31 August 2013

North London Derby: Walcott wins it from wide

As we go into the North London Derby, a great deal of talk will focus, rightly, on the differences in each squad's actions in the transfer window. We all know our own sob-story, having only brought in Flamini and Sanogo on free transfers and having unloaded almost 30
players (including a great number of Academy players in their teens). Spurs, though, have been intensively active, signing seven players in anticipation of selling Gareth Bale. With his price-tag looking to be somewhere in the £90m range, Spurs have spent about £84m on transfer-fees. Bale hasn't played a minute for Spurs so far this season, with explanations ranging from he was given a "rest" to his being fined for missing training. However, Spurs don't seem to have missed him so far, having won all four of their matches to this point (including two in the Europa) without conceding once and scoring ten.

And that brings me to the focus of today's column: Theo. I've called on Theo to have a break-out season with 20 league goals. After scoring 21 across all competitions last season, it looked like he would vault himself  to the next level this season. I compared him favorably to his former teammate Bale here, for what that's worth. However, he's off to a bit of a slow start so far, with no goals to show for himself in our first four matches. He did look sharp in the preseason, with a goal against Man City and against Galatasaray, each of them the match's opening score. Despite his slow start to the official season, I'm certain that Theo will revive the form that he's shown against Spurs over the last few seasons, a form good enough for him to tally four goals in our last five derbies.

Of course, he'll be lining up opposite Vertonghen and Rose, who on paper are no slouches. However, Vertonghen frequently presses forward to join the attack, at times playing almost as if he's a box-to-box midfielder, and this can expose him on counter-attacks (sounds a bit like Vermaelen, come to think of it). Rose is a fine player on his day, but he's a perpetual loanee, most recently to Sunderland last season. Given Vertonghen's eagerness to join the attack and Rose's relative inexperience, especially in an atmosphere as pitched as the North London Derby, I see Theo getting lots of opportunities. The service he's gotten from Ramsey, Rosický, and Cazorla so far have been strong; all he's lacked is the final touch. While I don't see another 5-2 win in the offing, I wouldn't put it past the man to bag a brace.

If there's a downside to Spurs' signings, it's that they may not fully understand what this match means. Soldado had some nice words about it earlier this week, calling it "beautiful". However, listening to teammates explain it differs immensely from experiencing it directly. Their new signings have done well for themselves so far, but the stiffest competition they've faced is arguably Swansea, and they have yet to score a Prem goal from open play, relying on spot-kicks from Soldado to defeat Swansea at White Hart Lane and to defeat newly promoted Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

For all of the hand-wringing over our failure to bring in new players, we still field a strong XI on Sunday. There's little use in speculating on who will start where, as this suggests that there is a great deal of competition in the squad. Cazorla will almost certainly slot in on the left, and the middle of the pitch will be patrolled by Wilshere, Ramsey, and Rosický, hopefully reprising the rotating midfield that so befuddled Fulham. Flamini may make his debut, what with Arteta out and Ramsey nursing a sore groin (does one get those massaged? One wonders...). It'll be a tense one, that's for sure, but I have a good feeling about this one. Theo, make me look like I know what I'm talking about.

The clock is ticking...

30 August 2013

"I suspect he would pay £25m for Lionel Messi"

That line from Ivan Gazidis, one I found while looking for what he had said back in June, stunned me. Worse, I think it pretty well sums up our problem. Gazidis was deflecting a question regarding Arsène's aversion to "spending £25m on a single player." Let's grant Gazidis the leeway of admitting that he was just offering an example. However, what an
example! The idea that Gazidis might think that Messi would be available at £25m just a few months after scoring "only" 60 goals, is averaging close to a goal per game, has won all three Ballon d'Ors in existence, and who, among other achievements too numerous to list here, has transcended the debate over "best player in the world" to join the fray over "best player ever", beggars belief. It's ludicrous. It's embarrassing. Worse, it pulls back the curtain on our problem, as if any of us were suffering from any delusions. Our chief executive doesn't seem to know market value. Our manager rejects current market values and, setting and perhaps blindly sticking to these regardless of how they compare to the appraisals of others. I'm not sure which problem is worse on its own. Sorting that is akin to changing the deck chairs on the Titanic at this point.

