Tag Archives: Arsenal

small-arshavin-shot

Arsenal sees shadow on Groundhog Day

21 February 2009 was a beautiful day. As we filed into the stadium, the seats and pitch were dappled in bright winter sunlight. It could have been a trick of the sun, or of the mind, but that pitch was greener than any I had ever seen. It was as if each cell of each blade of grass was drinking in the sun and pouring out green light in return.

The weather matched our collective optimism. Arsenal were a ship in irons, no wind to push our sails, and had faltered to two consecutive 0-0 draws. In those draws Arsenal looked ponderous in midfield with Song and Denilson tacking Arsenal back and forth but never seeming to gain ground. But on the day we we all jubilant from the fact that Arsene Wenger had finally broken down and purchased a forward, a player who would come on, score the goals we needed, and push Arsenal back into the Champions League places, where Aston Villa sat in our stead.

small-arshavin-shot

That player was Andrei Arshavin and he did come on that day, but he didn’t save us and he only excited in brief moments. It was such a boring match that half way through the second half, I noticed the two guys in front of me were sleeping. It ended 0-0 and the Sunderland fans danced. 

The next game ended 0-0 as well. Four consecutive matches ended 0-0 and by the end of that run, Arsenal were 6 points behind Aston Villa in 5th place and just 2 points above Everton in 6th. 

That was the last time Arsenal went three or more matches without scoring. Until Tuesday.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that like 2009, Arsenal fans were excited at the prospect of facing Southampton again. This time with superstar Alexis Sanchez in the team the Gunners had a chance to right the wrongs of the 4-0 loss handed out when Arsenal were at their lowest ebb of the season.

And just like that sunny February day in 2009, the match ended 0-0, and our tiny savior didn’t save us.

Just a few weeks ago Arsenal were League leaders and to paraphrase Eduardo Galeano “well-informed sources in London were announcing the imminent fall of Leicester and Manchester City, it was only a matter of hours.” Galeano was talking about well informed sources in Miami and the fall of Castro. As we know now, Cuba remained under Castro’s rule until his death in… wait, he’s still alive? Damn, by the Law of Metaphors we now know that Leicester City will never fall.

Leicester and Manchester City didn’t fade away but Arsenal did; the Gunners have earned just nine points from the last seven matches. Leicester have earned twelve points from their last seven and Man City fifteen points from their last seven (they are undefeated). And while no one was watching Tottenham even overtook Arsenal.

Sitting in 4th place the title race isn’t over for Arsenal, mathematically. And on a positive note, Arsenal did create 21 shots, including 5 “Big Chances”, against a staunch Southampton defense and their ally Lee Mason. That was Arsenal’s best performance since… since they took 26 shots and had 5 big chances in the 5-2 win over Leicester back in September. On another positive note Leicester have to play Man City and Arsenal next and Man City have to play Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool in their next three fixtures. So, the next three games could see Arsenal climb back to the top.

But in the negative camp, the 0-0 draw against Southampton means that the title race is out of Arsenal’s hands. Even if Arsenal win every remaining game, including the match against Leicester, Leicester still have to drop points for Arsenal to win the League.

I don’t know why I haven’t seen this mentioned but Tuesday was Groundhog Day. Literally, the Groundhog Day. Maybe it’s been beaten to death, “Groundhog Day” used to be a fan favorite as a metaphor for Arsenal finishing 4th every season. But on the day that was both literally and metaphorically Groundhog Day, the day in which a rodent was pulled from a stump and the day in which Arsenal slipped to 4th place, silence.

via GIPHY

As depressing as it seems at the moment with Arsenal slipping to their inevitable 4th place and with the dreaded Tottenham above Arsenal in 3rd (and playing some pretty great football), in the film, Phil offers this line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sonnet Work Without Hope:

And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

That is the most evocative line from the poem and an oddly beautiful moment in the film. But the point of that poem is meaningful here for us Arsenal fans at one of our lowest moments. Work Without Hope was written in February (1825) in contemplation of the impending spring. It ends with this final couplet…

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.

The Arsenal are the work, and we are the hope. That’s how this relationship works, I guess. It’s going to take me a while to make sense of that. Until then, like Phil, I think I’ll just have a straight shot of whiskey.

Qq

Arsenal stays top of the League despite dropped points: now can we have our Alexis back?

No one likes playing at the Britannia stadium. No one likes playing Stoke City. And very few of the top clubs that travel to Stoke ever even manage a point. So while a draw at the Britannia stadium against 7th placed Stoke was less than ideal, given all the factors in play, it’s still a good point.

The conditions were freezing, snow drifts were piled around the pitch and the ground looked like it had been freshly tilled down the sidelines. I’m sure that the Stoke City groundskeepers were under strict orders to make the best possible playing surface for Stoke. After all, this isn’t Tony Pulis’ Stoke, this is Mark Hughes’ Stoke and because they have made almost 80% of their passes they are now “Stokelona” and demand a higher pitch quality.

What’s remarkable is that teams who travel to the Britannia, the top passing teams in the League, like Man City, Man U, and Arsenal have all struggled to pass at the Britannia. It used to be because they had an extra narrow pitch, but they now comply with Premier League regulations (p.139) and have a 66m wide pitch, supposedly. I don’t know for sure because I haven’t gone and measured it. The rules do allow for changes in pitch dimensions at the discretion of the PL board.

But even if the pitch were well maintained and regulation size, Arsenal were bound to struggle to find a good passing rhythm with star players Özil and Alexis out and with the core of the starting midfield, Cazorla and Coquelin, sidelined as well.

