Tag Archives: Premier league

Wenger-jacket

Don’t believe the hype

By Tim Todd

After this weekend’s 2-0 loss to West Ham I have a new motto: no gloating. It goes along with the motto I carried over from last season which was “reserve judgement”. I’ve put it on my mantle, where I keep a stack of juicy metaphors like “pesto on the second date.” Just a few things I’ve picked up over the years that help me cope with the insanity that comes from following Arsenal.

Reserve judgement is one that I promised myself after I saw Arsenal reverse what I thought was an inevitable slide out of the top four last January. Leading up to the turn of the year Arsenal were playing some of the worst football I’ve seen in Arsene Wenger’s tenure. And it all came to a head when Wenger and the boys were verbally assaulted on the platform at Stoke train station. One of the assailants yelled “Joel Campbell, get out while you still can!” which has become a cliche for the absurdity of football criticism.

Not all blogs are absurd, but there certainly is a rush to get your opinion out there, to be the first to have an opinion¹, and to have an opinion that is slightly more tendentious than your last opinion. It’s almost like there’s an Arsenal blog opinion arms race in which people try to be slightly more outrageous with each week.

And it cuts across the blogging spectrum. It doesn’t matter if the writer writes a “positive blog” or a “negative blog” there are a lot of people writing ever more controversial opinions as the season goes on.

Sadly, this season we’ve already gone straight to the top shelf: I’ve read people saying that Cech should be dropped, Claude is screaming “SHUT UP” on Arsenal fan TV, the defeat is painted as a condemnation of the (lack of) summer transfer business, it exposes “the fantasy” of the team’s unity, and of course, it’s Wenger’s fault because he clearly didn’t prepare his team for the game. My guess on that last one is that some folks imagine Wenger just kinda going “let’s see, first game, West Ham, who’s their manager? Eh, fuckit! We’ve got this one in the bag, who wants another glass of wine? Let’s party!” Or worse, they imagine that Wenger is just incompetent. You know, after 19 years of managing a football club in England, Wenger is just some kind of bumbling idiot, an Inspector Clouseau, who lucks into all these trophies and top four finishes.

Like I said at the start, it’s all absurd.

I suspect that what happened here is we all got caught up in the hype. And in a lot of ways the build up to this season reminded me of the build up to Arsene’s 1000th game in charge.

If you remember back to that game, which was against Mourinho’s Chelsea, everyone had penned a piece about how awesome Arsene Wenger was — me included². The hype over that match was so huge that almost to a person, Arsenal fans thought Arsene was finally going to beat Jose Mourinho.

Arsenal lost 6-0. Six. Sicks.

We had all gone to Wenger’s surprise party holding balloons that read “Arsène s’y connaît!” (edited) and Jose Mourinho walked through the room with a huge grin on his face, wielding a cartoonishly large needle, and popped each and every one of our balloons individually.

The buildup to the season kickoff on Sunday was similar. All of the major papers have Arsenal challenging for the title this season — that’s a first since I’ve been following Arsenal. Almost no one has Arsenal falling out of the top four — another first since I’ve been following Arsenal. There was a piece in the NY Times about how Wenger is unique in world football because he’s stayed with Arsenal for almost 20 years. Arsenal have won back to back FA Cups over the last two years. Arsenal bought Petr Cech from rivals Chelsea. And of course the fans were riding high off the fact that Arsene had finally beaten Jose Mourinho in the Charity Shield a week earlier and claimed his 4th trophy in two years.

And like a final stage booster rocket sending our hype into the stratosphere, the day before Arsenal’s match, main title rivals Chelsea had been held to a 2-2 draw in which they looked sluggish, out of shape, and in which the ‘keeper that they bought to replace the ‘keeper that Arsenal bought off them, had been sent off with a straight red card! Not only did they have to play with 10 men, Courtoise (the Chelsea ‘keeper), would miss the next game.

We were gloating! And naturally, fans predicted scorelines like Arsenal 4-0 West Ham.