With the countdown switching from days to hours, we still have only two new players, each of them vintage-Wenger-ites: Sanogo from Ligue 2 and a free transfer. These feel less like signings and more like ironic protest from Arsène. It's as if he's been pushed to a breaking point, and so he threw up his hands and gave us Sanogo and Flamini in a parody of himself. Of Flamini, Arsène said, "he was available because he was out of contract." Out of contract? Is that our reason for signing him? By that logic, we don't we really show our intentions by signing...um...Ciprian Marica? He's out of contract. Better yet, Nicolas Anelka! He would settle Arsène's critics' hash once and for all. French! Knows the club! Free (maybe)! We could field a whole squad of free players while we're at it. After all, this would only be a logical extension, the reductio ad absurdum, of Arsène's position.

At the risk of getting both a little lofty and frothy at the same damned time, it seems that Arsène has a platonic conception of what a transfer should be, and that just doesn't work in the goddamned real world. That after effin' all, is the point of the platonic ideal: it doesn't exist in the real world. Ironically, then, Gazidis steps back in to offer us this: Arsène is "pretty blind to price tags. He looks at what he sees with his eyes and makes judgments based on that, not on reputations and prices." In this little cave in which the two of them apparently dwell, then, Arsène has chained himself to a wall and is staring—with his eyes, of course—at what he sees: flimsy shadows on the back of the cave-wall. What he doesn't see, what he refuses to see, is that the shadows are cast by real players behind him. Real players. With reputations and, yes, prices. Arsène's own philosophy has imprisoned him. Meanwhile, we shout and chant and scream, "turn around! the real players are just behind you! You're just looking at shadows! All you have to do is turn your head!!They're right there! GodDAMMIT!!!"

I've stuck by Arsène through a lot of grief and criticism, but I'm starting to lose that faith. I regret that what he was once lauded for—finding and developing young players—has now become an albatross around his neck. I wish we could continue to build a team in that way, but the Mansours and Abramoviches of the world have simply reduced us to a feeder-club, and, even if we can't compete pound for pound in the market, we could do better than this. We've sat on a pile of gold that has grown year by year, hoarding it almost zealously, if not jealously, and now seem to reject any notion of using it for anything other than sitting on. In the words of C. Montgomery Burns, "One dollar for eternal happiness? I'd be happier with the dollar."

29 August 2013

Flamini's signed: Podolski's injury fits Arsène's transfer-policy perfectly

Pity poor Arsène. For the first time in years, he hasn't had to face the prospect of losing key players (with apologies to Gervinho, Arshavin, Squillaci, and all the rest) and so hasn't had any "real" reason to go out and spend in the transfer-market. In years past, we could count on a player having the good taste and upbringing to announce his future
unavailability; van Persie or Fabregas or Touré understood their manager's need for time to prepare (even though 75% of all business happens in the last days. Or something). They gave their manager ample warning, never once muddying the waters with passive-aggressive contradictions or ambiguity, so that he would have the maximum amount of time to find suitable, one-for-one replacements. Those were the good old days, when nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Give me five bees for a quarter," you'd say. Now, where was I?

Oh yeah, Podolski. Clearly lacking good parentage, Mr. Podolski has decided it was appropriate to get himself injured for up to 10 weeks, failing to provide his employer proper notice or to leave behind contingency plans for his absence. All we need now is for someone to contract acute radiation poisoning or get arrested for every unsolved murder in our fair city. Three misfortunes? That's possible. Seven? There's an outside chance. But nine? I digress.

We've lost to Villa at home, and we've lost four players to long-term injury (Diaby, Arteta, the Ox, and Poldi). By my count, we've already lost 22.06 player-games to injury, and we're only four games into a season that could, if we're lucky, offer 50+ matches. None of these setbacks, in and of themselves, seems like it has been enough to force Arsène's hand. In past years, we could come to count on the departure of a key player just as we could look forward to the falling of autumn leaves. Old men in retirement homes had learned to predict the severity of the coming winter based on who was leaving Arsenal. "Van Persie's leavin'," they'd say, "could be as cold as it was in '37". This year, however, we've had no such single crisis to respond to; it's been the proverbial death by a thousand paper-cuts. Diaby went down in late March, but all was well from that point, for the most part, until major injuries to Arteta, and then Ox, and now Podolski. The various "minor" injuries to Monreal or Vermaelen have been disconcerting, but, again, none of this apparently adds up to a crisis large enough to respond to through signing a top-shelf player or two.

This is made all the more clear by the re-signing of Flamini. French and available for a free transfer, Flamini does, we must admit, add some depth, flexibility, and grit to the midfield and defense. He's a shrewd signing, to be sure, but even he would have to admit that he's not the game-changing or season-redefining player we've clamored for. He'll do well for us, and it will be valuable to have some cover for Ramsey until Arteta comes back. Presumably, he'll be available for the derby on Sunday.

