Tag Archives: Champions League

I can has Barcelona?

Same old Arsenal, losing to Barca… or is it?

By Tim Todd, jefe periodista España 

Hands up for those who didn’t think, and by that I mean know like you just know that when you’re called into the boss’ office it’s because you’re in trouble, that Arsenal were going to get Barcelona in the Champions League…

Not many.

I mean, thinking we were going to get Barcelona is different than wishing we didn’t get Barcelona. Apparently everyone wanted to get Zenit St. Racistburg so that we could watch Arsenal play football in sub-zero temperatures on the frozen tundra just a few miles south of Finland. Me, I was hoping for a closer tie, something like Wolfsburg, but I get the reasons why everyone wanted Zenit. They are the easiest team to beat, in theory, and they are an absolute shambles in terms of their cohesion thanks to manager Andres Villas-Boas and his Mourinho-esque paranoia.

But we didn’t get them, we got Barcelona in what was probably the most widely predicted draw in the history of the Champions League. There are several universal constants; the speed of light, death, Arsenal injury crisis, and Arsenal finishing 2nd in their group followed by Arsenal drawing Barcelona or Bayern Munich and Arsenal being knocked out of the Champions League after a disastrous first leg followed by an old fashioned “nearly got through” second leg.

(ALERT JAYMIN, TIM IS GOING TO SAY SOMETHING YOU THINK IS WEIRD) What if… what if this Arsenal team are actually as good as Barcelona and has a real chance of beating them?

I know, right? That’s nuts. Impossible. This is the mighty Barcelona we are talking about here: Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Thomas Vermaelen. And… you know.. we are the Arsenal: Alexis, Özil, Giroud, Coquelin.

But what if Arsenal are better than you think?

WhoScored.com ranks Arsenal as the 5th best team in Europe at the moment. You can complain about their metric and whether it’s an accurate measure of anything but look at this list and tell me if there is another team currently playing better football than Arsenal:

whoscored-table

Arsenal take about the same number of shots per game as Barcelona and take them from relatively the same place on the pitch. Arsenal also allow about the same number of shots per game as Barcelona. Both teams top their leagues in dribbles, possession, and play virtually the same style of football.

There are some major differences, Barcelona get more shots on target and score more. And of course, Barcelona have three game-changers in their attack: Messi, the best player of any generation; Neymar, Messi’s heir; and Luis Suarez, their weakest link but a player with real bite. But Arsenal have the best playmaker in Europe, Özil; the most dogged fighter I’ve ever seen play the game in Alexis; and the best keeper in the League in Cech who is organizing Arsenal’s defense and who won the Champions League playing a park the bus strategy.

And Arsenal as a team aren’t half bad, not nearly half as bad as some of our own fans would have us believe. The Gunners have just beaten Olympiacos, Sunderland and Villa while missing several of their most important players, specifically Alexis, Cazorla, and Coquelin. Barcelona have just managed three draws against Valencia, Leverkusen, and Deportivo and show some weaknesses in defense that Arsenal might be able to exploit. And let’s not forget that Arsenal at full strength beat Bayern Munich. And that they came back from last place in the group to finish second.

I think Arsenal are proving a lot of critics wrong this season. In the summer, they wanted more buying but in the last three matches Wenger is showing that he might have been right about Arsenal’s squad depth. He’s getting the best out of Ramsey and Flamini in midfield and developing Joel Campbell into a player that many are hailing as the new Coquelin.

And after the summer buy buy buy frenzy, Arsenal lost the home opener and “the title was out of reach” yet here’s little ole Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table, creating more, better chances than any other team, and just struggling a bit (at the start of the season) to finish. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s defense is among the most stingy in Europe allowing fewer than a goal a game, while Barcelona are right on 1 per game.

For me, the chances of this Arsenal team beating Barcelona hinges entirely on fitness. It’s one thing to field Ramsey and Flamini in the midfield and play without Alexis up front against the worst team in the Premier League and yet another thing entirely to do that against Barcelona.

