Tag Archives: Stoke City


Match Day Photo of the Month: Homeboy Arsène Gets a Raw Deal

By Jonathan Blaustein

Poor Barack Obama. That guy doesn’t get any credit. To listen to the media, you’d think he was Wile E. Coyote. Hopeless, hapless, and shit out of luck.

His hair’s gone gray. His daughters will be dating soon. And I’m sure he can’t get laid without a security guard in the room.


I suppose only history will vindicate the man. Were anyone to be even remotely objective, they’d look at the numbers. The stock market is at an all-time high. Unemployment is down. Gas prices have plummeted. The dollar is at its highest level in more than a decade. The economy grew at 5% in the last quarter, and is forecast to top 3% for 2015. (That’s practically Chinese-level-growth, for an established power.)

All while Europe is in the toilet, Russia is in the tank, and the Asian powers have to worry about crazy Kim Jong Un messing up the neighborhood.

People forget the mess Barack Obama inherited. The world was on the precipice of anarchy, for goodness sake. Mad Max was not seen as a good movie to remake, with dashing Tom Hardy, but a realistic future scenario. People were “this” close to hoarding fresh water.

Fast forward to now, and you’d think that our basketball-playing President would be doing victory laps around the gym. Instead, he just lost Congress, and gets about as much respect as a cockroach in a restaurant kitchen.

Like I said, homeboy gets a raw deal.

Sounds a bit like Arsene Wenger’s situation, if you ask me. The man spends money now, brought in a trophy, managed the move to a beautiful stadium he helped design, shepherded the team to a phase of solid commercial deals, and bought Arsenal the most exciting player many of us have seen in years. (Yes, I mean you, Alexis. You handsome, handsome devil.)

I know the haters are plentiful. He doesn’t do tactics. His players keep getting injured more frequently than Russell Brand bangs groupie-sluts. He can’t zipper his jacket. Hell, even Graham Fucking Norton made a joke about him having a small penis on TV the other day.

So why do I still respect the man? Because he will be vindicated by history. And because I haven’t been a fan as long as you have. I’m the good old voice of reason, and I’m here to remind you that the future looks bright.

We’ve got a solid chance of beating Monaco. And if we do, the winner of Porto and Basel awaits. Not exactly frightening. That means we have the potential to go further in the Champions League than we have in years.

With respect to the Premier League, sure, we’re not winning it this year. But the top 4 seems genuinely likely. Which means AW can strengthen in the summer, bringing in Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Gundogan, or someone of that ilk. Maybe he’ll use his entire summer budget on Paul Pogba? You can’t rule it out.

Throw in the CB we’re about to buy this month, and you’re looking at a team that can compete for anything in 2015-16. (And beyond.)

And don’t forget the FA Cup. Did you see the game against Hull on Sunday? Arsenal haven’t looked that self-assured in months. And we’re due back Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud, Welbeck, and eventually Wilshere.

Step back, and the future looks bright. AFC might even have a decent chance at another FA Cup run this year. Chelsea’s veil of impenetrability has been punctured, and City choked the bone in that competition 2 years running. So you never know.

Just think back to May. How did it make you feel? When Ramsey scored that late goal? Jubilant? Telepathic? Sexually Aroused?

Just think back to May. The open-topped bus. With all those guys riding through the streets, soaking up your love and adulation. Did you feel like a little kid? I know the players did.

How do I know?

Because this month’s Matchday Photo of the Month is a throwback. It was sent in this December, just after the shit show at Stoke. Our photographer, Ian Wytiam, even referenced “Joel, get out while you still can” in his email.


In the worst of times, Ian was thinking back to May. He was wistful, hopeful, and a good sport to boot. He was thinking of you guys. He wanted to remind you how recently AW got that big horny gorilla off his back. He wanted you to look ahead, past the Winter blues and blahs.

Just remember, this photo says. Glory awaits. Maybe not this year. But soon. Poor Theo Walcott is watching the road behind him, as he knows he still has 6 months of grueling rehab ahead. Who’d want to look forward to THAT on a day like THIS, his body language implies.

Santi Cazorla, ever the practical one, is wearing a baseball hat to block the sun. Kieran Gibbs is wearing the kind of Ray-Bans that people think are cool, but really aren’t. And there’s no Lukas Podolski in sight. (IMHO, that guy was a goofy one-trick pony. We all love goals, sure, but tracking back is what makes even the idiot-Tony-Gales of the world gush over our lad Alexis.)

Look at those security guards, running next to the bus. They mean business. Because the Premier League is big business, these days. People slag of Arsene everywhere, every day, but he helped make it so. The man gets credit for nothing.

But what do you think about Alexis? Or Calum Chambers? Santi Cazorla? Debuchy? Danny Welbeck? Aaron Ramsey? Mesut Ozil? Olly Giroud, when he’s not losing his mind? Don’t they prove that good old Arsene still knows what he’s doing?

