Tag Archives: Stoke City


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.


Minutes from The Oatcake meeting to decide Ramsey’s punishment for shushing

Chief Stoke Fan: ORDER! ORDER! This hereby meeting so called is ordered. Presently are myselfs, Jingleberry, Beetle, Jangle, Dingle, Barty an Fred. Dingle, please bring the video machine in we’ve got to dispense with the tape.

First, we shall read the charges. Jingleberry, you do the honors.

Jingle: Marry, sir, Ramsey did shush.
Moreover, he tried to quiet Stoke fans by putting finger to lips.
Secondarily, he is a husher.
Sixth and lastly, he did shush a lady,
Third. he attempted to muzzle us,
and, to conclude, Ramsey is a shushing knave.

Chief: As you will see from the tape, his finger will make what is known as a clear shushing motion.

Beetle: then we can have pie?

Chief: yes, porkies. Dingle, what’s taking so long?

Dingle: rewinding the tape, sir, this is modern VHS technology here, takes time.

Ah, here it is.

(applause and oohs when the television is turned on)

Barty: PICTURES! Is it real life Fred? How do they make the little tiny people and keep them in there? Where do they go when they turn the TV off?

Fred: it’s TV Barty, it aint real, is a factory simile of real life, a duplicate, you noodle brain. OH look, there it is! THE SHUSHING. HE SHUSHED US!

Beetle: it’s like I’m living this horror all over again. It took me months to get over the mental anguish the first time. Imagine, me, being shushed. It’s horrible. We’ve got to do something about this, Chief. But… but what? What can we do?

Chief: It’s plain. That was a shushing. And we don’t deserve to be treated like that. Are we not almost men? He could have done any other celebration. Anything classy would have done: no celebration, some muted celebration, or perhaps something really classy like reenacting a dinner at Nandos?

Jangle: oh, that’s making me hungry. When are the pies?

Chief: And after all we’ve been frew. What with him breaking his leg on Shawcross, ruining that poor boy’s career, which wouldn’t have happened if Bendtner hadn’t fouled Ryan. Watch the tape again, Bendtner clearly pulls Ryan’s shirt, the ref should have blown up for that! It should have been Bendtner off, Shawcross on the English and Welsh national teams. But instead, Shawcross is been vivified!

I could forgive Ramsey breaking his leg on Shawcross but from there things went real pear shape. Refusing to take Ryan’s calls, blocking Ryan from playing with Wales, and now the shushing.

This calls for decisive action, mates. We’ve got to show them that we won’t put up with this type of insult.

Jangle: Let’s throw PIES!

Chief: no, Jangle! Give me a minute, I need to think of something.

<6 months later>

Chief: I GOT IT! We’ll boo him.

Everyone (except Fred, who smirks): BRILLIANT! HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THESE IDEAS???

Chief: now. We’ve got to get the word out to everyone. Let’s write a letter and put it on the back page of the Oatcake Fanzine. Something with a title like “All hats are off”.

Jingleberry: how about “ALL BETS ARE OFF”.

Chief: THAT’S IT. “All bets are off” has such a nice ring to it.

Fred: Boss, I think Ramsey aint playing this weekend. I heard he’s still hurt.

Chief: Sorry, Fred, this is the plan. We are not wafflers like them French lot at Arsenal.

Barty: (snigger) ARSE!

Chief: Ramsey or no Ramsey, this is the plan. We will boo Ramsey.

Barty: Or maybe that Ozil fella.

Fred: what if Ozil is out? Arsenal rested him last week. Might be out again this week. Don’t want to risk him ahead of their FA Cup and Champions League matches.

Chief: Well then we’ll boo whoever has the ball. We’ve got to show them that they need to put this pantomime behind us and that we will no longer allow this situation to be drawn out without retribution. There can be no whining and having them try to take the moral high ground. It’s his fault, he dared to shush.





Wenger Fish: will the last remaining clichéd Arsenal narrative please turn out the lights?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A handsome young man suffers a vicious assault by a brutal sociopath. He goes to the hospital and while he’s recovering there are jubilant court scenes where his assailant is let off easy. He is then jeered by that guy’s friends every time they see him, for the next three years. And he can’t escape seeing his abusers because everyone in this story lives in the same small town and works at the same job.

The young man gets to the gym, vowing to never be a victim again. But in the midst of his rehab his own family and friends doubt him. There’s probably a chapter where he and his friends have a falling out and the young man walks off into the cold night, slamming the screen door behind him, muttering something about “showing us all”.

Then one night, the two men meet again on the football field. Surrounded by his assailant’s thuggish friends and being screamed at by a hostile crowd who are dripping spittle as they bay for his blood, the young man sees their keeper spill the ball on an easy free kick, he swoops in and kicks the ball into the net.

