11 May 2013

Of two 27-year olds: Podolski and Rooney

There's been quite a bit of talk of Rooney leaving Man U, and just as much linking him with us. I'm not here to make any suggestions about its likelihood, only its desirability. At first blush, we would be mad to spurn a chance at signing one of football's most renowned attackers, especially at a time when we're looking to sharpen up our attack. With van Persie having all but taken over as top-dog at Man U, Rooney has appeared at times disengaged, marginalized, and out of sorts,and adding in the tensions between Rooney and Everton, we find ourselves entertaining serious talk of his departure (I won't delve into the the twitter account fiasco), whether it's to join PSG, us, or some other club.

No doubt about it, he's been one of the Prem's best for years now. He's at his best in a number of roles we need to sharpen up. Simply put, he has proven his ability to score and  to create chances for teammates to score. His numbers have dipped a bit this year from last year's 34 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions, making 16 in 34 seem a bit ho-hum, but a significant factor in that dip has been in the role he's been asked to play as van Persie has taken over the scoring load for Man U. However, even with this caveat, I'm not sure he's the man we need, at least not at the price we'd likely have to play. Depending on whom you ask, we might have to pay somewhere between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000 to secure his services.

That's a princely sum, and it would take a sharper mind than mine (or at least one less-addled by wine at this point in my evening) to determine how much of that derives from reputation versus future performance. At 27, he certainly has several good years of football in him, but we should swallow hard and ask ourselves if this is the player we need. Without equating the two, we do have an attacking left midfielder in Lukas Podolski, also 27, who has managed to find enough time on the pitch this year to tally 13 goals and 10 assists despite playing a full 90' in only six of 29 appearances (all competitions). He's done this in his first season in the Prem while hobbling along with an ankle injury. Again, he's not in Rooney's class, certainly not the Rooney of the last five years, but I would again suggest that the Rooney of the next five years may not be worth the asking price. If Podolski comes back from surgery or whatever other treatment is needed on that ankle, we might find in him a more sprightly and reliable player who can get us between 15 and 20 goals. Signed for £11 million, he represents a huge value, almost five times more so than Rooney. They've scored the same number of goals, and Podolski's done it at a fraction of the price. Would Rooney make Podolski expendable? Perhaps. more pointedly, what kind of impact would his presence on the pitch have on Cazorla or Walcott? Would he bring out their best or shoulder them aside? Walcott has started to show signs of growth in his first season not deferring to a more-famous striker; I'm afraid he might regress with his more-senior countryman as a teammate.

Of course, Rooney could come back next year rejuvenated at a move that restores him to his club's #1 scoring option and go on to score 40 goals, and I'll have to call up each and every Gunner to apologize for convincing the board not to sign him. If he was available at £25m or £30m, I might be more tempted to say we should go for it. We're looking at something twice that, and it's a move that might preclude us from making many more.

Some of Arsène's harshest critics lambaste him for bargain-shopping and for being afraid to make high-profile, impact-signings, so I would hate for him to sign Rooney as an answer to those critics. Even for as iconic as Rooney is and as lethal as he can be, I worry that he would take up too much mental space. We have a squad of young, talented, and (for all appearances) squeaky-clean players. I know that athletes have their personal lives and side-interests, but I would not want someone with a past as salacious as Rooney's skulking around. No disrespect. For all I know, Carl Jenkinson has habits that puts Tiger Woods to shame. However, absent any splashy headlines, I'm going to go on believing he, among all of our players, escort little old ladies across the street and rescue kittens stuck in trees in their free time, and drink nothing stronger than kiddie cocktails at parties while getting tucked in no later than 9pm.

No, then, I'm not drooling at the prospect of seeing Rooney come aboard. Let's use that £50m or so on two or three younger, hungrier players rather than putting all of  our eggs in Rooney's basket.

Congrats, Wigan! Celebrate like it's going out of style!

After Aston Villa snatched defeat from the jaws of victory thanks to a Benteke red card, I had resigned myself to a rather grim day of calculating and recalculating what this means for us. Will this motivate Wigan to see that the Acorns still face relegation (they face each other on the last Sunday of the season)? Does it inspire our final foe, Newcastle? Then, I caught myself. It doesn't really matter, at least not enough for me to whip out the old abacus and slide-rule. We'll just have to play football. Problem solved.  Then, I decided to casually check in on the FA Cup to see how well Man City was doing against Wigan. To my eternal shock, surprise, and delight, Wigan had pulled off a stunning miracle, beating Man City to win the FA Cup for the first time in its 81 years. Wow. I think three or four of City's players out-earn Wigan's entire team. Not three or four combined, mind you. Each on his own out-earns an entire team, and that team won anyway. That's a glorious day for football.

It's enough to mend my broken heart after Villa's loss. I was just starting to recalculate the odds on us surmounting Chelsea to claim 3rd place when Benteke got sent off and changed the game completely. Christian, Christian, Christian. There are some who are going to say his first yellow should have been a straight red, and maybe they're right. There are others who are going to say Terry should have been sent off for a last-man tackle on Yacouba Sylla that looked enough like a goal-scoring opportunity to earn a red. Frankly, that dude looked so old and slow on Benteke's goal that I wonder if it's more to our advantage that he didn't get the red. Yes, he's still canny and tactical and all, but, man. Put someone with some speed up-top and he's about as useful as spaghetti in a snow-storm. He was stretchered off later on anyway (a knock to the ankle), so maybe he'll miss their final match against Everton. Again, I almost prefer him on the field given his form. Hazard seemed to pull a hamstring and was helped off, so between those injuries and Ramires's red card, Chelsea might be fragile enough for Everton to knock them off next weekend. A boy can dream...

More famously, Wigan won the FA Cup in fantastic fashion; a header in the 90th minute from subbed-on Ben Watson sealed the deal for the Latics. Fantastic for them. I doubt it will have much impact on their attempt to scrabble out of relegation, but I do hope they have a true and proper celebration that lasts well past the weekend. Wigan has shown that they don't mind relegation, seeming to do it every other year or so, so maybe this trophy will be enough to let them just relax, bask in that glory, and let their remaining matches slide. If we can polish them off on Tuesday, our next match with Newcastle might even get that much easier as they wouldn't have to worry so much about being relegated themselves. If they can beat QPR at Loftus Road tomorrow, they'll climb to 41, forcing Wigan to beat us at the Emirates and Aston Villa at home while also besting Toon on goal-differential (currently tied). There's some bold talk about how no team was won the FA Cup and been relegated in the same season. So what? How often have relegation-threatened teams been in the FA Cup final, much less won it? I'm not saying it's never happened, just that the sample-size is so small as to be insignificant.