However, we still wait with bated breath for a true signing. With Podolski and Ox out, we are now down to Giroud, Walcott, and Cazorla as out-and-out attackers—with Sanogo as the only sub available. If we could perhaps convince Giroud to pretend that his knee has gone akimbo for a day or so, this might finally force Arsène's hand. With no experienced striker left in the squad, he'd have to splurge on a striker, although all of the talk lately has been of midfielders: Özil, Di María, Cabaye, and so on. Then again, for all we know, Arsène has already gone ahead and signed one or two and is just reveling in the rumor-maelstrom, waiting until the last possible moment to surprise us all.

I'm sure that's it. Please let that be it...

28 August 2013

Nope. No signings needed after all.

In the only possible conclusion to be made after a 2-0 dismissal of Fenerbahçe, eight goals in three matches, and a three-game winning streak (and undefeated in 13 of 14 official matches stretching back to last March), it's now abundantly clear that everything is fine and dandy like sour candy. Sorry, all you transfer-targets to whom we've been
linked; show's over. Go on back to the Bernabeu or Anfield or wherever it is you've called home lo these many years. We don't need you. We don't want you. Frankly, we've found the whole sordid business more than a bit irksome, if you don't mind us saying so. All this tawdry back and forth involving family members, agents, managers, hangers-on, twitterers, and sycophants? Well, it's worse than sorting who has a crush on who in fifth form maths (I'm practicing my British-ish).

After all, our defensive midfielder now leads the team in goals scored. Our keeper has kept three clean sheets in a row and hasn't conceded a goal from open play except once, after our best defender was sent off. Our #1 striker is off and running, with three goals in four matches. This is the squad that defeated Bayern. Away, for crissakes. We chose to lose to Aston Villa. Didn't want to disrespect the Invincibles and all, so we lost the first one just to get that off the table.

 I don't mean to oversell the point, but we have seen a string of solid performances that offers enough evidence to suggest that we can hold our own—if not against Man U or Chelsea, then certainly against other pretenders to the throne. Now that we have qualified for the group stage of Champions League play, it should be easier to sign a few players. However, if we don’t, I think there is still reason enough for some optimism. Key players are finding form that had deserted them, whether through injury, confidence, maturity, whatever the reason may be. Giroud is off to a fine start, looking confident and putting shots on frame, not to mention in the net. Ramsey is running opponents ragged, creating chances, and scoring goals. Cazorla is simply a joy to watch, even if he hasn’t scored. It’s a veritable hit parade, and the hits keep comin’.

I know we can’t and shouldn’t simply wait for our best and brightest to find their form, and we need to bolster our squad, but I like this squad a great deal, and if only to prove once again why I’m not qualified to manage a team, I have a hard time with the idea of replacing any of our regulars. Yes, part of that is soft-headed sentimentality, but on the other hand, casting a colder, appraising eye across the pitch is legitimately reassuring. When all fit and in form—a rather large qualifier, to be sure—I believe we do have what it takes to contend.

What this squad seems to lack, more than any other single factor, is pedigree. All of our players are on the callow side, having not yet had enough time to establish the kind of reputation that precedes them. They’re young and exciting and capable of dropping our jaws, but their names don’t yet inspire fear or antipathy among our opponents in the way that, say, Drogba might. That will change with time, something I know we’re rather short on. Sooner rather than later, however, we’ll be able to utter a name and it will reassure and inspire us instead of merely tantalize us. Someday soon, we’ll see one of our current lot with the ball at his feet and just know he’ll do something crucial, something game-changing, something memorable. I know that it’s hard to wait on who among them will be “the next _______” and that this is shaky ground on which to compete for silverware, and this is not a call for us to sit back, ignore the transfer-market and the thinness of our squad.

Maybe I’m suffering from acute Wengeritis, or maybe it’s just the way that transfer-window has gone for us so far, but maybe we don’t need £50m striker to lead the line. It’s August 28, and there are only a few days left, so yes, I’m preparing myself for the possibility that there won't be such a signing. We have Sanogo. It looks like we have Flamini back. What’s your call? Will there be a major signing, and if so, who will it be?