What happened next was slightly more than a bad day at the office. Arsenal lined up wrong, put in a weak effort, lacked organization, lacked cohesion as a team, lacked real sharpness, lacked that killer instinct, and looked like they switched off on nearly every play.

There was one play late in the game which illustrates all of Arsenal’s problems on the day. West Ham were up 2-0 and Wenger had put Alexis Sanchez on to save the game. Alexis dribbled into the West Ham defense and they took the ball from him and started a counter attack, Sakho dribbled all the way down to the Arsenal end and won West Ham a corner.

They took the corner short and Mark Noble was allowed to turn his defender, then get past a second defender easily on the end line and dribble into the Arsenal 18 yard box unmarked. He played a low, hard, cross which was cut out at the far post but was easily one of the most dangerous passes of the game.

Cameras cut over to Arsene Wenger and there he was, clutching his bespoke Lanvin jacket.

Wenger-jacket

It’s funny. Before the season kicked off I swore to myself that I wouldn’t get caught up in the hype. That I wouldn’t write outrageous opinion pieces. That I would just let the season unfold and try to tell the story of the season the way it happened.

But I guess the story of the season so far is that we all got caught up in the hype. From what I can tell, the players, the manager, and the fans, might have caught just a little whiff of the Premier League title and decided that we were shoo-ins. We aren’t. This is the hardest league in the world and if we want to win it, we can’t take anything for granted, and we can’t gloat when the opposition have a bad day.

Arsenal are the underdogs in this title race. Arsenal haven’t won a title since 2004 and only one of the players (Cech, though I guess Welbeck also has a winner’s medal) on this team knows what it’s like to challenge for the League title. Arsenal are the outsiders. The long shot. That’s how Arsenal have always been, throughout our history as a club. It’s one of the things that most attracts me to the club, that we are Rebels for the Cause. And the sooner we all act like it, the better off this team and club will be.

So, no more gloating for me. No more expectations. No more hype.

Qq

¹presumably so that you can later say to someone who comes up with the same opinion “I wrote about that last month.”
²You do realize that I am not above the criticism I’m making here? I am not special. The reason I know these things is because I’ve done all of them. I’m guilty.

P.S.

I forgot to mention in my piece that all this hype only serves to help build a narrative about Arsenal’s season which I don’t buy into; this is Arsenal’s title to lose.

It’s no surprise that the first person who tipped Arsenal to win the League was Mourinho (I think). He said that because it’s truly a win-win for him. If Arsenal win the League, he can say “see I was right, my team didn’t have the investment needed to compete against Arsene Wenger and his millions spent” and if Arsenal fail to win the league he can say “see, Arsene is a specialist in failure.”

I suspect this is the exact same reason why the haters in the press (Stewrat Robson tipped Arsenal to win the title) are repeating Mourinho. Consciously or unconsciously they know that saying this is Arsenal’s title to lose is a position with no drawbacks.

helen

Arsenal’s Blue Spruce Valley Always Just Around The Corner

By Tim Todd, Barren Landscapist

On Saturday I set out on my own for a hike. Summer is fast closing and I knew that sooner rather than later hikes in the mountains of Washington will switch from being fun little mind-clearing adventures to something requiring planning and purpose. I had never been hiking on Mt. St. Helens and always wanted to go and so I loaded my backback full of water, snacks, a rain jacket and extra socks and headed due south on Highway 7.

It’s about a two and a half hour drive to Windy Ridge, the closest one can get to the caldera of this active volcano. From Tacoma, you just drive South. Bucolic farming valleys quickly turn into steep wooded canyons and just as soon as you’re sick of driving on winding mountain roads you drop out by Alder lake.

I’ve done this drive many times and this was the first time Alder Lake wasn’t a lake, it was a mud pit pocked with bleached white timbers that were sawn off when the lake was built. Running through that mud pit is a river, probably carving a new path every year as the waters rise and recede.