In even better news, although it is just rumor-mill grist at the moment, Man City's loss might just spell the end of the insufferable Roberto Mancini's time at the Etihad. I owe him thanks for giving it to Ferguson last year, but I'd still be happy to see him go. We could then see coaching changes among the only teams to finish ahead of us this year (ahem), leading to some settling-in periods that could work in our favor. I know Moyes has had success with Everton and Preston North End before that, but coaching Man U is a whole different ball of wax. Even if Mourinho returns to Chelsea, I think we can handle them. With Arsène in charge of a squad growing in confidence, and perhaps two or three smart signings in the summer, I already like how next season is shaping up. Let's get started on it right now by dumping Wigan and Newcastle, finish 4th (or higher?), and go from there.

In the near-future, get some popcorn ready for Spurs' run-in at the Brittania Stadium. I'm seeing a drab, 0-0 draw. Potters, if you win, I might even consider forgiving you for Shawcross. Key words: "might" and "consider." Get the win, and we'll talk.

What a wonderful world it would be...

We go into a slow weekend, waiting for the results of others' games as we twiddle our thumbs and twiddle them again until we host the Latics on Tuesday. What's a good Gunner to do but to hope, however spitefully, for the best of all possible results? Here, then, I present a short wish-list for this weekend's fixtures, presented in no particular order of importance...

  • Chelsea at Aston Villa: no-brainer. A win for the Acorns would help us out a great deal by keeping Chelsea two points ahead of us. The Acorns could use a win to stave off relegation (and I'd like to see them keep Benteke, among others). With a win over Wigan, we'd seize control of 3rd place with one game to play. We'd go into St. James's Park to end the season knowing that we'd not simply claimed a 4th place finish; for the second year in a row, we would claim a second-straight 3rd place finish. Take that, Roman!
  • Spurs at Stoke: at first, a tougher call as we sort through whom we root against. Spurs for the history, or Stoke for the style? On one hand, I don't buy into the anti-Spurs venom as much as a "true" Gooner should. On the other, I despite Stoke on many, many levels. I played high school footy against other schools whose players were looking for an outlet after being cut from their (American) football teams. As a result, I can't stand the Neanderthal tactics Stoke employs. Nevertheless, I would happily accept a Stoke victory on Sunday, which would clinch 4th place for us, help Stoke escape relegation,  and all but confirm another St. Totteringham's Day this year.
  • Wigan at Man City (FA Cup Final). I'm not sure which way to go on this. It has no direct bearing on the Prem. With no points at stake, I'm torn between hoping that Wigan win and suffer a hangover-cum-letdown that permits them to accept relegation and hoping that Wigan lose and completely give up on the season. It's dicey. Relegation is tough, even with the FA trophy in hand. Should Wigan win the cup, will they press on to avoid relegation, or will they bask in the glory? If they lose, will they come out swinging on Tuesday? I'm going with my core principles, rooting for the underdog. By the time Wigan plays, we'll hopefully be celebrating wins for the Acorns and Potters, so any carry-over from Wigan's FA crucible won't matter. However, balancing wishes and reality, I'm going for a Latics win, followed by a hangover so immense that we massacre them on Tuesday.
Right, then. It's quite good to sit back just a bit and watch the weekend's proceedings while knowing that we control our fate. Win out, and it doesn't really matter what Chelsea or Spurs do. Come on, you Gunners!

10 May 2013

Fools rush in, or why Arsenal shouldn't spend like drunken sailors

With news of an impending deal with Puma that's set to smash our previous deal with Nike to smithereens, not to mention Liverpool and Man U's deals, and after eight trophy-less seasons, I don't think anyone would blame us if we're drooling at the prospect of going on a spending spree this summer. Jovetic? Sign 'em. Villa? Sure. Lewandowski? Yup. Casillas? Why not? Between new endorsements and (potential) Champions League qualification, it seems like the sky's the limit. In one fell swoop (or two), we could upset the power-dynamic and topple all who stand before us and restore ourselves to the throne that is so rightfully ours, crowning ourselves as lords of the Premiership (and perhaps the Champions League as well).

Stats compiled from transfermrkt.co.uk
However, as with an earlier post, I'm here to be a bit of a wet blanket. Take a cold shower, Put the brakes on. Look at the chart. Despite being heavily outspent, we've managed to grapple with Chelsea and Spurs while keeping close to Man City. Man U is in a class of its own, especially after van Persie sold his soul to those Devils. When you look at the chart, we are the only team in the top five to be spending less on transfers than we've earned. Part of that is our own parsimony (tight-fisted-ness?); part of that is the amounts we've gotten for the players we've sold. All the same, it's impressive that we're even in contention, much less threatening to overtake, two of the teams on this chart despite their rapacious appetites for new players. I don't want to see that change. While I realize that there are other ways to fund player-purchases beyond selling the players you already have, our ability to make our money count is not one we should shed just yet.

Chelsea and Man City have shown how an orgy of spending can deliver short-term results; Chelsea won the Champions League last year while Man City won the Prem. However, despite spending less than half of what Chelsea has spent since 2006, and two-fifths less than Man City, we've kept up on the pitch. For all of Abramovich's free-spending ways, they're only two points ahead and could still potentially drop to 4th behind us. Spurs, much closer to us in their spending, are two points behind. It was only a few weeks ago that we had a legitimate chance at overtaking Man City.

I'm not going to go into the particulars behind the numbers. They more or less speak for themselves. Yes, it stinks that our sales-figure is so much higher than everyone else's, and it would be nice to see our purchase-figure climb a little, but we made a long-term commitment to finance a new stadium, had to work on a tight budget, and have done so without dropping from the top of the table. Now that we're unburdened, the temptation to spend, spend, spend is huge. Before we do, let's consider a few cautionary tales of teams that have spent aggressively over the last five years. Liverpool's spent £260k and sits 7th. Aston Villa? £161k and 13th. Sunderland, £132k and 15th. Spending does not lead to winning, at least not directly.

We've witnessed two dramatic reformations of the world of football. The current one demands extravagant spending, deficits, and aggressiveness in the transfer market. It's one that few of us, except those whose teams are driving it, appreciate or are comfortable with. It's a bit ironic that Americans frequently complain about "European-style socialism" yet it's so many of our leagues that have salary-caps, revenue-sharing, and other means to limit player-movement or team's attempts to amass talent. European soccer football (sorry, old habits) on the other hand, is an apparent capitalists' paradise in which anyone rich enough to own a team can buy all the players he can afford.  That's not a reformation I want us to join in or collaborate with. It has a corrosive effect on fans, the players, the teams, and the game itself. Left unchecked, it would see only a small handful of the wealthiest teams dominate. Any player who showed a hint of quality at a lesser club would simply be snatched up at the first opportunity, deepening the divide. Even if Arsenal might have the resources to be in the "winning" side of that equation, I wouldn't want it.

