Tag Archives: Premier league

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Past the halfway point Arsenal need to beware of the fake results

Happy New Year all! I hope you had a great holiday season, if this is a holiday season for you. If it’s not a holiday season, then at least I hope you enjoyed the football. Over the festive season Arsenal won 3 of 4 matches, including a whopping 2-1 win over Man City and whatever your beliefs, if you’re a Gunner that’s something to celebrate.

Yesterday was game 20 of the season and Arsenal beat Newcastle 1-0. Because of the way I compile my stats, I was reminded that yesterday’s match was the first time that Arsenal had played any other team in the League twice. In fact, the Premier League has set the schedule so that all teams play each other once before January and then once after. The season is truly half way over after game 19 because not only have we played half the games but we’ve played all the teams once.

That quirk of the schedule gives us a convenient point of comparison for the rest of the season. In other words, you can look at the results of the first half of the season and compare them to the second half.

As I have said in passing, I think the first half of this Premier League season has had a lot of “fake” results. Take Chelsea’s season as the obvious example. Reigning Champions, they have just 5 wins in their first 19 matches. They have also had nine losses, that’s 47% of their season so far.

But Chelsea have an absurdly talented team. Fabregas had Arsenal fans on suicide alert for the first 19 games of last season as he chipped and passed his way into the record books. Eden Hazard may be too big for his own ego but he’s still one of the best dribbling forwards in the game. And the rest of that team as well, if Oscar wants a new team, I’d gladly take him at Arsenal. He is a fantastic football player whose career was nearly ruined by Jose Mourinho.

But now that they have a professional manager at the helm, one who isn’t prone to egotistical madness, Chelsea are going to start playing more like the team that they are. And in fact they already have started down that path. They beat Crystal Palace 3-0 this morning and reversed the result from August when they lost to Palace 2-1 at home. My guess is that they are going to be reversing a lot of their results from the first half of the season.

Meanwhile Leicester City, press darlings, are showing signs that the wheels might be coming off their counter attacking caravan. Three consecutive matches they have failed to score, that’s the first time this season they failed to score. There was a bit of bad luck in there, they were awarded yet another penalty (they lead the League in penalties with 8) and missed, but there is also a sense that teams have figured them out a bit. Their basic brand of football is simple to beat, for mid-table teams and teams fighting for relegation, just give the ball to Leicester and use their own tactic against them. And for the top clubs (Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U, Man City, Tottenham), they haven’t proved too tough of a challenge: Liecester have taken 3 points from 5 games against those teams. And if you put Chelsea into the mix, it’s just 6 points in 6 games.

We have seen a lot of surprise results this season. Even Arsenal have had a few blips: for the last two years no club has been more dominant over bottom teams than Arsenal. But this season they have dropped points against West Brom, Norwich, and Southampton. Arsenal also dropped points against Chelsea in a match that was so horribly officiated that the FA reversed two red cards after the game. I suspect that will be a much better contest when the two teams meet again at the end of January.

There is a lot of talk about Arsenal buying a player or getting players back healthy and that is certainly an important factor in Arsenal’s title challenge. The Gunners have shown excellent depth up to now, the depth that many of us said they had, but with long-term injuries to several key midfielders, it’s looking like Arsene Wenger is going to dip into the January transfer market for at least one player, Mohamed Elneny.

Looking at the stats that he has given us in the Champions League and Europa League, Elneny is a runner like Aaron Ramsey and a passer like Mikel Arteta. I’ll do a more complete stats analysis in a separate post, but needless to say I think he’s a great purchase and could be the bargain of the season at £5m.

 

But getting the players back, or integrating new signings into the team, are only a means to the end. The end is that regardless of how they do it, if Arsenal are to win the title all they have to do is mirror the results of the first half of the season. And they started on the right foot: Arsenal beat Newcastle 1-0 yesterday, which was the same result from August.

Qq

Bonus: what games would you say were “fake” results by Arsenal? Either positive or negative. – Tim.

Arsenal disappoint but need to bounce back against Bournemouth

Our poetic conceit: to take the lead from the babes of Leicester. Our prophetic defeat: four nil on the South coast. The weekend started with hope and finished with worry.

Liverpool took some of the Leicester off the League leaders earlier in the day, beating them 1-0 and leaving their star Striker, Jaime Vardy, sucking an inhaler before being subbed. The game provided the best comic moment of the day in the closing minutes. Down 1-0 and with a corner, Leicester’s ‘keeper came out of goal to add another fruitless body to the crowd around the penalty spot — I’ve never seen a ‘keeper score from there, never. As expected, Liverpool cleared and Christian Benteke was played into space with one man left to beat and no ‘keeper in the nets.

He did his best impersonation of Maradona and dribbled left, then right, and then seemed to say, “here’s good enough” and kicked the ball off the defender’s legs. With that shot, Benteke overtook Fernando Torres with the record for the worst finish in the history of football.

