that is Queen of Tunis; she that dwells
Ten leagues beyond man’s life; she that from Naples
Can have no note, unless the sun were post—
The Man i’ th’ Moon’s too slow—till new-born chins
Be rough and razorable; she that from whom
We all were sea-swallow’d, though some cast again
(And by that destiny) to perform an act
Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come,
In yours and my discharge. — Antonio, The Tempest, Act 2 Scene 1

Nationalism week is finally over. The body paint has been painted, the flags waived, the drums beaten, and the vuvuzelas annoyingly blown. Some teams, ranked teams like Croatia, won’t be going to the World Cup leaving Messers Eduardo, Vermaelen, and Ramsey to play Scrabble with Almunia and Denilson this Summer. Though, if Oliver Kay had his way, Ole Manny Pickledickle would travel to South Africa and be in a pretty good position to win a World Cup from the looks of that team.

Oliver Kay does make a rather compelling point about Almunia; that if you look at Germany, their 4 man strike team consists of just one German-born player, Mario Gomez and you could look at pretty much every squad and see a naturalized player. But, that Scotland is just now letting all of her citizens play for the national team, coupled with the statements of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, John Terry and pretty much all of the English players (except Theo Walcott) I think says a lot about the attitude of the United Kingdom toward foreigners. As I have said repeatedly, Almunia would need one hell of a spine to bear the tempest of scorn and play for England. As I have also stated repeatedly, if chosen he should accept.

Whilst away on their Nationalism duty on Wednesday both Ramsey and Arshavin  scored goals, with only Rambo’s being noteworthy. Arshavin got a tap in and if you want to see that, go over to 101 Great Goals and check it out. I want to post the Wales v. Liechtenstein match here, though, because I absolutely love this video. It’s about 5 minutes long, shows all the highlights, has absolutely no commentary, and there’s a nice light sound track which doesn’t drown out the crowd noise. All football videos should be made like this. ALL OF THEM

But that’s all behind us, if you want to live in that past, the dot com serves up all the Nationalism Team action for all of Arsenal’s players last week. What we’ve got to look forward to is a month of Premier League, Champions League, and a whopper of a Carling Cup match before our next Nationalism break.

In the distant haze of my memory is this one match against a team called Birmingham. I wrote passionately about that match in January, when I was doing my round up of the most important moments of the year. I don’t think I can improve on what I said there so I won’t even try. My main points were that it was a moment that altered Arsenal history, that it should have been remembered for Theo’s performance but it never will be, and that the press’ constant sniveling about how hard it is for TAYLOR to recover from this mortal wound was about as disgusting as I have ever seen from them. The British press still, to this day, refuse to use the active tense when describing the incident, saying things like “Eduardo broke his leg” rather than the more accurate “Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg.” As if Eduardo tripped and fell on Taylor’s outstretched leg, thus placing the blame entirely on the Croatian.

This will be the first time that the two teams have met since that day and I have no doubt that the incident and subsequent disappointing 2-2 draw will be very much on the minds of every Arsenal player on Saturday. In fact, if I was a Birmingham player, coach, or supporter I’d be happy to have just a regular 2-0 loss rather than the absolute hiding that I suspect Arsenal will want to give. An absolute hiding: that’s how much emotion I expect this Arsenal team to have ahead of this match.

Funny thing, though, Taylor is pretty much completely out of contention for the match with an injury and poor form which has kept him out of every match this season. And Eduardo didn’t play on Wednesday, still suffering from a bit of a thigh strain. So, it’s entirely possible that neither of the two actors in that infamous incident will get on stage. That fact could drain some of the emotion from what I expect will be a heated match though how much remains to be seen. We’ll find out more about the lineups when the boss gives his Friday presser tommorrow.

In the end, I am hoping that Eduardo gets on in the last 20 minutes and scores a goal, there would be no better way to both honor the past and look to the future and thereby make what’s past truly a prologue.

4, 5, 5, 5, 1, 0: how many losses will win the league this year?

invincibles

4 losses, 5 losses, 5 losses, 5 losses, 1 loss, 0 losses

That’s your last 6 Premier League winners’ losses tally. Yesterday Perry Groves made what on its surface seems an incredible claim; that this year the title winner could lose as many as 6 matches and still win the title. Most people would think “6 losses? that’s crazy!” and historically they’d be correct. Arsenal lost 6 last year and it was only good enough for 4th place. After thinking about it, though, I’m going to agree with Perry for two reasons; first, because of the challengers to the top four, and second because it’s better to lose a match while going for the win than it is to sit back and go for the tie.

So far this season several teams have looked very impressive; Sunderland looks like they might be the type of team that will push all of the title challengers — with their stropping two center forwards and a middle of Cattermole, Cana, and Malbranque they are a no nonsense squad and will turn over top four teams this year. Their draw against Man U was no fluke, they earned that. Villa are still a dangerous team and folks would be silly to write Martin O’Neill and his squad off as an easy three points. Everton are constructed to grind their opponents down and with news that Phil Jagielka is ready to make a comeback they should look to make up for their poor start to the season with some solid play. Tottenham is a squad that wants to score a ton of goals and that will surprise a lot of folks. And, of course, City look like they are solid enough to push teams, at least until the infighting starts. All this is to say that beyond the usual surprises, such as Wigan stealing one against Chelsea, there are a lot of teams who are built to challenge, if not beat, the top four clubs. None of which even mentions the fact that the top clubs will fight tooth and nail for all three points when they face each other. so, 6 losses each for the top clubs is by no stretch of the imagination infeasable.

But really it’s not losses that matter so much. Sure, it’s dropped points, but so are draws. The old adage is that top four teams sees draws as two dropped points while smaller clubs tend to see it as a point salvaged. How important are draws on a final tally? Well, a team that draws every game gets 38 points and probable relegation. Whereas a team which wins half, and loses half, ends up on 57 points and playing in the Europa League. As for the title challengers, here’s another way to look at it: during Arsenal’s unbeaten season they went 26-12-0 and garnered 90 points. Man U lost 4 matches last year and got the same point total, because they won more, going 28-6-4. They drew half as many and won just two more games, and they got the same number of points! Incredibly, in that unbeaten season, if Chelsea had converted just 4 of their draws to wins, they would have beaten Arsenal to the title by one point — while losing 7 matches to Arsenal’s 0. Clearly, winning is everything. This sounds almost stupid to say but, 6 losses won’t matter to the league winner as long as they win more games. Win more games, win the title, as it should be.

I’m not saying that draws are useless. They can be a good result, say, in a comeback from a 2 goal deficit. Rather, that top clubs and title winning clubs approach nearly every match as a chance to get three points. It’s early in the season but I think Wenger’s approach to this problem is pretty clear: you need to score goals to win and we’re going to outscore you. Yes, this means that like the City game, we’re going to go into the game saying that we’d rather lose 4-2 than get a 2-2 draw. Under that system, and the way that we are playing defense, I can actually see Arsenal losing 7 or 8 this season — and still challenging for the title. Since our comptetitors will be looking at 5-8 losses as well, it will be the win to draws ratio that will decide this season.

All we have to do is win more!