Now, I know that Arsène is not renowned for close studies of his opposition and prefers, for better or worse, to let his players play the game and make decisions for themselves. Whether this reflects a noble commitment to principle or muleheaded resistance to change is up to you to decide. For my sake, if not yours or that of the squad's, I like to know what we're in for. With that in mind, we should at least take a look at what Hull will throw at us—or, as you'll see, where it's coming from. For as much as is made of Sunday's match being a dress-rehearsal for the FA Cup final, each club needs this match on its own. Hull are fighting to stay up, and we're fighting to stay up as well. A little higher up. My point is that neither side can afford to take Sunday's match lightly.
18 April 2014
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Look, I get the frustration. I do. I share it. I've flirted with giving into it. With the collapse of Man U and the continuing follies of Spurs, we should have climbed higher up the table. We should be in a better position than last year. Instead, we find ourselves in an all-too-familiar dilemma, scrabbling and clawing just to hold onto fourth place. Our direct rival this year might be Everton, but it's the same squabble. They've done us a solid by dropping points unexpectedly at Crystal Palace, but it offers cold comfort as we look up the table and again see three clubs ahead of us. Even admitting Liverpool's rise (one that I dismissed repeatedly to my eventual chagrin), don't we have a right to expect—nay deman—something better than fourth place? Just two weeks, we were sharpening pitchforks to storm the castle and evict Arsène.
Just a few days remain between our FA Cup final with Hull City—er, scratch that. It's just a few days until we face Hull in the Prem, and the nagging question, perhaps resurrected because we will face Hull in the FA Cup final, is "which do we want, the FA Cup or fourth place?" On its face, the question is preposterous. It might have made sense a few months ago, and then only if we were struggling to sustain ourselves. As it stood, as recently as our 4-1 win over Everton, there was no real doubt yet as to our ability to compete in the Prem or in the FA Cup. Now, as we stand, looking down on Everton in the Prem and looking ahead at Hull in the final, the question makes even less sense. One does not preclude the other. We can have our cake and eat it, so why all the fuss?
17 April 2014
What's a football season without some good, old-fashioned scorn and spite? I speak of course of the arrival of our favorite holiday, St. Totteringham's Day, which could arrive as early as this Sunday if results go the right way. Last season, we left it about as late as it can get, needing ninja-Koscielny's goal against Newcastle on the final day of the season to make our reservations. This time around, it's starting to feel more and more like an inevitability, almost a formality, as Spurs languish in sixth place—and could yet stumble to as low as 7th if they're not careful. Let's suss out how this looks, shall we?
Spurs face Fulham on Saturday at White Hart Lane. Now, Tottenham have been far better away than at home, and what might otherwise look to be a winnable match on paper feels less-so once we peel back a layer or two. As far as Fulham are concerned, they'll go into White Hart Lane knowing that they need to find points wherever they can get them. They currently sit 18th on the table, two points below Norwich and three below West Brom and Swansea. Fulham seem to have awoken just a bit from their post-Jol torpor, clawing their way up from last place thanks to winning two in a row for the first time since October. They look to be full of piss and perhaps vinegar as well, and they could make some hay out of Spurs, who are looking more and more dispirited as the weeks roll on, needing a last-gasp equalizer to salvage a point against West Brom, Privately, I'd imagine that a fair few Spuds are sizing up their options in the summer-transfer window, with more traffic going from White Hart Lane rather than towards it. With Bale roaring to life at RM (six goals and an assist in his last seven appearances), others have to be wondering just how much greener the grass might be elsewhere. With Man U now breathing down their necks—three points back with a game in hand and carrying a +18 goal-differential—desperation, if not downright despair—might be the prevailing mood there as Spurs look to miss out on European competition entirely.
Of course, we can't count on the bumbling of the Spurs or the motivation of Fulham to do all of the work. At some point, we have to take care of business at our end. Hull, perhaps seeing inspiration from Crystal Palace's success on Wednesday, will have upset on their minds as well. Further complicating matters, Hull might feel a bit nervous about their own prospects for next season. Currently sitting 13th, Hull have to keep one anxious eye on the drop-zone. A Fulham win would bring them to within three points of Hull (although Hull have a game in hand at the moment), and the newly-promoted side might have a bit more fight in them come Sunday. As we've been reminded—be it by Palace and Sunderland on Wednesday, if not by West Ham on Tuesday—scrappy sides should not be underestimated. Regardless of our relative positions on the table, we can't afford to slip up as Everton and Man City have. Instead of conceding the first goal, why don't we try something novel, such as scoring first? That would be a welcome change of pace and would likely take the fight out of the Tigers.
Heck, even if Spurs manage to eke out a win over Fulham, we can still get halfway to St. Totteringham's Day by beating Hull. From there, we might have to wait until next Saturday to root for [gasp] Stoke. How bad can it be? We're already thanking Pulis.
16 April 2014
Would you believe it? Can you believe it? Here we were, hoping, fretting, despairing of Everton dropping points, worrying that we might have to wait until they face Man U on Sunday, or Southampton next weekend, or Man City the week after that, all the while fearing that it would never come to pass. All along, we had overlooked the Eagles, the Tony Pulis-led Eagles of Crystal Palace, the home of one Marouane Chamakh. We plumb-forgot 'em, yes we did—and so did Everton. For the first time since 22 February, Everton went out and lost a Prem match. For the first time since 26 December, Everton lost a Prem match at home. And to think, we have Tony Pulis, of all people, to thank. The irony is just dee-lish.