27 August 2013

Fener-Arsenal preview: not a leg to stand on

At first blush, we go into this match all cozy and warm, cocooned in a 3-0 advantage, holding a seemingly insurmountable away-goals trump card. However, without sounding alarmist, I'd like to remind us all how fragile such a lead can be. After all, we've fallen
behind in the first leg in similar fashion before only to mount a stirring come-back that, while it fell short, was about as famous as a victory can be. Bayern came away from the Emirates with a 3-1 victory only to get the scare of a lifetime as we stormed back to win 2-0 at Allianz Arena. Had Mandžukić not scored that ugliest of goals in the first leg, things could have turned out very differently. It's a fair reminder that anything can happen, and we'd best be on our toes. We don't know what to expect from Fener. Will they play like tranquilized three-toed sloths, or will they come out like rabid banshees?

Either way, I hope the squad approaches this one with the same urgency and focus that has seen us score six goals in our last two matches. There's no sense going up three only to let a team claw its way back. Arsène has stated as much:
You qualify in the Champions League when you're ahead after the two games, and what we want to make sure is that we mentally prepare for that. It is a fight, everybody wants to give his best, and we want to finish the job....We go into the game to win it without thinking about the result of the first game.
Well-said.

For as much as we're celebrating the goals we scored, though, the clean sheet matters just as much. Goalies don't normally get enough attention or action to merit a man-of-the-match award, but Szczęsny's performance against Fener was vital and will be again. After facing zero shots in the first half, he came up with several vital saves as time wound down, crucial to keeping that clean sheet and preserving that well-earned advantage. On the assumption that Fener will come out with a frenzied attack to try to score early, I'm looking to a strong performance from our keeper. Hoping that last season's inconsistency and immaturity are fading, we need to know that he can put together a string of strong performances and build towards becoming a world-class keeper. After getting thrown under a bus a bit against Aston Villa, he's come back with two strong performances. If Fener throw everything they have at us only to see that Szczęsny can foil them at every turn, whatever intensity they've brought should fade. Of course, an early goal of our own wouldn't hurt, either.

Arsène has said that there will be little rotation from Saturday, saying that  "95% of the team who played at Fulham will play [on Tuesday] night." Good. Let's make UEFA's ruling on Fener's appeal an afterthought for all involved. Szczęsny? Best behavior. Kos? Exact a little revenge. Giroud? Make it four in four. Walcott? Score. The rest of you lot? Keep doing what you've been doing.

26 August 2013

di María to sign? How many midfielders do we need?

With rumors around Ángel di María growing louder, I wanted to offer a quick run-down of some of his stats to put in context our offer, said to be in the £26m range. As you can probably guess based on the title, I'm not sold on the move, at least not as our first
signing of this silliest of seasons. Midfield is an area of relative strength for us. If di María had the skill-set to convert to striker or defensive mid, I would get more excited. As it stands, though, I'm not sure how excited I should be. Here are some of his numbers from the 2012-13 campaign to help us ruminate...

According to whoscored.com, His passing accuracy is a woeful 71.9%, which would see him better only than our keepers, Gnabry, and Giroud. Despite playing for a prolific Real Madrid squad that scored 153 goals in all competitions, di María managed only six goals and seven assists. Cazorla, playing a similar style and position, generated 12 goals and 11 assists. As a winger and attacking midfielder, his defensive numbers aren't going to be all that high, but I would have expected to see better offensive numbers. His pace and dribbling are valuable assets, of course, and he's capable of some vivid, vital attacks. However, I'm suspicious that, with all of the advantages of playing for Real Madrid, he hasn't recorded somewhat flashier stats. Numbers don't tell the whole story, but they give us a fair approximation of value. £26m on a player who would fight for playing time, most likely against Walcott on the right wing, doesn't seem to add up.

If Real is looking to move players to help pay for their looming acquisition of Gareth Bale, sure, let's spend, but let's spend to address our more-pressing needs. Could we get Casillas or Benzema instead? They might be available in this £25-30m range we seem intent on staying within, and each would more directly address a need while adding truly world-class value. Di María is a very good player, but he seems to be a step or two down in quality from the likes of those teammates, not to mention potentially superfluous to our needs.

As the transfer-window closes ever-tighter, it is imperative that Arsenal do some proper business. We've moved past the despair from the loss to Aston Villa and are now riding high after dispatching Fener and Fulham, but a true test of who we are awaits us on Saturday. Tottenham, playing without Bale, have sandwiched a 5-0 win in the Europa between two razor thin 1-0 wins in the Prem (both on PKs from Soldado). As we all know, though, Saturday's match has just as much to with mutual enmity as it does with form or table. Whether it's di María we sign or someone else, it would be valuable to have that player available for Saturday. Arsène has claimed that 75% of transfer-activity happens in the last ten days. We're down to seven. And counting...