I much prefer the previous reformation, driven in part by our own Arsène. He helped revolutionize the way football was played and made it attractive and daring and fun to watch. He found and developed players no one had even heard of yet and turned them into superstars. He has worked magic and woven together legendary teams that will be spoken of for decades. Will anyone say the same of this year's Man U? How many will say so last year's Man City or Chelsea? Yes, they each have trophies but haven't transcended the bonds of the ordinary. Indeed, there will always linger something shabby about what they've achieved in recent years.

By contrast, look at us. Battered and knocked about, we're still throwing punches with the best of 'em. Tell me that you're not excited to see youngsters like Jack or the Ox or Kos, players found in their youth, before they were stars, take the field for us. Tell me your pulse doesn't quicken. You'll be lying to me and to yourself. Yes, I know that certain names out there get your eyes to dilate and your brows to rise, and I'll agree that we could use an infusion or two, but I don't want to change the character or identity of this team too quickly. I don't love this team because I need trophies (although they are nice...); I love this team for its identity and its style, for what it's given to me and to the sport itself. If I wanted trophies every effin' year I'd go root for Man U, but it's like rooting for gravity. It's pointless and empty. They'll come back to earth sooner or later.

Sorry to bang on about this. I know it's not the first time I've blathered on, but it's a slow week as we wait for Wigan on Tuesday, and this matters to me. I've spent most of my adult life as an educator trying to close the gap between my students' lives and the lives of the more-fortunate, and it would be a bit hypocritical to wish too fervently for the opposite to happen when it comes to Arsenal. Just think of how satisfying it will be when we're holding a trophy or two next year, and we can look to Abramovich and the Glazers and Sheikh Mansour and say "we did it our way!"

Principles are a funny thing

Yesterday, Tim Stillman at arseblog touched on an interesting point that at first made me uncomfortable and so I swept it under the rug for a while. However, like the victim in Poe's "A Tell-tale Heart", it just keep ticking in my ear, pricking my conscience very now and then despite the cognitive dissonance I had so effectively practiced. I'll give you his words first:
The relentless commercialisation of society itself is something that I find incredibly uncomfortable. Indeed, a good deal of my professional life to date has been devoted to fighting avarice and greed. Yet I sweep those principles under the carpet for my football club. It’s easier to do with “The race for fourth” because I can bury that hypocrisy on the pitch and conceal it beneath the rug of a couple of London rivalries to boot. But speaking of megabucks deals such as these make my double standards naked. It strips away the delusion I clothe myself in.
He addresses the impending Puma deal and our latest obsession with qualifying for the Champions League, both of which would fatten the club's wallet considerably. As much as I tried to rationalize his comments, I just couldn't get enough layers of papier-mâché over it, and there it lay, gnawing at me until I had to confront it.

Like Stillman, I'd been obsessing over a 4th place finish for what I thought were "noble" reasons: trumping a few rivals, continuing a stretch of Champions League appearances, having a chance to face some of Europe's best clubs, etc. However, once I peek behind the curtain, I see a few less-savory reasons driving my concern: the money from qualifying. The money from winning and drawing and advancing. The players we'd be better-positioned to pursue and purchase.  Better sponsorship deals. And on and on.

Look. I'm no naïf. I'm not stupid. I know that money talks and players don't just kick a ball around on weekends purely for our entertainment or their enjoyment. However, part of why I've loved Arsenal and defended them in pubs and random encounters is the fiscal responsibility we've become known for. Despite the hair-pulling agony of seeing our best players repeatedly leave for bigger contracts, we've bounced back each time just as strong as we were the previous season (still top-four). I know it's difficult to look at the likes of Chelsea and Man City and to see their recent successes and to look at our miserable lot, but I've always consoled myself by saying something along the lines of, "well, at least we play football the right way and develop our players responsibly. Those gauche, nouveau-riche clubs  are just renting the best that money can buy at the price of selling their souls. I don't want us to become one of the biggest-spending clubs in the world. We'll become just another bully on the block, throwing our weight around and snatching up lesser club's best players just in case we need a fourth-choice right-back, for example. For all of the talk of Ferguson's greatness as a manager (and yes, I'll admit he's been one of them), few clubs in the world have had more money at their disposal than Man U over the years. Winning games is always a bit easier when you have a roster chock-a-block with talent. It's a touch harder when you have to actually develop young players and get them to mesh and reach their potential as Arsène has done over the years.

I'm therefore worried that, in our rush to make up for the paucity of success we've had over the years, we'll become just like Chelsea and Man U and Man City, buying players in each transfer window for £20, 25, 30m and simply overwhelming rivals through sheer depth of talent rather than through strategy and teamwork. It's not for nothing that we have a motto in Victoria concordia crescit, "victory through harmony." I love the team we have while agreeing that we could stand for some fresh blood, some sharpening up of our options on attack, and so on. I just don't want us to beggar our traditions and philosophy now that we're finally about to come into some money. We didn't lose to Bradford or Blackburn by being outspent, and we didn't beat Bayern by outspending them, either, and we are still locked in a battle for a top-four spot, trailing only those teams that have so thoroughly outspent us over the years, poaching our players or players we had pursued along the way.

My point is that we need not spend our money like it's going out of style. A few high-quality and intelligent purchases--two, maybe three--could just be enough to see us answer all our critics and our own in-house naysayers quite nicely.

09 May 2013

A Comedy of Errors: Wigan vs. Arsenal

An alternate lede might be, "here's one stat that sees Wigan outstrip Arsenal." For a good chunk of the season, we've led the league in errors leading to goals, plagued early in the season by a number of miscues that saw us drop points against teams we really should have beaten (Norwich, Fulham, Swansea) and teams we might have beaten (Man City, Chelsea, Man U). Thankfully, once we got through a horrid winter that saw us concede nine goals through errors between November and January, we've settled down nicely. Wigan, on the other hand, just can't seem to shake off these kinds of errors, conceding goals on a near-weekly basis to see them lose or draw games that they were about to win.

Let's get one thing out of the way. The "errors leading to goals" statistic is tricky because it reflects, at times, a defender's honest effort to block a shot only to deflect it in while a foul that leads to a penalty, like Sagna's foul against Man U, isn't always counted as such an error. There are also times when one player makes a mistake, forcing a teammate to make a last-ditch dive or tackle that ends up leading to a goal. In other words, let's take the details with a grain of salt while keeping an eye on broader trends.