Alder Lake is fattened by Alder dam at one end of the Nisqually River. But for years now, the glaciers which feed the Nisqually river have been shrinking. Washington State, the Evergreen state, known for our rainy winters, is caught in the same drought as California. There was no snow last winter — none to speak of — and unless we start getting snow soon and for a sustained period, Alder Lake is going to get drier and drier every year.

Keep going South and you’ll eventually hit Morton, one of the last of the timber towns. What was once a booming industry, when the trees were a thousand feet tall and a hundred feet around, is now just a single factory pumping out neat stacks of yellowed 2×4′s.

From Morton you turn left for a bit, but don’t worry, you’ll be heading South again soon enough. When you hit Randle, turn right and you’re back on track.

From here you simply drive up the mountain, along winding mountain roads and if you were sick of them before Alder Lake, you’re going to be downright done with them by the end of the day, you’ve got about 36 miles of twisties ahead. That’s one way. Remember, you do have to get home.

This road is odd in that it seems to cut through both patches of private “Tree farms” and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. So, while you’re driving along, you’ll hit a patch of smaller, new growth, trees or even clear-cut, followed by an abrupt transition to old growth forest and a sign welcoming you (back) to the National Forest. If the dry bed of Alder Lake wasn’t warning enough, here we have yet another reminder that it’s human industry, me, that’s the problem.

As you approach the peak of Mt. St. Helens, there are numerous interpretive sites for you to stop and learn but I just powered through with the sole purpose of getting to the top and starting my hike.

But there was one moment where I nearly crashed my truck. At a bend in the road, the dense forest suddenly gave way to open skies and giant white tree trunks. This was the famous blast area of the mountain. When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, the force of the blast leveled the old growth forest around the mountain. Producing this apocalyptic landscape with giant trees blown down like so many toothpicks. For some unknown reason, few trees have made it back to repopulate this first valley and so the effect looks like a hellscape.

I couldn’t help but gawp at these enormous trees variously sticking up (but with their tops burnt or blown off) and lying flat, in many cases blown uphill by the force of the blast. Here I was, alone on macadam, driving through this hellish barren landscape, this must have been the inspiration for Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, I thought.

If you survive the desolate forest without crashing your car off the cliff you eventually finish the drive at Windy Ridge. From here you can go no further by car and have to hoof it.

I got my pack on and make for the trail head. The trail is actually just an old logging road from before the days of the eruption and the hike is easy. It’s very dusty, however, so be sure to pack in plenty of water.

It’s dusty because the trail is mainly pumice now. And with no real trees growing on the mountain all of the dust is just carried on the wind.

I felt a little like what I imagined The Hobbit felt when he was crossing the desolation of Smaug. It’s a barren landscape, there is no place to hide. You can see other hikers on the trail for miles ahead. And every footstep brings you closer to the caldera of the volcano.

Despite the desolation there is still life on this mountain. As you’re walking along in silence, you will often hear rocks tumbling behind you as some little chipmunk sets off a tiny landslide. But as far as hikes go, this is the one with the least animal and insect annoyances. It’s a desert. There is no snow. There is no lush underbrush for animals to feed on. There are almost no animals here. Just a few chipmunks and squirrels.

As I approached the mountain I wondered when I would get to use the mountain, its desolation, and the man-made destruction of the environment as a metaphor for Arsenal. I joked to myself that “Francis Coquelin was born from this mountain, Coquelin, destroyer of worlds, in his birth, there was nothing but destruction. The trees fell like dominoes. Those that stood were turned pale white, as if they had seen death and had all the color drained from them.”

The mountain could also be a metaphor for the season and our expectations. Just a barren plain of wind whipped dust. And yet, even on that barren plain, amid all that destruction, and ignorant of the power of the universe which will one day erupt again and destroy almost everything around it, the trees grew back. Beautiful valleys full of Blue Spruce were below me and to the left. Having crept back in from the side of the mountain which had not blown up. Life, it finds a way.