Bale to Madrid? No like. Not one bit.

The rumors around Gareth Bale's move to Real Madrid have heated up over the weekend with suggestions that he'll complete the move by Tuesday (and perhaps even before this post hits the web). Those of us with the good sense, taste, and fortune to be Gooners might at first react
The last we'll see from him?
with a bit of glee, perhaps even laced with a hint of spite, laboring under the false impression that his departure dooms Spurs to plummeting down the table. After all, he did produce one of the most brilliant seasons of football in the last campaign, wondrous enough to earn favorable comparisons with Ronaldo, among others. However, I've long argued against his departure, here and here, for example. His departure could blow up in our faces for any number of reasons ranging from our options and actions in the rapidly-closing transfer-window to our performance and theirs in the unfolding season. To wit, here's a quick run-down of why I hope the transfer falls through.

The Market
Just as we were closing in on Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli sold Cavani for £55m on July 16th. By July 27th, Higuain had signed with Napoli for around £35m. Obviously the direct route—Napoli sells one striker and buys another—yanked a rug out from under us. Such a direct route is less likely for Spurs should they sell Bale. After all, they don't have the Champions League to entice players to join. The fall-out could still likely undermine us anyway even if Spurs can't or don't poach our transfer-targets (whoever they may be at this point). Bale's selling price is apparently somewhere around £90m, and that is likely to inflate prices on other players we're looking at. Once Cavani sold, it seemed that Real Madrid looked at our bid for Higuain and decided to hold off for a better offer, one that, sadly, we were either unwilling to make or too slow in making. I worry that something similar could transpire again, whether it's Suarez or Rooney or whoever else it is we're bidding for.

Bale himself
I'm squeezing this one in somewhere in the middle because I know that it will be unpopular and might ruffle a few feathers. Bale is good for British football. He's a brilliant player, capable of stunning displays of skill...but I fear that a move to Real Madrid might overwhelm him. The klieg-lights that will shine down on him will be withering—think of it: he may displace Ronaldo as the world's biggest-ever transfer and join Ronaldo amidst comparisons that he is the next Ronaldo. I just don't see this as going down well with Ronaldo (how many more uses of "Ronaldo" do I need before it stops being a name and becomes just a sound?). He doesn't seem like one who suffers upstarts gladly, even less those who score (or misfire) instead of him. More to the point, instead of being his team's first, last, and only option, Bale would have to find his way in a pecking-order, presumably beneath Ronaldo, maybe even below Benzema. Even without that pressure, it's only a matter of time before defenses key on him more doggedly. Of his 31 goals for club and country, 15 came off that left foot of his. Sooner rather than later, defenders are going to sit on Bale's left hip, daring him to go to his right, with which he only scored four times last season. How could he justify his transfer-fee if he's not scoring at the rate that earned the fee in the first place?

Spurs
Of course, having £90m to spend is only as good as how you spend it. We've heard the brags and the boasts of our transfer war-chest, but it sits there gathering dust (for all we know). Spurs, however, have already been very active in the transfer-market, whether in an attempt to persuade Bale to stay or to reload should he leave anyway: Capoue, Soldado, and Paulinho make for a respectable if not intimidating haul. Selling Bale at, say, £90 would leave them £53m in the black (give or take). They beat us to Vertonghen and Lloris last year; who's to say that a motivated, bitter rival won't smell the blood in the water and beat us to a few more players this year? I don't think they could convince Rooney or Suarez to come to White Hart Lane, but they might have enough to convince a Pogba, Eto'o, or di Maria. Maybe. Even if they can't legitimately pursue these players, they could throw enough of a monkey-wrench into the negotiations that we see a player's asking-price spiral—and we already know all too well how allergic Arséne is to overpaying.

Urgency
Previously, I worried that Bale's departure might sap some of the squad's intensity; after all, the likely drop-off in Spurs' competitiveness without Bale (and even with a signing or two) might lull our players into assuming more blithely that we can anticipate a Spurs collapse. This mindset, subtle or unspoken though it may be, could see us drop points here and there, at first innocuously and later more ominously, until we find ourselves in another desperate late-season scramble against Spurs, Everton, and Liverpool. Like it or not, knowing that Bale was around last year and was capable of saving a game through a dramatic goal is in part what inspired us to finish as we did. Should that disappear, a more blasé attitude might infect the squad, if only enough to see us drop a handful of points. Given that we secured fourth place last season a mere 38 minutes before the end of our season, we simply can't afford to drop points. This, unfortunately, is a very abstract argument in August and only gains urgency in March and April, by which point it might be too late.