Having said that, we were pretty sloppy through the first months of the year, conceding at least one goal per month (not counting August's two games) through January, an dire month in which we conceded four such goals in five games. I've tallied the dropped points only by removing the conceded goal. Vermaelan's error against Swansea, for example, doesn't result in dropped points in my book because we still lost even without his error. Draws would have been wins and losses draws. I don't think I need to point out the correlation between conceding a goal through errors and dropping points. It's manifestly clear. Thankfully, since then, we've largely eliminated these errors, with only Mertesacker's red-card to mar our recent record, and that came in a victory over West Brom anyway. Since that winter of discombobulation, then, we've found a way to settle down even as the pressure to keep maximum points has grown. Each passing week has seen a seemingly more-disciplined, if not invincible, defensive effort, driven in part by the pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker and of Ramsey and Arteta. As a result, we've now conceded "only" 14 goals through our own errors, still far too sloppy for a club with top-four ambitions, but we're in fourth nonetheless.

Wigan faces a similar dilemma at the opposite end of the table. As they scramble to climb out of relegation, their own errors continue to pull the rug out from under them. I'm not going through their fixtures game-by-game, thank you very much. Suffice it to say that, for all of our generosity, Wigan has now gone one-up on us, having allowed their 15th goal through error on the season. On Tuesday against Swansea, Wigan twice went ahead only to concede silly goals each time, the worst seeing Swansea claim the lead for good after some slap-sticking allowed Swansea to score the go-ahead. In a game that could very well have changed the race for 4th in our favor, Wigan had Spurs on the ropes despite that ridiculous exchange between Figueroa and Robles that forced Robles to attempt a clearance that struck Bale's outstretched foot and went in. Wigan recovered and looked set to win 2-1 until an Emmerson Boyce own-goal in the 88th minute allowed Spurs to escape with a draw. Brutal. Just brutal.

It's enough to make your heart go out to them, isn't it? It's almost enough to make us feel a kinship with them, being 1-2 on the chart for most goals to errors. Wigan has a reputation, though, for slipping out of the drop-zone at the last second, so I'm not sure they've quite learned the importance of taking care of the ball. It must therefore be up to us to remind them with a thorough thumping on Tuesday. A little tough love, that 's all I'm asking. Nothing mean or vindictive.

Van Persie predicted 20 goals for Walcott. Walcott has 20.

It would be a stretch to say that Theo Walcott has flourished since the departure of Robin van Persie, but he has had the most-productive season of his career thus far with two games still to play, and he might be emerging from a months-long drought that saw him go eleven appearances without scoring. However, he might just have broken the drought, scoring in consecutive games for the first time since the end of January, when he scored in three games in a row (Chelsea, West Ham, and Liverpool). With Giroud out, Poldi limping along with an ankle injury, and Gervinho, well, Gervinho, we need Theo at his best to get us over the finish line. Even when he wasn't scoring, he has been creating chances for teammates, whether it was in the form of actual assists or in the form of creating space for others to flow into. He did both against Norwich, for example, coming on for the last 30 minute against a team that had parked the bus to defend a 1-0 lead. He used his pace intelligently to stretch their defense out of shape, opening and exposing that back-line for others to exploit. If he can continue to score, he'll offer a lethal three-pronged arsenal to our attack, the likes of which Wigan and Newcastle will be all but helpless to repel. A strong finish this year might propel Theo to a higher level next year.

No-less an authority on scoring goals than Robin van Persie had this to say about Theo in February last year:
I love Theo, I honestly love him. I don’t understand the criticism he gets. He was sharp, he was playing fantastically, and, like anyone, he misses chances. But I miss chances, Cristiano Ronaldo misses chances and Lionel Messi misses chances. It’s life. If you look at his assist rate, it is unbelievable. And trust me, he will score. He will get 20 goals at least every season. Have faith in him. I do.
The references to Ronaldo and Messi are a bit much (even including himself in that class is a bit much), but his point is still valid. Van Persie's hit the nail on the head, at least once. Depending on who you ask, Theo scored his 20th against Man U or against QPR (whoscored.com credits him with 20 goals, ESPN with 21). Whichever way you slice it, he's scored 20 goals. His last two have come in a classic style reminiscent of the legend many hope he might emulate more often, receiving a through-ball on the wing that he plays back across to the far-post. Henry trademarked this from the left; perhaps Theo will soon do the same from the right, taking advantage of the natural curl a left-footed shot has to put the ball inside the far-post just beyond the keeper's reach.

Statuesque...
Theo is still a ways away from making this a signature-move, and it's of course going to be a while before he can pull it off with the frequency or panache of Henry (these last two goals squirted under the keeper instead of curling around him), but how brilliant it would be to see him do so! With Henry's MLS contract set to expire, perhaps Arsenal could convince him to come back to Arsenal as a coach to work more closely with Theo and our cadre of other strikers. In fact, I'd go so far as to ask for this to happen as quickly as possibleas one more inducement to strikers looking for a new home: "Join Arsenal. Contend for the Prem League title. Play Champions League football [ahem]. Learn from Thierry Henry." We could do worse than that, and if the flashes (and occasional stretches) of brilliance are anything to go by, Theo's on the verge of doing quite a bit better.

With error-prone Wigan on the horizon and free-falling Newcastle just beyond, let's see Theo get his first multi-goal game since his December evisceration of the Toon. While we're at it, is there someone out there who can come up with a nickname for Theo that's better than "the Newbury Express"?  Too many syllables. For someone known for his speed, it seems like his nickname should also be fast. One word, one syllable. Flash. Dash. Something.

08 May 2013

A 2-2 draw, the Puma deal, Ferguson retires. Not a bad day....

Arsenal fans were greeted today by a pair of wonderful news items and third solid one: the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, the announcement of a new sponsorship deal with Puma, and a draw between Spurs and Chelsea. Between the first two, our long-term future looks much, much rosier than it did earlier in the week. It's not that Man U will suddenly slump from the top of the table, nor will the infusion of cash from the Puma deal drive us to the top, but, all the same, it's quite a good day for us. That third item strengthens our hold on 4th while keeping 3rd within reach. Not bad. Not bad at all.