To be realistic, I think Arsenal’s chances of beating Barcelona over both legs is small, probably 60-40 in favor of Barcelona* but it’s not the automatic loss that everyone seems to think. I mean, it’s not like Arsenal are Chelsea who are sitting in 16th place and were drawn to play the best team in Europe**, PSG.

So, I’m looking forward to these matches. This is a real chance for Arsenal to test themselves against a big club who are heavy favorites. My hope is that as many of the Arsenal first-team as possible can be there to show what they can do. And if we get a result, unlike the nattering naybobs of negativity who think that continued play in Europe is detrimental to the team, I think it will boost Arsenal’s chances of winning the League because it will give the whole team a huge belief in themselves and their ability.

Right?

Qq

*mainly because Cazorla is out and I don’t know who to pair with Coquelin when/if he returns in time to play them.
**according to WhoScored.com — I still think Bayern are the team to beat.

Mertesacker

Would you rather: Arsenal advance to play Barcelona or Rapid Vienna?

By Tim Todd, Head Herd Correspondent 

Arsenal need to beat Olympiacos 2-0 or win by scoring at least 3 goals to advance to the next round of the Champions League. It’s a huge task, made even bigger by the fact that Olympiacos simply need to defend for 90 minutes and look for counter attacking opportunities. Which is a strategy that they have been playing all season, apparently.

So, with that said, what’s the consensus today? Arsenal are going into the Europa League? That Arsenal are going to win the Europa League? Or how about this more “complex” assessment: Arsenal are going to go to the next stage of either the Champions League or the Europa League and will lose in the next round — in the Champions League because they will go up against Real Madrid or someone and in the Europa League because Wenger will “wise up” and tank the competition to focus on winning the Premier League.

Is there another herd opinion I haven’t heard?

In my weird ass opinion, this result doesn’t matter. For Arsenal to go into the Europa League might mean a few more matches and it could mean travel to far flung places, but so could going through to the next round of the Champions League. The odds are better that the next round of the Champions League would be much tougher and that the matches would be slightly closer to London but here’s a thought: what if the next Europa League match is a cakewalk? I mean, which would you rather face, Barcelona or Rapid Vienna? Which would be more draining, giving 110% to beat Barcelona (which we know the boys will do) or giving 50% (ok, I’m exaggerating for effect) to beat Rapid Vienna?

This is a dream celebration

And the Champions League is no guarantee of a matchup against a big club in a close country. Dinamo Kiev could beat the stuffing out of Macabbi Tel-Aviv, Chelsea and Porto could get a draw and then Arsenal could (in theory) draw the Ukrainian team and get a trip to Chernobyl.

Regardless of what happens today Arsenal have to play two legs, home and away, in the middle of a February/March schedule which goes: Leicester, (CL?), (FAC?), (EL?), Man U, Swansea, Tottenham, (CL?), (EL?), WBA, (FAC?), Everton.

There is no escaping it, this is going to be a tough spring for the Arsenal.

So, I’d rather Arsenal win today and win well. There are potentially massive psychological benefits (or drawbacks) to winning (or losing) this match.

We know that Olympiacos likes to play without the ball. They have played counter-attacking football all season. This is something that teams are going to do to Arsenal from here to eternity, so beating one of the very best at it* would give the team a psychological boost going into future matches where teams (like Leicester) will do the same thing all over again.

We also know that Wenger’s record (“those matches didn’t really count” and “we played the kids” yadda yadda) against Olympiacos sucks. Well, now would be a good time to prove that the previous results were aberrations.

Losing poorly could have the opposite effect. It could make the boys feel like they are weak and vulnerable to this tactic.

The other thing about this match is that there’s a psychological boost available if the team were able to secure Champions League football. Because they messed up so badly, they have had a huge mountain to climb. Topping that mountain, after beating Bayern (!!!), would prove to the boys that they have what it takes to overcome obstacles.

So, it’s best to win. From there we let the balls decide who Arsenal face this Spring.

Qq

*Atletico Madrid is the very best, but what I mean here is that they have been using this tactic all season and they are well versed in the tactic. This isn’t a one-off strategy for them.

Compared to west ham

If Arsenal lose in the Black Forest does anyone care?