Arsenal fans also had a moment of glee when Chelsea slipped from the penalty spot at the death! The missed penalty by Oscar left honors even 2-2 with Watford and their moosy mascot. Apparently, the badge “isn’t a moose” I’m told “it’s a hart” but which looks so much like Bullwinkle that I expect them to pull a victory out of a hat every time they play.

Ohhh and Aloysius! You probably call him “Louis” or van Gaal but that’s his real name. Aloysius, was beaten again, this time by the man he wanted to be famous for saving, Memphis. Perhaps Memphis shouldn’t have chosen his first name to be his moniker. After all, Memphis is the ancient city in Egypt which was defeated by Babylon. Not “The” Babylon, though the Persians and Alexander the Great did both occupy Memphis, but rather a small fort across the river, manned by Muslim conquerors. After it was defeated, Memphis was abandoned and left to be covered in sand, its most famous statue and virtually the only thing uncovered was Ramses II aka Ozymandius, who Shelley once fancifully quoted as saying “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

And if we look on Memphis’ works in yesterday’s match, we would certainly despair. He attempted a 20 yard back pass to his ‘keeper, de Gea, with his head. Children, heed my words, DO NOT ATTEMPT A 20 YARD BACK PASS WITH YOUR HEAD. Needless to say, Stoke scored. And so Memphis was abandoned at half time, for the third time this season; Liverpool, Arsenal, and Stoke. Aloysius and his perplexing rotations, his perplexing tactics, and his perplexing post-match interviews looks like a man ready to quit the last job of his life.

HO HO HO we all said and the table was set for a Boxing Day feast. I had violated my own two rules — “no gloating” and “reserve judgement” — and posted all over twitter how lucky we were to have Arsene Wenger. It was something I wouldn’t have normally said until after the match. Sigh.

I wish I had listened to the oracle.

In Theo Walcott’s post-City interview he said “I completely cramped up running after Yaya at the end, and that just shows the amount of hard work that everyone has put in this week… and I think the guys are totally going to be knackered today, yeah, and they probably won’t get any sleep as well.”

Oh Theo, how right you were. From the start Arsenal weren’t in this game. Arsenal’s midfielders were marked tightly, Arsenal couldn’t get the ball into dangerous areas, players weren’t running as they should and it left Walcott and Özil alone: the man on the ball working for the ten, rather than the ten working for the man on the ball.

And in defense the spacing and organization was off. Here’s a snap that epitomized the day: Koz wasn’t holding his line, I’m not sure what Campbell is doing there, and there are three players wide open on the right.

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This was but one example of the same thing over and over.

I love the people, famous mullet heads, men with superfluous consonants, men like Glenn Hoddle, who try to say that the pressure got to Arsenal. Ah yes, that famous pressure. This is the same Arsenal team that won back-to-back FA Cups, one which they came back from 2-0 down and nearly should have been 3-0 down. I doubt it was the pressure. It was the lactic acid.

The fact that Arsenal haven’t been able to rotate because of the injuries to Arsenal’s main midfielders and strikers, combined with an expansive attacking tactic, produced this result. I don’t think Arsenal can have both at the moment, play high line football against a team who fielded a quick forward, while fielding a 30 year old DM, who played a high intensity match a few days earlier and who had clearly tired at the end of that match, nearly letting Man City claw back a point.

But if you were hoping that the manner of this defeat would heap pressure on Wenger to buy fresh legs, think again! He used to just say “buy buy buy” but now he’s added a fourth! Clearly, Arsenal aren’t buying Elmeny (how many? ELMENY!*).

“That’s always the question you get,” Wenger said. “We have many players who are injured and will come back soon.

“Buy, buy, buy, buy is always the solution that people see. I think it’s true that we couldn’t score, but we conceded goals [against Southampton] and we have enough defenders.”

This doesn’t look at all like classic Wenger misdirection. He wasn’t smiling and saying he might have a little surprise for us. This is that flat out denial of buying. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he will buy, I’d like him to buy, we have the money to buy, and buying wouldn’t hurt us.

But Wenger isn’t looking for players, he is looking for a bounce back.

I said before the game, whether we are one point behind or one point in front it is not too important,” he said. “It is the quality of our performance that counts and we were not good enough to win the game [against Southampton]. We have just to look at that. On the other side, we can’t dwell too much because in 48 hours we play again. We are disappointed and frustrated, but there’s only one way to respond in 48 hours.

Right, well, I don’t know how well this team can respond. They were tired at the end of the City game, tired throughout the loss to Southampton, and there are no players to rotate in. I mean, yeah, Arsenal are getting players back, in February, but between now and then there are six matches, including big games against Liverpool and Chelsea.