First, Ferguson's retirement. Congratulations and all to him on a storied career. Moving on. There's bound to be speculation about his replacement, currently focusing on Everton's David Moyes (checks all the right boxes: grouchy, Scottish, dislikes Wenger...). Whoever it is will inherit a strong squad and buckets of cash to spend in the summer. Who they bring in will matter a great deal, of course, and will certainly have an influence on who's there next year. I doubt that Ferguson's departure will dampen Ronaldo's interest in returning, for example, but it might just hasten Rooney's departure. Before I get too busy rumor-mongering, though, we'll leave those issues aside. Of more direct predictability is that the new Man U manager will likely have less, um influence over referees and the FA than Ferguson has had. He's been one of the Prem's most-successful managers of the last twenty years, presiding over an impressive run of league championships and other honors. It seems that the only one he couldn't win is the Champions League. Therefore, for him to step down presents Man U with a tremendous set of shoes to fill. One way or another, there's likely to be a slight dip in Man U's stature, if not its position on the table, especially if the wrong manager is brought on. Something tells me they already have their man all lined up. I doubt Ferguson would simply jump ship without Man U having a plan of succession. They're not Chelsea, after all.

One design making the rounds. Not wild about those stripes...
That's all fine and dandy, but the even-better news is the announcement of the new deal with Puma. I've never liked Nike, seeing them as relative latecomers to football. I haven't seen details of the deal yet, but it's apparently a record-setting deal in the realm of £30m per season, absolutely obliterating the terms of our Nike deal, which was closer to £8m per season. To make another comparison, Man U's current deal with Nike gets them about £19m per season. Liverpool's deal with Warrior gets them £25m. Good God. All of these are eye-popping sums of money. However, having money means little to nothing unless you put it to good use. We've seen some pretty snazzy new facilities go up in recent years, so I'm not alone in begging that this money be used on the players, old and new, who use those facilities. I've long been opposed to becoming just another Chelsea or Man City, brazenly throwing piles of cash around until they get what they want. I know that money makes the world go around and that we all have a selling price, but let's maintain some sanity around this. For one thing, once we splurge on a player, we run the risk of not just overpaying for him but also of breeding resentment among our current players, some of whom will look elsewhere even if we do make them a better offer. In some cases, that's a good thing, to be sure, but it's still something to be mindful of. Before we go out and go crazy in the transfer market, then, let's enjoy this for what it is: one more step towards restoring ourselves to glory. To cadge from Arsène, this might mean the end of sausages, but we need not indulge in caviar three times a day. As tough as it's been at times, we've known that we'd have to finance the new stadium and therefore be much-more judicious with spending. Now that we're about to emerge from that burden, we don't have to go crazy. This isn't Brewster's Millions.

Last but not least, yet another result has gone our way as Chelsea and Spurs fought to a testy 2-2 draw, leaving Chelsea in 3rd and Spurs in 5th. Although many of us were hoping for a Chelsea win to clarify 4th place on our behalf, a draw works almost as well. With Spurs now a point behind us, we control our fates. By winning over Wigan and Newcastle, we stay in 4th with nothing Spurs can say or do to stop us. We retain a decent chance of catching Chelsea as well, but I'm less concerned with that than I am with holding 4th. We'll take a closer look at those issues later. In brief, Chelsea has a trip to face a stubborn Aston Villa, fighting to avoid relegation; their Europa final, and a visit from Everton, all in the space of eight days. Spurs have an easier go of it, with a trip to face Stoke, who look to be safe from relegation, and then hosting Sunderland, who are still in the thick of that fight, at least for the moment.

We very nearly bagged a hat-trick of great news today. I'm certainly not complaining. I'll take it. 

So, about Mike Dean and this Wigan match

Looks like Wigan will go into Tuesday's clash with a man-advantage. That man? Mike Dean. His name alone brings the bile to back of most Gunners' throats, and more than a few would like to throttle his. He's been present at some of our worst debacles, such as the FA Cup loss to Blackburn and the Capital One Cup loss to Bradford, not to mention the 2-11 Carling Cup loss to Birmingham. In short, any cup-tie against a lower-tier team whose name starts with "B" is a guaranteed loss for us, and it's all down to Mike Dean.

Ok, I'm exaggerating. But not by much. An impressive series on referees and their impact on games is available at Untold Arsenal. You really should click over and check it out for yourself. For now, I'm going to focus on his potential impact on our run-in with Wigan. A quick run-down of our last 38 games with him as overseer shows us come away with 15 wins, 12 draws, and 11 losses for 57 points from 114 (I've included Bradford and Blackburn to keep the math simpler). This would drop us down to 7th place on the current table. Quite a swoon. Taking a closer look at our last ten, however, seems to mitigate his impact as he's supervised matches against some of our toughest opponents, games in which we would expect to struggle or drop points regardless of the ref. The yellow-card/red-card count even seems to favor us.. This might put the conspiracy theories to rest until we remind ourselves that man has been a referee for more than 25 years and is certainly cagey enough to cloak his insidious intentions. A more-blatant pattern of red-cards, for example, would put us darkly through the looking-glass.

However, there seems to have been enough to it to sink us under the weight Dean's "subtle" bias. With thanks again to Untold Arsenal, we've won 53% of our last 800 games but only 38% of them under Dean. Part of this could be down to him featuring in matches against other top-table teams more often than against mid-table or cellar-dwellers, but that's still a stunning drop. It could even factor into why we've dropped so many points against Man U, Man City, and Chelsea this year. We've lost 19.95% of our last 800 games, but 29.55% of them under Dean. I'm usually one to just suck it up and play, but these numbers are pretty stark. No other team has seen its loss-percentage increase to that extent unless they've only faced Dean a handful of times (less than ten; we've faced him 44 times).

If it was only his impact on us that we'd have to worry about, that's one thing. However, the story doesn't end there. His impact on Wigan is just as worrying. In the 291 games that Untold Arsenal studied, they won 27.84% of their games, but 50% when Dean's involved. Between our slumping and Wigan's surging, I'm starting to think there is something to the conspiracy-theory.

This is not to say that all of the points we've dropped when Dean's around is his faultnot in the least. For example, he didn't squib a clearance in the opening minutes against Man U. He didn't tackle Dzeko in the box at the Etihad. He didn't miss sitters against Blackburn in the FA Cup. However, it's possible that our players have bought into this conspiracy as well, breathing life into what might otherwise have withered on the vine. What doesn't show up on any chart is the attitude that our players bring into the game when they know that Dean will be involved. Are they distracted, tentative, agitated? Even before the whistle blows, do they assume that they'll get carded more quickly than usual, or that being fouled will be overlooked? I hope not. We've often been accused of being soft and whiny, especially when playing "tougher" clubs like Everton (if Moyes has anything to say in the matter). There might be something to that.