I could be wrong, and lord knows I’m not the expert that many of you are, but from where I’m sitting, at my white kitchen table, looking out at the white snow, covered in rabbit poop, I’m pretty happy with how 2014 turned out. And I believe 2015-7 promises a run that will make us feel special in our cold, dark hearts. (The next few years will make us tingle, like when you pour too much Gold Bond powder on your johnson. Imagine how much Gold Bond poor Shaquille O’Neal must need to cover his monster-sized junk…)

As for the runner’s up, we’ve got three this month.


First off, Sean Thum sent us a photo of the first IRL meeting of the Malaysian Gunners Facebook fan-club. (Taken right after that meathead Skrtel headed in the equalizer for Liverpool.) I might  write as an American, as does our fearless leader, Tim, but let’s not forget that loving Arsenal is a global affair. And while I’m freezing my ass off, I bet those guys in Selangor are drinking cold beers and walking home in shorts. Bastards.


Second, this picture came in from Hamza Ade, who took it at a live-cast at the Emirates, during the aforementioned game in Stoke-on-Trent. He actually told his kid that Arsenal won the game, so as not to upset him. Gotta love a good lie, if it means your boy doesn’t cry all the way home.


Finally, I’m throwing in my own abstracted offering, just to inspire you to think outside the box. When I woke up early on a freezing cold morning, getting ready to watch the QPR game on the Ipad, I went outside and looked up at the pink sky. It was so beautiful, I went back for the camera. My nose-hairs practically froze into stalactites, but I persevered, to share a bit of loveliness with you guys.

Happy New Year. Let’s see some pictures after a win next month, fellas. (Or ladies. If you’re out there.)

If you would like to see your work featured here send your match day photos to matchdayphotoofthemonth@gmail.com


Can Germany beat Stoke on a cold Tuesday night in Belo Horizonte?

Colombian superstar James Rodriguez is the leading goal scorer at this World Cup with 6 goals. He’s also leading in the world in the stats category “being landed on by a giant cricket”.

James CricketDo not adjust your set, that is the actual cricket, or locust, or grasshopper. The debate rages online as to whether the bug in question is a locust or a cricket. I’m in the former camp, however, the temptation to call him Jiminy Cricket is too great and I have succumbed to the silly pun.

Regardless of the type of bug, it could not save Colombia’s World Cup. James scored from the spot to set up a tight final few minutes but in the end, Brazil gutted out a win. I say “gutted” but in reality Brazil played very pragmatic football from about the 70th minute on. And by “pragmatic” I mean “played like Stoke City”; rotationally fouling and hoofing the ball out on every clearance.

This is the ugliest Brazil team in recent memory. Jogo Bonito is out, Jogo Stokeito is in, and their pragmatism makes a certain sense. Brazil has spent about a brazilian dollars staging this World Cup under the promise of upgrading the infrastructure for the people. The reality is that most of the money has gone to stadiums that will see little or no future use (read this article on fivethirtyeight It’s brilliant), promised infrastructure upgrades have been dropped, people are being displaced out of their homes, and the Brazilian people are pissed off. Brazil is a veritable powder keg waiting to go off, which I suspect will happen if their national team don’t win the whole tournament.

Talking to the Game Podcast, Alyson Rudd and Gabriele Marcotti reported that the officials in Brazil have been told to keep the cards in their pockets. The theory goes that fewer cards equals more scoring and that was certainly the case in the group stages. But a funny thing happens in knockout phases when you refuse to issue cards: the emotions run hotter and the result is that people get seriously hurt, like Neymar did against Colombia.

Neymar’s horrific injury is the fault of Juan Zuniga. He jumped up, put his knee into Neymar’s back, and broke his spine. But I watched that whole match and I think it was an injury that could have been prevented had the referee issued a card to Zuniga earlier in the game for either one of two horrible fouls. Or maybe even those fouls could have been avoided had the referee taken control of the game by talking to the players rather than running up to them face-to-face after every foul call and standing there with an empty expression. Because, and again, not excusing Zuniga’s behavior but, he was retaliating against a Brazil side which seems to have found a rhythm in rotational fouling.

That whole game devolved quickly with Brazil targeting Cuadrado and James for a kicking and uglying up the game with fouling to stop play. Once the ref lost control of the game an injury was almost an inevitability.

That’s something I’m hoping we don’t see today as Brazil face Germany in the semi-finals. That said, the knockout phase of any tournament is hugely emotional, add to that the weight of the fans in the stadiums all supporting the home team, put the contest in a stadium like Estádio Mineirão in the far flung Belo Horizonte and I have to wonder about the psychology of the referee today.

I’m not saying that Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez (hobbies include reading the Bible) is going to cheat but rather that if there is any grey area on any call, it’s going Brazil’s way. That’s just human nature. Germany have to know this. They have to know that in order to win they will have to be inch perfect in every way.

And Brazil know that they can take advantage of the way that the officials are calling games. They did so against Chile and Colombia, targeting James and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez¹ both times and getting away with a boatload of dirty play.

In the Chile-Brazil match, Sanchez was fouled 7 times and was dispossessed an incredible 14 times. He was dispossessed so much because he cut a lonely furrow up front for most of the game but the truth is that a lot of those times he was dispossessed would have been fouls had any other team committed those tackles.