The result was a lack of creativity up front and a poor match from an Arsenal perspective. Joel Campbell had another good performance, he seems to love making those through passes and one nearly got a goal for Giroud, but for Butland’s great stop. And Ramsey created the only other good chance for Arsenal, off a corner, again to Giroud and again saved well.

But in defense, Arsenal were again outshot and we needed Cech to save us twice and for Ramsey to clear off the line. Stoke wasn’t exactly blistering with their attack, because they are to Barcelona as Santa Claus is to Buddhism, and so conceding those chances to Stoke made Arsenal look a bit feeble in defense.

What has been remarkable about Arsenal this season is that no matter what the underlying stats show they have earned two points per game on average. Playing top teams? 2 points per game average. Playing bottom teams? 2 points per game average. Creating more big chances than any team in the League but failing to convert, like the start of the season? 2 points per game. Shooting 10 shots a game while the opposition shoots 16, like the last 7 games? 2 points a game average.

So far Arsenal have been the most consistent team in the League which is why they are top of the table this morning. But there are hints that Man City might be doing that cartoon thing where they are winding up their legs for a super sprint and Tottenham are charging up the table as well and just 5 points off Arsenal’s pace. And so from here on out Arsenal have to match or beat the results of the other title challengers.

Arsenal have 16 games left in the season with 5 big fixtures in there: Chelsea, Leicester, Man U, Tottenham, and Man City. I’d trade my arm for 5 draws against those teams given Arsenal’s current form, and I’d trade my other arm if Arsenal can somehow get 10 points to match their season average of 2 points per game.

That just leaves the other 11 games. 10 are against bottom half teams, 1 against Everton, who are good enough that it almost seems unfair not to lump them in with the big boys. I don’t think 2 points per game against those teams is going to cut it and would like to see Wenger’s team get 27 points from those games along with at least a point per game average against the top 5. That’s just 33 points for a total of 77. That would be a remarkable total to win the League with.

It’s going to be a tight race for the title — the tightest I have seen since, forever. Every match result is going to be fretted over. Every point earned will be seen as two points dropped by some. And they are right to worry, unless… This drop in recent form is just a blip and Arsenal get back to the early season form where they were the most creative attacking team in the League and the stingiest defense.

Getting Alexis and Özil back will help the former, but where does Arsene find the personnel/tactic in midfield to get us back to the latter? Elneny? A change in lineup?

I don’t know but it’s going to be the story of the season.

 

Qq

The best advertisement for English football is a drunken Hen party

This season I’ve tried my best to subdue my celebrations whenever Man U, Liverpool, Man City or Chelsea slip up. I even have a piece of paper taped to the mantle with the phrase “NO GLOATING” written on it.

But this weekend when Man U managed a 3-3 draw against bottom of the League Newcastle I couldn’t help myself, I had to tweet…

I don’t know if you got a chance to watch but that Newcastle-Man U match was a drunken hen party of a game.

I was in London for a match a few years ago (I think it was Sunderland at home, a 0-0 draw) and on my first night I remember lying awake in my room at 2am and listening to these Geordie women running up and down the hallways screaming obscenities at each other, laughing, crying, and literally throwing bottles on the floor.

After what seemed like an hour of this I finally decided to get up and tell them to shut up but when I opened the door to my room, the hallway was in utter chaos. There were still women running around in various states of undress, there were towels everywhere, vomit on the walls, and empty champagne bottles listing back and forth on the carpet.

I think that when the hallway lights started flickering and I heard the thump of stockinged feet running in my direction was when I decided that discretion is the best part of valor, the very filet of valor, and I closed the door, put a chair up against the door handle, and hid under the bed.

Now imagine Mike Dean was refereeing that hen party; pointing to the spot where there is vomit like Elvis doing his windmill wind-up and running around like the hills are alive with the sound of music to indicate advantage whenever one hen has the right of way over the other. That was Newcastle 3-3 Man U.

And what’s incredible is that people, football people, people paid to write their opinions about football, thought it was the perfect advertisement for the Premier League. It was utter chaos but there was a lot of running up and down the pitch and there were 6 goals. Though I can’t remember any of the goals as beautiful works of art.

Those same football people were torn, however, over which was the more entertaining match of the week: the Man U 3-3 draw or the Arsenal 3-3 draw. I can say definitively that it was not the Arsenal match, that match sucked. It was the worst match I’ve seen in forever. Because it was my team that suffered a 3-goal pasting.

That Arsenal match was similar to the Man U match: a drunken hen party. It was a disorganized mess, there was a lot of running, there were some people crying, there was laughing, and I think I puked on the walls when I saw Klopp doing his impression of Alan Pardew, running up and down the sideline, pumping pumping fists, jumping into the air, his face turned into a troll-grin, because his team earned… a 3-3 draw… at home… a result which has been described as “Klopp’s Plan Works to Perfection” by the Telegraph.

Despite the anguish of the result and the insanity of Klopp and the Telegraph celebrating the result as a win, when I step back for a minute I guess I can understand why most neutrals thought that both of those 3-3 draws were fun to watch. Chaos is what draws us to football and 12 goals in two matches over two days is a lot of chaos. So, while the football on display wasn’t “classic” the results might be remembered for a while.

But what is ironic is that we love chaos when it happens to others and despise it when it happens to us. We demand that our team’s football be entertaining, that they create chaos on one end of the pitch and score goals. And simultaneously we want our football to be boring, that we don’t concede goals on the other end of the pitch, which requires the utmost precision.

We literally want it both ways and yet we all know that you can’t have it both ways. Which explains why the default state of the football fan is anxious depression.

Qq