Fortunately, we've shown more grit and tenacity in recent weeks, more than enough (I hope) to overcome any real or imagined bias on the referee's part. If we come out on Tuesday with the intensity and drive that we've shown recently, it won't matter who's holding the whistle. Whether we get to play actual football or have to roll up our sleeves and put our shoulders to the wheel on Tuesday, we know we need these three points and we're going to take them, Dean or no Dean. That's as it should be.

07 May 2013

Is Walcott about to have a break-through akin to Bale's?

We've all watched Gareth Bale over the last four months as he's torn through the Premier League, and not a few of us have asked, "why do defenses let him shoot the ball?" He's been ingenious in creating space between himself and the defender in order to unleash a shot and now leads the Prem in goals from outside the box and, in fact, has outscored eight entire teams in this category so far. Each week seems to deliver another maddening, last-gasp goal to salvage points for Spurs; meanwhile, we sputter along, eking out our own victories wondering who, if anyone, will score for us this week. I've called Bale a one-man team (as we were last year) and mean it as a criticism. However, there is something to be said for knowing you have a player you can count on to deliver in just about every game in which he plays.

One of my first and earliest posts attempted to compare our own Theo Walcott with Bale, based on the premise that they both came through Southampton and now feature as their club's #1 scorer. The comparison flattered Walcott, not just because of my own allegiances, but because Walcott had delivered twelve goals and seven assists, and Bale had netted fifteen and three. In other words, the stats did give my comparison some merit. However, since that time, Walcott hit a dry patch that has lasted for most of the second half of the season, and Bale has gone on an epic tear, earning him awards and comparisons to some of the world's best. Are we now regretting signing the wrong Southampton product? Arsène admits that he looked at both but went with Walcott, and here we are today.

Before we punch anything, though, we should consider the tipping point that Bale seems to have reached but Walcott hasn'tyet. Although Walcott started seeing first-team action with Arsenal a year before Bale got his with Spurs, Bale has actually played more minutes, and he therefore may have reached a critical mass of game-time experience that has propelled him to the top of his game. Encouragingly for our man Walcott, there does seem to be a trend for us to pin some hopes on.

How has Bale's performance achieved critical mass? He may have amassed a certain number of minutes beyond which his performance has spiked dramatically. While the first half of his season was a very good one, he has absolutely skyrocketed through the second, with 14 goals and 5 assists, seven MOTM awards from whoscored.com in his last 14 appearances, and an overall rating of 7.87. A glance at the graph shows that he crossed 10,000 minutes of top-level action this year, at some point during their February 3rd match against West Brom. This seems to be the point at which he reached a tipping-point10,000 minutes at this level might be the magic moment for him. Without making
too much of the arbitrary number, Robin van Persie's magical season last year was also the year in which he amassed 10,000 minutes in the Prem.  Even Lionel Messi, who seemingly always has been an assassin, has leapt from scoring 30 goals per season to 50 since crossing the 10,000 minute mark. In fact, each scorer has seen his goals-per-game average double, the exception being Bale, who has more than tripled his output. Granted, his sample size is quite small, and obviously, most players need a few seasons to find their footing and make an impact. All I'm trying to do here is identify a potential threshold for when that happens.

What does this mean for Walcott? Well, he's played 9,848 minutes in the Prem to this point, with 180 minutes of game-time left before the season ends. Without saying I"m willing to wait 152 minutes for him to break through, wouldn't it be amazing to see Walcott bag a hat-trick in the last 30 minutes against Newcastle? In that earlier comparison I made between he and Bale, I pointed out that Bale has the decided advantage of being his team's out-and-out best (and only) scoring option, while Walcott had been an understudy to van Persie. This has already been Walcott's best season, at least in goals scored, if not in consistency. However, if there is anything in this 10,000 minute-threshold, 2013-14 could be a break-out season, the likes of which make us ever forget our recent struggles and sees Walcott join the fray for the Golden Boot. 

06 May 2013

No, Arsenal hasn't pre-signed David Villa. Hook, line, and sinker..

The latest story to make the rounds will have you believe we have "pre-signed" Barcelona's David Villa to a contract worth £12-15 million. For what it's worth, transfermarkt values him at £16m, so if the story is true, we'd be getting a bargain. However, any site that has trouble spelling one of the two key words in its name may not be setting the gold standard for players' transfer- market values. At the risk of trying to have it both ways around here, I feel like I'm not violating my "try to leave transfer-talk alone" ideals by addressing this. My Spanish is weak, and for some reason, Google Chrome just can't manage to translate the original story from as.com for me. I'll try again a few more times later in the evening. For now, let's take a look at the man himself and see what all the excitement is about.

Much as we did with Stevan Jovetic, let's look this rumored little horse in the mouth and put him through his paces. Age: 31. Current rating via whoscored.com: 6.62 (Gervinho's? 6.76). Ten goals and five assists in 19 starts and 15 substitutions. He's listed as a "very strong" finisher, but also "very weak" in offside awareness and "weak" in aerial duels and crossing. At 175cm (about 5'9"), I understand the weakness in aerial duels, but it makes me wonder how much we need another forward of middling height when we already have Podolski and Walcott. As you can probably already tell, I"m not sold on the man yet.

When it comes to his scoring, he hardly strikes me as the kind of game-changer we're seeking, even at the rumored price. He just isn't. Aside from his goals against AC Milan and Real Sociedad, many of his goals have come against mid-table teams or worse. On top of that, many of his goals have been superfluous, coming in matches that were already decided, like his goal against Real Sociedad, a pointless fifth goal in a 5-0 victory. The more I look at his numbers, the more I find myself wondering what the big deal is. He seems like a cherry-picker more than a game-changer, piling on weaker teams and kicking them after they're already down. Barcelona generates a high number of shots and goals per game, so Villa's record just isn't all that impressive to me. Yes, he's deferring to Messi when they're on the field together, but I can't help thinking that, if we did sign him, he'd be a nice option to have, and that's as far as it goes. At 31 and the victim of a leg-break serious enough to generate amputation stories, I'm quite sure that goal-happy Barcelona (averaging more than three goals a game!) would be all too happy to part with him at whatever the price ends up being. If Arsène is serious about signing this guy, he'd better whittle the price down below £10m. Furthermore, he'd better continue the search for a striker who is more likely to transform our attack into something more threatening than it's been.