Even tomorrow’s match, against Bournemouth, isn’t going to be an easy game. They just beat Chelsea, Man U, and managed a 3-3 draw with Everton. They also have a weird logo which looks like a mermaid doing a seal dribble. Beware the weird logos this season, they are a sign.

Huge losses (4 goals is a huge loss) happen very rarely to a club like Arsenal. Sometimes they are a tipping point in the good and sometimes in the bad. Two years ago Arsenal were thrashed by Liverpool. The Gunners had spent more time on top of the table than any other team but that loss signalled the end of Arsenal’s supposed title challenge. Here we are again in a supposed title challenge and have been handed a stunning defeat.

Wenger and Per have both demanded that the team bounce back. I agree with them. This isn’t the “easiest” League title ever, that’s a rod which people have constructed to whip Wenger if we don’t win. This is the toughest.

 

The way Chelsea, Man U, and Leicester have played so far leads me to conclude that the results up to now have been a sort of fugazi. Arsenal can’t let teams “remind” us the way that Southampton did any more for the rest of the season. Arsenal need to get their heads on straight for every match — which includes Wenger’s tactics and transfer market activity. If they want to win the League. Which I think they do.

Yesterday should have been a huge celebration and it hurts doubly to lose in those situations but we have another chance to go top and absolutely must take it. Tottenham will catch City on points tomorrow when they beat Watford. That means Arsenal have to win against Bournemouth because Man City will beat Leicester and if we don’t win, that will leave Arsenal in third place, just one point above Spurs. And I think Tottenham are much more dangerous than anyone gives credit.

So, Bournemouth. The key. Or we might go the way of Memphis.

Qq

*Please don’t ask me about Elmeny’s stats, he hasn’t played Elmeny games!

Arsenal v. City: Winter Solstice

Happy Winter solstice: the darkest day of the year. From here until June, everything gets brighter. There will be folks in England who will say that Winter solstice starts tomorrow and for them it does. But for me, here on the left coast of the USA, the solstice starts tonight at 8:49pm.

Despite the gloom, and trust me it’s been quite dark around here between the constant cloud cover and the shrinking daylight, I have a full schedule for today. Currently it’s 5am and I’m writing. At 8am I’m taking my daughter to pick up my mother to go see Star Wars. Then there is the Arsenal match at noon and I have to write my By the Numbers piece. And in between, I have to get a booster shot for this kitten I found in a swamp last month. And tonight I have to make a Yule Log for my work’s holiday party. And I’m sick, I’ve had a cold all week.

I know that most of the people who read my work don’t care about all of that stuff. They just want content. Something to consume. I get email all the time asking me to write an article about this or that. To write a custom piece, in essence, for whatever argument they are having with their friends in the pub. I appreciate the emails and the ideas. Just don’t be surprised that I probably won’t write what you’re asking me to write.

I am aware of the Wenger stats article and I have plans to write something about that tomorrow or the next day. It’s a big interview and there is a lot to unpack but I already have some ideas.

I am also aware that Manchester United are apparently going to hire Jose Mourinho in January. If life is absurd, and I agree that it is, Man U hiring that lunatic crackpot is peak Camus. How can they think that Wayne Rooney will take what Mourinho has to say seriously, after he was just fired by Chelsea and threw his players under the bus, last weekend? How does anyone take him seriously as a manager after his career has fallen apart the way it has time and again? How does anyone take him seriously after this season? The constant embarrassing media outbursts? The delusional paranoia? I mean, more power to them. I hope they give him a 20 year contract. But with Mourinho already at peak Mourinho I have to wonder if there is a new peak he can reach?

Anyway, like I said above, one of the things that I have to do today is watch Arsenal. Who do they play again? Plucky little underdogs Man City? I mean Man City is good and all but they are no Leicester!

I agree with all the basic opinions that I have read this morning. 1) it’s a tough match. 2) Ramsey (insert whatever you think Ramsey should do, sit, fetch, stay, shake, good boy, go lie down). 3) Flamini (insert some opinion about Flamini that you’ve heard dozens of times this week, probably something about how he can’t cover). 4) Don’t give Aguero chances. 5) Sterling v. Belllerin. 6) Özil. 7) Alexis on the bench. 8) Walcott on the bench, late sub, tired legggggs, he’s fast. 9) Petr Cech is the best keeper in England and 10) etc.

Predicting what Wenger is going to do in this match is impossible. Two years ago no one would have expected Arsenal to park the bus, but that’s exactly what Wenger did when we beat them 2-0 away back in January.

That was the match which sort of kicked off Arsenal’s great run of form for the 2015 year. Ok, technically, it was the 3-0 win over Stoke, but I still think the City match showed a much more adaptable Arsene Wenger.

Just like in that match back in January, Wenger has had a few weeks to gauge how his midfield plays together and adapt them to be ready for this match. With his new “statistical” approach to games it will be interesting to see how he sets up and how the teams respond.

That’s all I have time for today.

See you.

Qq