He circles around the side of the goal, places finger to mouth, and shushes his baying hobgoblins.

If there was such a story it would be called Aaron and it would be written by S.E.Hinton.

It’s a story about how Aaron and his teammates spent three years being called soft, but here in this happy ending he comes of age, he’s no longer weak and easily pushed around by the bullies. He wins the day with strength and grace.

Or stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

“Why can’t Arsenal just buy someone who can win a simple header? Christopher Samba for example!” I heard that on the night we all trudged out of Wembley. And since then, the cry for Arsene to buy a lumbering center half who will simply head balls away has only grown.

But also since then, Arsenal have gotten significantly better at defending corners and set plays, much to the chagrin of the anti-zonal-defense folks. Last season, Arsenal only allowed 4 goals from corners. That’s second best in the Premier League, tied with West Ham, and only bettered by Norwich and Chelsea. True, Arsenal did so by limiting the overall number of corners taken but when the opposition got a corner and turned it into a shot, Arsenal’s save percentage last season from corners was 89%, bested only by Norwich, Chelsea, and Sunderland.

Not only that but there’s the narrative that Arsenal can’t score from corners. Well, that used to be true, but no longer because Özil is a real set piece threat. As I outlined in my By The Numbers column, 5 of Özil’s 13 assists for Real Madrid last season (in liga play) came from set plays (corners or free kicks) and now 2 of his league leading three assists for Arsenal are also off set plays. He’s a breathtakingly beautiful striker of the ball, Beckham-esque in fact, and he placed two perfect balls for Mertesacker who eventually nodded one home yesterday against Stoke.

Oh the irony, Arsenal, the open play team who love to dominate possession and play “beautiful football” — the team who never buy expensive players — paid £42m for a guy who is so good he can get Arsenal goals off set pieces. Perhaps we’ve just been building up our irony reserves for this one fell literary swoop?

Or how about the one where Wenger doesn’t like to take players back, doesn’t like egos, or won’t sign players over 30? That was done long ago but there’s this funny story about Flamini.

I’ve made no secret that Flamini was my favorite player from the 07/08 season where Arsenal very nearly won the League. I know, I’m supposed to like Fabregas, and he was great (creates space, vision, time, yadda yadda), but in real life I see myself as more of a Flamini than a Fabregas: Flamini just has that tenacity and a bite to him* that I need to really connect with in a player. I still have his shirt from that season and I have no problem wearing it for pickup games.**


But Flamini did what Flamini does and he left when Arsenal refused to pay what he felt was a fair price for his services. That was a particularly bad moment in Arsenal history. The club lost Flamini, Gilberto, and Diarra all in 6 months.

The narrative after that was that Denilson wasn’t a real defensive midfielder because Arsene Wenger doesn’t like defensive midfielders. Or that Song wasn’t one because Arsene didn’t like defensive mids. But I think that last year, with the transformation of Arteta into the deepest midfielder on the team and this year with Arsene clearly targeting Luiz Gustavo in the offseason and taking a chance on Flamini we have to at least say that this idea Wenger doesn’t like defensive mids is wrong. Flamini isn’t some beast-mode DM who runs around kicking everyone, he’s not Lee Clattermole, but he is a positionally astute midfielder who makes himself available for every pass, and covers everyone in defense.

Most importantly, he gets into the head of the opposition from the start. We saw him get Fletcher riled up, we saw him put in a bit of a two-footed tackle against Stoke yesterday which had them all screaming at Mike Dean. I’ve long said that Wilshere needs protection and that we aren’t going to get that from the referees. I’ve also long said that Arsenal need to be the aggressors in midfield because referees tend to punish retaliation much more than aggression. The narrative was that we’ve been missing that, no longer.

Or stop me if you’ve heard the one about how parking the bus is anti-football and anathema to the way that Arsenal play?

Yeah, well, there’s a new pragmatism and defensive confidence to this Arsenal side largely stemming from the run of 10 games at the end of last season which saw Arsenal soak up pressure time and again only to come out on top. It’s not quite parking the bus, which I think refers to a more cynical approach to the game, but rather just a pragmatic approach. Tottenham were Tottenham, Arsenal had a 1-0 lead, Wenger must have looked at the teamsheet and thought “they can’t beat my defense.” There was certainly an air of that again last night against Stoke. There aren’t any bona fide goal scorers on Stoke’s team and Wenger’s approach was to tell his team to sit deep, stay organized with two banks of four, and hit them on the counter. After all, it wasn’t like they were going to score three goals.

Reminded me of the Arsenal of old. Which is a narrative that will never go away, but that’s ok, because it’s my favorite story.


*You don’t write a blog every day for years, with no fans, without tenacity and I think my bite is evident in nearly every post.
**Wearing your favorite player’s shirt is a form of LARPing. You know it, I know it, let’s just admit it.