30 September 2014

Arsenal-Galatasaray Preview: You've only come to see Eboué and—oh. Erm.

It's a rematch forged in the pits of hell. Two Ivorians, one demonized, one pilloried, both achieving levels of infamy unmatched by any other. Eboué. Drogba. The alpha and the omega. On the one hand, a prodigal son, haunted by his own errors, seeks a redemptive pilgrimage to the place of his spiritual de-pantsing. On the other, a proud nemesis, fallen from glory, looks to rejuvenate himself on the grounds of the club he had done to much to terrorize. Together, they'll join forces in a triumphant return to London. It's the Ivorian Invasion! It's the—what's that? Neither man will play on Wednesday? They're not even in the squad anymore? Huh. Well, I guess we can lay to rest the fear that Drogba the Destroyer will ever do what he does at the Emirates ever again. I just pity the hipsters who won't get a chance to chant "you've only come to see Eboué!"

29 September 2014

Tactical Analysis: Set-pieces, zonal marking, and counter-attacks

As we prepare for Galatasaray on Wednesday and look to Chelsea on Sunday, a palpable sense of dread hovers in the air. But for a few inches on Saturday, a sharply driven header from Mertesacker would have bathed him and glory and perhaps won us the NLD. It was one bright spot in a match full of headaches, namely, how often we tried to head in. Fifteen corner kicks.Why do we do it? Why, when we bemoan our own vulnerability in conceding from set-pieces on our end, do we insist on trying to score from them at the other end? It's high-time that we set aside this silly set-piece situation and attack with greater purpose—which will allow us to defend in greater depth along the way.

28 September 2014

Wenger diagnosed with Oppositional-Defiance Disorder

In a stunning medical diagnosis that is sending shockwaves through the managerial community, it has been revealed by the hairdresser of one of the players that Arsenal was rumored to have agreed personal terms with over the summer that long-time manager Arsène Wenger, mocked and derided for his parsimonious and stubborn ways, has been diagnosed with Oppositional-Defiance Disorder (ODD), a behavioral pattern characterized by angry, irritable behavior; a tendency to annoy others deliberately; active refusal to comply with reasonable requests or rules; and an inclination to blame others or circumstances rather than themselves for the consequences of such behaviors. It is unknown as of yet what this diagnosis means for Wenger, now the longest-tenured manager in the Prem, or for the club, suffering an uneven and uninspiring start to the 2014-15 campaign.

Pointing to a pattern of behavior that has "long exceeded the six-month threshold for confirmation," medical experts focused on Wenger's persistent penchant for signing francophone players as well as for only signing players on or close to deadline-day. When he did break this pattern to make more dramatic signings of players who did not speak French, experts deemed this to be a spiteful move borne of the defiant end of the spectrum, as if the manager were overcompensating against earlier criticisms, as if the manager were only signing the likes of Mesut Özil or Alexis Sánchez as a way of saying "fine! You want me to sign big players? I sign for you the big players!" As such, these high-profile signings may actually serve to reinforce the original symptoms, giving Wenger precisely the kind of counterintuitive satisfaction that a person afflicted with ODD craves.

Delving deeper into the report, it was revealed that the recent deployment of a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Özil starting wide on the left, conforms to the pattern of someone with ODD. After having signed a player widely lauded as the best #10 in the world, Wenger apparently could not play him centrally and felt compelled to play the man out of position, if only to vex and infuriate—as if to say, "yes, I will sign these players you beg and demand, but I will play them as I see fit. Wenger out!"

Leaders of the so-called "Wenger Out Brigade", or WOBs, were quick to seize on the announcement as further fuel to their pitchfork-and-torch campaign to oust the French manager, pointing to the diagnosis as incontrovertible proof that Wenger is unfit to manage the club and should be sacked forthwith. Speaking on behalf of the the WOBs was one Pierce Morcunt, who in a series of tweets opined, "this day, while dark, confirms what I have long tweeted, even if I might have later tweeted something exactly opposite moments later. A man with a mental illness as severe as the Opposite Deviant Disorder has no business running a club like Arsenal." Whether these tweets are themselves the symptom of twattiness will warrant further medical research.

At the other end, the "Arsène Knows Best", or AKBs, were equally quick to join the fray, pointing to the diagnosis as evidence to confirm their stance that the manager needs only a bit more support, sympathy, and patience in order to draw out his best qualities. Instead of harping on his worst tendencies, which might offer him the kind of positive reinforcement he seeks for his behaviors, these AKBs suggest a calmer, milder route, whereby Wenger's seeming indifference to injuries should be greeted with bemused indifference or sanguine optimism. To wit, the news that Aaron Ramsey may miss as many as six weeks might best be seen as an opportunity to return to a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation with Özil as CAM, rather than as damning evidence of the manager's incompetence regarding rotation or formation.

At a recent press conference, Wenger himself was questioned on the subject of this diagnosis, revealed in contradiction of every known ethical law governing doctor-patient confidentiality. "Do I know about this oppositional defiance? I do not speak of the opposition. I focus only on our squad and making sure they are ready for the next match." When pressed on the matter, Wenger grew testy, perhaps providing more further fodder when he said, "You ask me about this 4-1-4-1, I say it's a little bit all for one, for one is all. Is there a little bit niggle in the lineup? I say to you this: we face as well another lineup that has quality. One day, you will realise that this team has fantastic qualities." When asked further about pyschological issues, Wenger would only comment that "I do not necessarily want to come out on that."

At that, Wenger's face took on an expression that medical experts warned was of a vintage ODD variety, and that it was best not to press the issue further for fear of triggering other anti-social, counter-productive behaviors, such as playing Arteta and Flamini together. The muttered, sarcasctic suggestions that we try Alexis as a DM were greeted with an angry shush, as this might provide Wenger with precisely the kind of provocations he might crave. Instead, the medical experts suggest a steady diet of mild encouragements with only occasional admonisments so as to draw the afflicted out into the open where he could confront his demons amidst a circle of friends and well-wishers.

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Rivals' Wrap-up III: Where do we stand in the Prem?

After a near-perfect weekend a week ago, I suppose it only makes sense that things come crashing back down at our feet. Let's hope this isn't a reversion to means. Instead of result after result breaking to our advantage, we've had to watch as most of our rivals made the most of their weekends while we, unfortunately, seem to have botched things just a bit. We could have and should have done better (I've lost track of whether it's us or Liverpool speaking at the moment), especially when we consider how we played and what was at stake. Most of our rivals left such dithering by the wayside, in part because they faced inferior opposition, in part because they made the most of their chances. To the results (!).