From Villa's perspective, it makes no sense for him or his agent to enter into any kind of pre-transfer window deals. We've been linked with this guy for what seems like ages. Even if his current deal with Barcelona is "only" around £7m a year, it would be silly of him to take our first offer months before the English transfer window opens. If he and his agent are serious about a move away from Barcelona, they'd do well to sit back, relax, and let the bidding begin to see if they can drive the price up a bit. After all, it's likely to be the last contract he'll sign. Again, as with Jovetic, I'm not convinced he's what we need, and I'm certainly not believing these pre-signing stories. Instead, as with most rumors, I'll only go so far as to treat them as bellwethers. Barcelona wants to sign Vermaelen or Koscielny? Brilliant. This suggests their value. We're not yet back to a level at which players try to engineer trades to the Emirates; we're still trying to get past being at a level at which players try to leave, sad to say.

With that in mind, signing Jovetic and/or VIlla would not signal our intent or ambition sufficiently enough, nor will such signings dramatically transform our prospects for the 2013-14 season. I'm all too happy to be proven wrong, of course, but I'd still prefer a higher-profile signing instead of yet another summer of last-minute bargains or decent-but-not-great signings. Monreal was a panic-buy, and even the signings of Giroud and Cazorla last year felt to dilly-dally towards the end of the window. I'd love, love to read a story at Arsenal's official site announcing the signing of a top-class striker before the end of July. Get him into the squad, introduce him to Arsenal and the Premier League, and hit the ground running from week one. Sorry, David, but I'm not quite sure you're the man for the job.

Woj tells it like it is...but he gets his facts wrong just a bit

As we settle in for a fairly quiet week, we'll have to make the rather distasteful decision of rooting for Chelsea in their run-in with Spurs on Wednesday. In an ideal world, they'd draw and each lose their remaining fixtures, clearing our path to 3rd place. Absent that, we'll have to pinch our noses and root for the Blues, as their victory would keep Spurs two points behind us and level on games played, meaning we could claim 4th on goal-differential even if we drop two points.

As we sit back then, wishing for some kind of mutually assured desctruction, Wojciech Szczesny, perhaps feeling a bit sassy after keeping three clean sheets in four games, had this to say of Spurs: 
If we win our next two games, it will be enough because either Chelsea or Spurs will drop points because they play each other. If you look at Chelsea's fixtures, they have Tottenham and Everton left, and they won't be easy games, and Tottenham do not have enough quality, so there you go...
At the risk of giving Spurs more motivation (and if they need it at a time like this, they need more help than Woj can give them), I like his spirit and confidence, even if it's a bit inaccurate. A Spurs win would be bad, bad news as it puts them and Chelsea one point above us, level on games played. Even if we do win our next two games, we'd still be marooned in 5th, hoping for one or both to drop points. Therefore, go, Chelsea. Sorry I couldn't manage an exclamation point there.

If Spurs do win, we really have to hope for them or Chelsea to drop points elsewhere, with Chelsea looking more likely to do so thank to having to play four games in 11 days (Spurs, at Aston Villa, Benfica in the Europa Final, and Everton). Dicey, dicey. 

Before you go lambasting Sagna for his take-down of van Persie, mistaking how recently we dropped those points for how vital they are, he's not the one who put us in this unenviable position. Not on his own, at least. Hypothetically speaking, who's to say that, had that penalty not occurred,  Man U wouldn't have found some way to score in the second half? Yes, a victory would have been sweet, sweet revenge, but don't let those emotions muddle your mind. A draw against Man U is an honest point earned; a draw against Fulham is two vital points dropped. We should view these points in the same way that we excuse a 30-yard shot that goes just wide and jeer a miss from six yards.


We haven't dropped points wastefully since January 1st against Southampton. Yeah, we've dropped a few, to be sure, but none of those had me gnashing my teeth and rending my garments to the same degree and frequency as in the first half of the season. Keep three points from Southampton, and the Man U result is what it is: a tough draw against the first place team in the league. Drop two points to Southampton, and the Man U result becomes a staggering slap-in-the-face from a nemesis led by the man who jilted us to ruin our season. A club like Man U can look around and coast to the end of the season because they took care of business all season. We only recently started taking care of our business with any kind of thoroughness or consistency, and we're paying for it now as we worry about needing victories over the likes of  QPR, Wigan, and Newcastle instead of enjoying those victories.


Still, it's been an impressive second half of the season. After 19 games, we had taken 33 of 57 points (57.8%)  and were in 5th place. In the ensuing 17 games, we've taken 34 of 51 (66.7%). If we had kept 66.7% of our points all year, we'd have 72good for 2nd place, and with six points still available, a cozy perch from which to watch the squabbling among the teams beneath us (literally and figuratively). Of course, it's a little late for that. Let's just shoot for 73 points and wait for Spurs (and perhaps Chelsea) to shoot themselves in the foot.

Why Bangladesh matters to Arsenal fans

A quick word: this is not about Arsenal directly in the sense that I'm analyzing a match, a player's performance, or where we find ourselves on the table. There'll be time enough for that.  For now, it's time to turn our attention, if you haven't already, to the garment-factory tragedy in Bangladesh, where the collapse of a building has killed more than 600 workers nearly 700 people. The death toll continues to rise as rescue workers scour the rubble. It comes on the heels of a fire that killed 112 at another factory in November. While I can't prove to you that either one of these factories produces Arsenal jerseys (something that would be difficult for most anyone to prove, given the dodgy labeling practices at such facilities), it is worth pointing out that Nike, one of Arsenal's sponsors, one whose iconic swoosh logo appears opposite the Arsenal crest on our jerseys, does subcontract a fair amount of its jersey-manufacturing to Bangladesh and other countries with similarly lax worker-protection laws. As a result, if the tragedy itself hasn't yet struck your conscience, consider the financial connection. One of our key sponsors has a connection to this tragedy and increases its profit-margin as a result. Many of us probably own Arsenal apparel made in Bangladesh or in some other country under similar conditions.

Don't worry. I'm not whipping out a Guy Fawkes mask and mixing Molotov cocktails as I prepare to join some anarcho-syndicalist collective bent on destroying capitalism. All I'm saying is that this tragedy should spark us to do somethingwrite a letter to Nike asking them to improve working conditions anywhere their products are made. Contact the Arsenal board asking them to do the same. Ask the government of Bangladesh to fully-enforce the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which it has signed with some reservations. When you buy a Nike product, whether or not it's an Arsenal jersey, ask the store if it was made in Bangladesh. It's not a boycott; it's just a way of following up on and encouraging people to take an interest, to pressure Nike and other corporations to set and observe minimum standards of safety, and perhaps wages, for those who make their products. Insist that Nike sign on to and support the plan created by the International Labor Organization and the government of Bangladesh to improve worker safety.