The last thing I thought I would be doing, as I packed up and headed back to Tacoma, is using that mountain as a metaphor today. But Sunday’s match was bitterly disappointing. As I sat there in the waning minutes of the game, as Arsenal were losing 2-0 to West Ham at home on opening day of a season which had promised so much, I thought Arsenal had found a way, in the polar opposite of the Blue Spruce valley, to suck the life right out of me.

It felt that way right after the match but I’ve had time to get over it — a little. I’m still in shock. I can’t believe that Arsene started Cazorla on the left instead of centrally next to Coquelin. I can’t believe that this team couldn’t get through West Ham’s defense and generate a shot that threatened their goal. I can’t believe that Arsene didn’t look at the team sheets and see West Ham starting a 16 year old in midfield and tell his team to press that kid. I can’t believe that this Arsenal team, which looked so robust and full of belief in the Charity Shield a week ago, looked so weak and bereft of teamwork against West Ham. I can’t believe that Cech didn’t organize his defensive line better for the first goal and that he guessed the wrong way for the second. And I can’t believe Arsene used Alexis Sanchez.

How could all of that have happened all at once? It’s not an answer that can be found in the transfer market. In fact, the only player who Arsenal bought this summer, the World Class goalkeeper that Arsenal have been crying out for for years, made two errors on the day. Even if Arsenal bought Benzema (who is injured) and Schneiderlin (who had his own nightmare in his opening match against Tottenham) there were still fundamental problems with Arsenal’s entire approach to the match: fundamental problems with Arsenal’s organization, focus, and teamwork.

You can and will have individual errors on any day. Cech coming for the ball on the first goal was an error on his part. But the bigger error was the clear lack of focus of at least four players on the Arsenal line. Kouyate was gifted an open header, while four Arsenal players stood behind him flat-footed. So as much as Cech coming for the ball was wrong, I don’t blame him. If anything I blame him for not organizing the defense better.

And the second goal as well. Yes, Cech started the wrong way and couldn’t recover, but it was the turnover by Oxlade Chamberlain a yard away from the box followed by every Arsenal player standing stock still which allowed Zarate an open shot.

Both instances where Arsenal were not switched on, which would be crazy toward  the end of the season when minds start looking forward to summer vacation, but which is absolutely maddening on the opening weekend.

But there’s still hope, right? There’s still some Blue Spruce forest growing right around the corner. To be completely rational, there are 111 points left in the season and Arsenal are merely 3 points and 4 goals behind the leaders. It’s certainly not an insurmountable lead. We have to hope that being knocked down on opening day by West Ham, after putting in a disjointed performance, will end any of the talk about a title challenge and deflate some of the egos out there. Then the team can get their heads on straight and get back to the hard work of putting in a title challenge.

Qq

 

Man at the match; Chary: Theo buttresses scoring junks

A swiftly taken, and started, first half hatrick from Theo Walcott ensured the most relaxed atmosphere to an end of season game for an age as the Arsenal set themselves up nicely for the FA Cup final with a comfortable 4-1 win against Pullis’ West Brom.

The expected rotation was there, Gabriel for Kozzer and Walcott for Giroud, in addition to the replacement of Gibbs for Monreal and Jack for Ramsey from the previous game.

However neither Santi nor Alexis got the breather I felt they needed, but then that may have been too much change for a game in which victory was desirable as it would set the mood for the FA Cup preparations.

Only the most doom laden Gooner would have feared losing third spot today as a seven goal swing was required for that to happen and fearing a repeat of the previous weekends performance from the today’s opposition against Chelsea some would argue pre match concerns like this were not entirely invalid.

Surely any Pullis side would be defensively tight, unadventurous and looking to frustrate ?

Panoramic from North Bank

Panoramic from North Bank

Having taken my seat in the north bank lower within a few minutes of the start I could see this was not the case, even though Arsenal were attacking the Clock End, as usual, in the first half and my sub par vision would make details hard to pick out.

West Brom looked to push forward early on and hence left gaps behind them, which after a short time was the wrong tactic.

A threaded ball from Santi found Theo wide right, who then unleashed an unstoppable rising drive that gave the Baggies keeper no chance.