More recently, my worries over urgency have shifted from the squad to management. Should Bale leave, I worry that this might undermine the sense of urgency that Arséne has already seemed all too immune to. We haven't signed anyone of note (with apologies to Sanogo). With Bale gone, I worry that Arséne would size up the competition and decide that we don't truly need anyone to help us secure a fourth-place finish. Arteta, Vermaelen, the Ox, and, yes, even Diaby will return eventually, and the "like a new signing" idea might just gain enough traction to convince Arséne that we'll be fine if we just can hold our own until those players do return to fitness.

Conclusion
And that, inexorably, brings us right back to where we've been since the close of the 2012-13 season, hoping and praying for significant signings to bolster the squad. Spurs, with Bale or without, are likely to provide even stiffer competition, and we simply can't afford to let the transfer-window close without key signings, nor is there enough lasagna to ensure another late-season collapse. Arséne has claimed that "75% of things happen in the last ten days". By his own estimate, with eight days left, 20% of those last ten days have passed and we still have nothing to show for it. If we don't act soon, we may find ourselves competing with a Spurs club flush with cash and ambition. "Be careful what you ask for," the old saying goes; "you just might get it." Bale's departure, something we'd probably asked for more than once over the course of the last season, might just come back to haunt us. The "panic-buy" phrase has been bandied about, and if we wait to see what happens with Bale's future, even that phrase may be inadequate to describe our options or our reaction.

25 August 2013

Arsenal 3-1 Fulham: Giroud's three goals in three games

Olivier Giroud is going to score 20 Prem League goals. After scoring six goals during the Asia Tour, Giroud has been on a fine run of form, scoring in every match he's played more than a half. After struggling mightily to score after his arrival, needing eight matches to score his
first goal (against Coventry in the league cup) and eleven to score in the Prem (against West Ham), he's already scored twice in the Prem and once in the Champions League.

Sure, the Champions League goal was a PK, but last I checked, those are still goals. Just as impressive as the run of scoring (nine goals in ten matches) has been his overall play. His hold-up play, his touch, his passing, have all shown marked improvement as he seems much, much more comfortable and confident. It remains to be seen how long he can sustain this, but given that he's the only striker in the squad with any significant Prem League experience, we are going to need him to deliver.

The sea-change in his performance from this point last season has been dramatic. Twelve months ago, he was pressing and struggling, trying too hard to be van Persie, something I touched on here. At that point, he was facing the strain of trying to convince us all that he was going to be a one-for-one replacement at striker, and having scored 25 goals for Montpellier the season before only exacerbated the tension. He was taking ill-advised shots, flubbing sitters, surprising team-mates with overly creative passes, and heaping too much pressure on himself to deliver. That 12% conversion rate loomed over him for most of the season. Across all competitions last season, he needed 142 shots to generate his 17 goals. Assuming that he takes 142 shots again, he would have to improve his conversion rate to 15%, a not-impossible improvement.

After two Prem League matches (a very small sample, of course), his conversion rate is 50% (two goals on four shots). At this point last season, it was 0% (no goals on five shots) and included several missed opportunities and bad decisions. His goals so far have demanded quick decision-making and reactions, not to mention control. Against Fulham, for example, Ramsey's shot caromed off of Giroud, but he was sharp enough to recover and flick past Stockdale, an impressive feat on a slick, wet pitch. He's now scored twice on the road (at Fener and at Fulham), further showing greater confidence and resourcefulness after scoring almost all of his goals last season at home. 

Confidence improves timing, sharpens skill, and delivers results. Each goal, as important as it is in its own right, also leads to a feeling that is variously referred to as a being in the zone or in a purple patch, a Zen-like mindstate in which the player no longer thinks but simply knows. For most of last season, Giroud was too busy over-thinking what to do. So far this season, he's just going out and doing. It may not be enough in and of itself to drive us to the top of the table, but at this point, it's far-more enjoyable to see in-squad performance rather than worry over who may or may not sign. Whereas I think that other top-scorers, including a few we've targeted, will regress (or simply leave the league), we have in Giroud a striker poised to take a dramatic leap forward.  He is not yet a talismanic player by any stretch of the imagination, but he's taken a few confident steps towards becoming one. Let's see how much further down that path he'll go, shall we? I see 21 goals across all competitions.What's your prediction? Ten goals? Fifteen? More?