The average worker in Bangladesh earns about $38/£24 a month. Spending money on absolutely nothing on anything elsenot food, not shelter, not anythinga Bangladeshi factory worker would have to work more than two months to buy the jersey he or she just made. To keep things in perspective, though, that is still far higher than many other occupations, and these jobs are highly desirable, not just for the money, but for the prestige of being able to say "I make Nike jerseys" or "I make H&M shirts". These jobs are actually vital to Bangladesh's economy and the eventual creation of a middle class, so for Nike to pull out would be a terrible mistake. Disney apparently pulled out in March, but all this does is take jobs out of the country. People need jobs, so the answer lies in improving the working conditions, not in withdrawing from the country.

Unfortunately, it's a crazy, tangled web. Some corporations are going to claim that there's no way for them to know or control where their garments are made, saying there are just too many layers of subcontractors vendors and and agents to sift through. To an extent, that's true. However, it's not like the factories themselves or their owners are invisible. Monitoring these factories is not impossible. A good-faith effort, a rigorous protocol with suitable financial support, has been proposed by the ILO, but this won't even be considered by Bangladesh's  parliament for another month. It's unclear how much support corporations will give to proposal, so consumers like us must continue to apply pressure.

All too often, a tragedy like this fades from the headlines and from our memories, and the conditions that led to it are allowed to fester while some other issue arises. We assume it's been taken care of, or we just forget. This tragedy, like so many others, differs from tsunamis and earthquakes in that every step in the sequence that led up to it was taken by a human being, sometimes making a conscious decision, sometimes an uninformed one, sometimes not deciding at all. Therefore, it is up to us to do whatever we can, however small, to change that. Yeah, the clothing will be a bit more expensive because the corporations will simply pass along any new costs to consumers.

If that chafes you a little, go back to the video or find a slide-show or two. Remember we're not just talking about the hundreds who died or the hundreds more who have been injured or maimed or their families. We're talking about millions of people, not just in Bangladesh, but also in China and Vietnam and India and anywhere people have little choice but to work in perilous conditions for roughly a dollar, euro, or pound a day so the rest of us can save a few on this year's new kit.

Let's hope that this is Bangladesh's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the watershed moment that inspired and galvanized a movement to reform the appalling conditions and practices in such factories. If pressuring corporations and governments isn't your style, at least consider a donation to a group like Action Aid or Doctors Without Borders, or you can even "tax your shirt" at Just Giving. Every little bit helps.

05 May 2013

Arsenal's Race for 4th: Thanks for nothing, Man U.

We shouldn't be surprised that Sir Alex did us no favors today, naming a less than full-strength squad to take on Chelsea today, perhaps deciding that his distaste for Arsène trumps his distaste for Benitez. It's a compliment, I suppose, in that it suggests that Benitez is not deemed important enough to Ferguson that he would tweak Benitez's nose. Anyhow, Chelsea now has a decided advantage in the race for 4th. If they can get to 71 pointssomething they could do by beating Spurs on Wednesdaythey're in. They're now a point ahead of us with that game in hand, so it looks like they might even be set to hold on the 3rd, leaving us to focus on 4th. therefore, it seems that we should root for Chelsea on Wednesday, even if it means conceding 3rd to them. A draw would give us a one-point advantage over Spurs, but I'm willing to concede 3rd for a stronger grasp on 4th.

Click to enlarge.
The chart we see shows us how high each team can now climb (dots and dashes are projections), and it's looking a bit precarious for us. Spurs now have a one-point margin over us if we each win all of our remaining games. Should they beat Chelsea, that might just be enough consign us to 5th, as Chelsea could still finish one point above us., 74-73. The silver lining is that it just about removes any ambiguities regarding our allegiances for Wednesday. Unless someone can tell me with 100% certainty that Spurs and Chelsea will drop points elsewhere, we have to pull for Chelsea to take all three points. Once-tricky matches for them look safer now than they did a few weeks ago: Everton's trip to Stamford Bridge seems to have lost its urgency for the Toffees after they drew with Liverpool today to fall five points behind Spurs. They're out of the top five for sure and will have little left to motivate them. Even Spurs' trip to the Britannia looks less intimidating as Stoke is all but safe from relegation. Still, anything's possible. 

One might even argue that Wigan's visit to the Emirates this weekend now emerges as one of the trickier matches as the Latics sit at 18th, two points below Sunderland and facing relegation. Before anyone bemoans the points dropped versus Man U and Everton, as untimely as they were and are, we've known since the schedules were announced that those would be difficult matches. Yes, it's always bad to drop points, especially at home, but I still believe that dropping points to the likes of Norwich, Fulham, or Aston Villa are more damaging, psychologically, symbolically, and strategically. Say all you want about our inability to take more points from Chelsea, Man City, or Man U. They're not ahead of us through luck or crummy goals (well, maybe a little bit). Don't mistake how recently the points were dropped with how important they are, either. It's those gimme-points we dropped, especially in the first half of the season, that are the ones haunting us at the moment. As I fumble for a better simile, it's like complaining about the car engine over-heating after failing to change the oil. 

As we look to the last weeks of the campaign, Arsène had this to say after the QPR match:
We are ready for a fight, and the team is highly focused to do it. We are on a very strong run. We definitely have momentum if you look at the points we have compared to two months ago. we are going for it and we make points. Away from home, we have won everywhere: at Fulham, at Sunderland, at Swansea, at QPR.
As much as I wanted us to give QPR a true shellacking on Saturday, it's still encouraging to see us grind out a victory. They can't all be poetry in motion, much as we might like them to be. All this stuff we've heard about Arsenal not knowing how to fight it out, not wanting to fight to win, is a bunch of manure. We love to fight and will go in for a tackle of a 50-50 and come away battered or bloodied, but not so much as the other guy. We're going to pass and pass and pass until we can't pass anymore, sure, but we're also going to punish anyone who stands in our way. Gooners won't tolerate a loser; neither will the men who don the jersey and cleats each week on our behalf. Sure, there are a few who have come through who have lacked the stomach for a dog-fight and who have gone where the going always seems to be good. Good riddance. I prefer the fighting spirit we've shown this season; I'd rather fight and claw and not know what will happen. The gilded life that others have found elsewhere just doesn't appeal to me as much. I might only be casting about to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear at the moment, but I don't mind. I love this club through thick and thin. Yeah, it's been a bit thinner than any of us would hope, but when our time comes back around, and I believe it will sooner rather than later. We're going to finish fourth, simple as that, and next year we'll do more that rattle a few cages. Maybe knock out some teeth.

Right. Wigan, you could have made things so much easier by beating Spurs, but you had to get sloppy and must therefore be punished. We're on a mission, and you're in our way.