Instant relief and the crowd could relax as the mini goal drought ended less than five minutes into the game.

Distant view after Theo scores

Distant view after Theo scores

And so started the Wembley songs which then continued for the rest of the afternoon.

In addition to the relatively open nature of the game another feature was Jack’s surging runs through the middle of the park, which drew much appreciation from the crowd, one of these led to some interchange with Özil that fired a cross into the West Brom box which Theo efficiently dispatched for his second.

Barely had we stopped cheering Theo’s brace then another attack led to some ping pong n the away penalty area which the Baggie’s defenders failed to clear and a lose ball was rifled in by Jack for the third.

The English core had now scored three goals and the ludicrous bad luck that dogged Arsenal’s goal attempts in the last three games was well and truly banished.

A Pullis side surrendering so tamely didn’t seem right and looking at the man himself he watched impassively, arms folded, without even attempting to look at all concerned.

The only semblance of order was a touch of the Stoke City’s that whenever there was a West Brom goal kick, as the ball looped down, the West Brom player was always giving out a sneaky shove to the Arsenal player attempting the clearing header.

The Baggies still came forward, even at three down, however Berahino’s early threat seemed to subside and all their approach play seemed to fizzle out impotently.

At three nil up a surge of exiting Gooners making for front of the queue for half time food missed Theo’s hat trick goal as Santi completed a move involving Özil, Alexis and Jack by firing across the goal for Theo to tap in a poachers goal.

Sign him up Arsène!
Sign da ting !

Half time came and as the score in the Stoke-Scousers game was flashed up much delirium ensued, clearly Stevie Me’s swansong would not end well as Liverpool were being battered 5-nil by Pullis’ former charges.

After such a breathless, enthralling first half, the second would struggle not to be an anti climax, and a weird starting second half it was.

First off Hector went lunging into the West Brom number 11 and received an unnecessary yellow card and then indecision in the the Arsenal defence led to a corner.

Then, after having looked so secure for nearly all his time in goal, Ospina seemed to flap at the corner and let a header in.

The excessive/ironic celebration of the Baggies fans at this point was the highlight of their day and only a mild irritant to the home support.

With the FA Cup in mind some of Arsène’s prospective starting 11 were taken off, Coquelin and then Theo to take the applause for his masterful hatrick; only the most churlish of us would take his little wave to the west stand as he walked off as a “wave goodbye”.

To my eyes if Villa allow us space to play then Theo should start; if not his replacement today, Olly, should start. Luckily that difficult decision is not mine to make.

Finally Jack was replaced by the Ox and the reception he got proved that his mid season indiscretions had been forgiven and his on field efforts very much appreciated.

The introduction of Ramsay and the Ox didn’t stop the fluidity of the mid field and chances were still being created.

Özil corner

Özil corner

Alexis, as ever, never stopped running and when one of his jinks into the opposition penalty area came to nothing, the crowd showed their appreciation and encouragement with his “Alexis baby” song – I don’t think he knows it his song yet as he just kept his head down while walking back to his position after play restarted.

Cheer up Alexis, every Gooner loves you !

A fifth goal would have been great and a Ramsay shot cannoned off the post as the game drew to a close.

Close from Rambo

Close from Rambo

The end of season feeling was confirmed when the fourth official didn’t bother signalling how much added time there would but when the final whistle blew it was with satisfaction the crowd showed their thanks for the result of the game.

Five points clear of fourth placed ManUre with no annoying Champions League pre qualifier to mess up pre season for the lads, I’d a taken that after our slow League start.

The lap of appreciation started with the handful of West Brom fans remaining holding up a plea on behalf of Sweden for Olsson, which seemed odd as he looked rather clumsy and unathletic on today’s showing, the Swedes must be desperate.

Olsson request

Olsson request

So we wait for the season climax next Saturday for our shot at another trophy; sadly for me I won’t be going as tickets are extremely hard to come by so I’ll thank you the readers for staying with me this season and I’ll see you in the 15/16 season.

Players Lap

Players Lap

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)