It’s an interesting morning in Arsenal land. Arsenal were comprehensively beaten in a listless display and no one seems to care. The only thing people seem to care about is the debate over whether Arsenal should or shouldn’t want to play in the Europa League and whether playing there will harm their chances in the Premier League.

I think what happened is that most fans resigned themselves to a defeat like this being inevitable. I think most Arsenal fans know that this club isn’t at the level of a club like Bayern.

“Ah but we beat them in the first leg!” I already hear you say. Yes. The first leg was a full-blooded performance by the Arsenal, getting in their faces, tackling, staying organized, working hard, and hitting them on the counter. Pep also made some tactical, uhhh, I hate to call them errors, but there were obvious problems with the Bayern set up in that first match¹. Problems which Arsenal were able to exploit.

The result was a win for Arsenal which decimated the entire right side of Arsenal’s attack and defense. Ramsey, Walcott, Ox, and Bellerin all played, they gave everything they had in that match, and they are now all injured. The very definition of a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

The problem is that Arsenal can’t play at that breakneck level for an entire season of European football. And the other problem, the problem which underlies that first problem, is that Arsenal aren’t good enough to not have to play at that level.

In other words, as I wrote in my By the Numbers piece — Arsenal are to Bayern Munich this season as West Ham were to Arsenal in 2013. Bayern are just absolutely yards ahead of Arsenal.

Another way to read my numbers post is that any time a team put in a listless performance, or as Wenger put it “we were not at the races”, against a top team they are going to get hammered. That’s the other thing that happened last night, players simply stopped playing. There were a few brief moments after Bayern scored the fourth that Arsenal looked good in the counter attack but those moments were there because Bayern let them happen. It was fairly obvious that they had applied the handbrake.

But Arsenal fans weren’t even bothered by the lack of fight in the match. What happened to all this nonsense I always hear about “fighting for the shirt”, “respecting the badge” or “I don’t mind if we lose so long as we give them a good match”? Even Tim Payton, the guy who wanted an independent investigation into Arsenal’s transfer dealings, tweeted something about “meh, Bayern are the better team”.

Perhaps this is just how we wanted them to approach the game, I did hear a lot of folks saying they didn’t care about the result as long as there were no further injuries. Congrats, you got your wish!

The second worst part about this defeat is that it means we will now have to endure this tiresome debate about whether we want the club to be in the Europa League. It’s funny, though, that the prediction was spot on: we won the first match and got the hope, lost the second match (and Olympiacos won their match) and we got the dope. It was Hope-a-Dope.

But the debate is pointless, unless your goal is to fashion a club with which to beat Arsene Wenger — “why didn’t Wenger do this differently? He’s so naive! We could have won the league!” All arguments designed to come back at the end of the season and beat Wenger with. Never mind that winning the League is 27 games away and as far removed a certainty as Sandra Bullock falling in love with me.

Speaking of which, does anyone know anyone who knows Sandra Bullock? She seems like the exact woman that I’m looking for. I mean, I don’t really know her and she was married to that American Chopper guy², but I’m pretty sure, based solely on the fact that she’s attractive and a decent actress, that we would get along great.

Sorry about that. Uhhh, football, right. This weekend Arsenal have to play Spurs and I wonder if the other reason fans aren’t upset is that a poor performance, which showed little fight, would be quickly forgotten if Arsenal saved up their energy to beat Spurs.

In a sense it makes this weekend’s match a must win for the emotional health of Arsenal fans. I guarantee if anything goes wrong in that match, we will be reminded of this 5-1 loss.

Qq

¹Pep moved Costa to the right in last night’s match and brought on Kingsley Coman in his place on the left. When he did that, we saw more of the type of attack that Pep wanted from Costa in the first leg: rather than getting to the end line and playing in lofted crosses, he wanted lofted crosses to the far post from a higher angle. It was almost constant service from left to right last night. Coman getting past his man, freeing space for an unmarked Alcantara to lob in deadly balls to the back post. Which is exactly how they scored the first goal.
²He’s one of those “curly ball cap” guys we have here in America. Gah.