It was a similar story in the Colombia-Brazil match. James and his partner Cuadradro (a player I have identified as a top talent here before) were each fouled 6 times and Cuadrado was dispossessed 8 times.

It’s no surprise, then, that Brazil lead the World Cup in fouls committed per game. In fact, Brazil are basically Stokeing their way through this World Cup. They are third in aerial duels won, they are joint leaders with Costa Rica with 10 yellow cards, they lead in tackles per game, they lead in fouls per game, they are second in overall defensive actions per game, third in clearances per game, and they play long ball football, averaging just 5 short passes per long pass.

Ratio of short to long passes
Brazil WC 5.44
Germany WC 10.32
Stoke BPL 5.74
Arsenal BPL 9.53

You can take all of those stats and flip them on their head for Germany. I won’t bore you with all the numbers so suffice it to say that Germany are playing like you would expect of a team comprised mainly of Bayern Munich stars: they keep possession, they pass short and quickly, they don’t foul often and they don’t clear the ball often. They also play the high line which so incenses Stewart Robson and as he likes to chirp on about constantly, they “have to earn the right to play.”

So there it is, beautiful football versus pragmatic football. Which team will win on a cold night in Belo Horizonte?

I’ve seen this movie before. I’m going with Stoke. From a long throw. With a goal-mouth scramble.


¹DUDE, Arsenal are really close to signing him! Arsenal are about to announce Debuchy, Sanchez and possibly Lars Bender! What a crazy summer!?!?!? More on that tomorrow.

Ratio of short to long passes
Brazil WC 5.44
Germany WC 10.32
Stoke BPL 5.74
Arsenal BPL 9.53

Giving a break to Özil and Cazorla could turn out to be a master lesson from Professor Wenger

Arsene Wenger started wide eyed at the gathered press, and uttered “unbelievable”, shook his head, and moved on to talk about Stoke City and the importance of Özil to Arsenal’s title hopes.

Arsene had been pestered three times by an anonymous journalist about giving him something juicy he could use as a headline. Basically asking Wenger “is Özil tired” three different ways, each trying to lead to the answer “yes, Özil is tired.” Wenger refused to be party to this and the reporter increasing sounded like he was begging “to please, just please, give me a story about how tired Özil is and if not that story then, please, please get angry so that I can run with a story about how tetchy Wenger is and how he’s cracking under the strain of the title tilt.” In the end, I suspect that the Daily Star, which is known for lascivious photos of British women, got the story they wanted.

Özil needs a rest and I can’t even believe I have to say this but “there is nothing wrong with resting a player who needs a rest.” If anything, this is a great story: not only did Arsenal win, they rested their star player, and now were able to take a week off from football for the first time in months and gave all the key players an extra few days shore leave to heal their bumps and bruises.

Thank goodness Arsenal have a deep enough squad to rest players — I can only imagine the internettiapoplexy if Özil had been forced to play last week and then train this week all whilst “in the red zone.”

Why would Wenger give everyone a rest this week? As we discussed yesterday, Arsenal have 11 League matches left (4 against top 7 clubs), plus an FA Cup tie with Everton, and the Champions League match in Germany against Bayern Munich. Given that we will have yet another week off after tomorrow’s match against Stoke, I would hope Wenger gets a chance to give them another two days to spend with family. After all, next Tuesday’s match against Bayern Munich will see an Arsenal side who have played 18 matches since December 23rd, face a Bayern side who will have played 11 times. I think a bit of rest is in order, don’t you?

Hell, I hope he gives Özil an all expense paid two-day vacation to Dubai on Monday, after Arsenal beast Stoke. And just in case you’re curious how important Özil is to Arsenal’s production this season, have a gander at this chart:


The key stat there is that the German accounts for 25% of Arsenal’s goals (scoring or assisting) in the Champions League and Premier League and 26% of Arsenal’s shots (either creating them or taking them). Arsenal could do it without him, Cazorla accounted for 32% of Arsenal’s goals last term and 35% of Arsenal’s shots in that year. But having both players and integrating them into the team as a unit is far more valuable.

Since I know that some of you are going to look at those stats from this season versus this season and balk, I just want to point out that Real Madrid A) played in a 2 team League B) had Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain, and Benzema running all over the place in front of Özil and C) have Ronaldo who is the King of the Chuckers*.

This all accounts for why A) he had nearly twice as many goals scored or assisted last season B) has so many more through balls and C) created so many more shots despite having a significantly reduced amount of individual possession.

With the burden that’s been placed on him of a big-money transfer, plus the transition to a new league, a new team, and a new playing style, Özil has done very well to keep himself at the top level of all midfielders in Europe. I have no doubt that a rested Özil will be a real threat tomorrow against Stoke — even without Walcott running in behind defenses — and that he’ll be an even bigger threat next season — especially when Wenger buys a second forward (in addition to Theo) who likes to make the runs that pay dividends with Özil.

Instead of foolish, giving a break to Özil and Cazorla could turn out to be a master lesson from the professor.


*A chucker is a guy who takes a lot of shots, this guy never cares about team play, his shooting percentage, or even really winning, but rather just chucking up shots. See Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Luis Suarez, and Cristiano Ronaldo.