We love Podolski. He's a cut-up. A card. A clown. #Aha! And so on. Whether he's trying to learn a bit of London slang, taking cute pictures of himself around town, or shouting that aha of his, he is, by all accounts, a wonderful personality and great all-around guy. However, something's been missing from him this season, and it's not just the goals and assists that he delivered so many of last season. Yes, he's got 10 goals now to go with four assists, but he did go for 16 and 12 last season. This time through, he's often cut a forlorn figure, consigned to the bench, as others have supplanted him. It's gone far enough that rumors of his departure swirl endlessly. However, that may have changed just a bit after Tuesday's performance.
Despite the importance of the match, Arsenal came out and just looked unable to unlock West Ham, who looked to be more than happy to secure a draw—that is, until a scrappy scrum of a goal in the 40th minute gave West Ham a vital lead going into the half, and it looked like we would be in for another disappointing result, whether it would be an out-and-out loss like the shocker at Stoke or a tepid draw similar to the one we suffered with Wigan. This time, though, there would be no penalty-kicks to bail us out. Turns out, we wouldn't need one, thanks to the ferocity with which we fought back.
15 April 2014
A Podolski brace came either side of a goal from Giroud as Arsenal stormed back from a 0-1 deficit; just three minutes after West Ham had seized a lead and looked to go into the half with the advantage, Podolski answered. His goal shifted the momentum, and just ten minutes into the second half, Giroud netted to put the Gunners ahead. It wasn't over yet, though, as Podolski blasted his second past keeper Adrian in a style reminiscent of his goal at Bayern—simply blasting it past the hapless keeper and into the roof of the net. There was something in it for everyone: a frustrating first half, familiar frailties, and a fierce fight-back to seize all three points. Check out the video below for the highlights! (It gets a bit blurry if you go full-screen; I suggest you leave it as-is...).
A goal late in the first half made for some nervy times among the Gooner faithful, but the comeback came through an equalizer from Podolski just three minutes later, followed by the go-ahead goal from Giroud and then an insurance goals ten minutes from time, again from Podolski, as Arsenal finished off the match with little trouble. It will be enough to temporarily elevate us to fourth, pending Everton's result against Crystal Palace on Wednesday. In the meantime, take a moment to vote in the player-ratings poll below.
The results are still trickling in, but we're closing in on kick-off, so a few more votes coming in over the next half-hour probably won't change the numbers that much. The lineup includes Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Rosický, Källström, Cazorla, Podolski, and Giroud, which looks to be a strong line-up, making up in size what it may lack in pace (excepting Cazorla, of course). The results of the fan-poll follow below; at a minimum, two of the three leaders for our Man of the Match start, Ramsey being the exception.
Cast your ballots and make your predictions about today's match. Results will be posted just before kick-off. Any other suggestions, comments, or other predictions should go in the comments-section below. Man of the Match predictions appear in a randomized list, and the scoreline is based on margins rather than potential score; I didn't see the value of offering 2-0, 3-1, 4-2 when "win by two" covers it without getting into the various permutations. Once you vote for MotM and scoreline, you'll be able to see how the voting's gone so far. Thanks!
He's a former Gunner, having played for the academy at age 11. Does this give Mark Noble added insight, skill, or confidence coming into the Emirates on Tuesday? We've sized up Mohamed Diamé and mocked Andy Carroll, but midfielder Mark Noble may just be the one to keep a close eye on. He may look more like an accountant than a footballer, but make no mistake—he's very much at the center of what West Ham do both defensively and offensively. I know that Arsène does not make it a habit to study or make allowances for his opponents' tendencies, but, for as much as we might look forward to and, indeed, need a win, accounting for his whereabouts and influence would go a long way towards securing that win.
14 April 2014
No rest for the wicked, it seems as we've barely time to finish celebrating our semifinal win over Wigan before having to prepare for a visit from Sam "I am the Walrus" Allardyce, Andy "just try to bounce it in off my forehead" Carroll on Tuesday. Such is the life of a Gooner, it seems. Ah, well. It could be worse, I suppose. Let's hope then that Saturday's win, rather than draining us, provides some much-needed momentum going forward. It is, after all, the first we've won since a trip to White Hart Lane back in mid-March. The Ides, I believe they're called, as in "I'd swear that three chances would be enough for Tottenham to win once" or "I'd prefer scotch over beer, if it's all the same." And so on. And so it comes to West Ham, and I'd prefer we have a few more days' rest, but there's little to be done there. They've had nine days' rest to our two. Who, then, can we turn to who's both fit and has (relatively) fresh legs? Kim Källström comes to mind.
All rights' in the world again, it seems. We're back to winning ways. We all agree that Wenger should stay infinitely, Sanogo is full of potential, and fourth place is once again our target. Elsewhere, flowers are blooming, birds and bees are attempting to mate (although I'm almost sure there's some kind of law, natural or otherwise, that agitates against this abomination. What would result? Birds that sting? Bees that sing? Birds with bees in their mouths and when they sing they shoot bees at you? The horror). Just when I thought that the chorus was warming up to sing a rousing rendition of kumbayah, however, the storm clouds gathered. Always with the storm clouds. Of course, it is raining in these parts, so that might be more about cold fronts and cumulonimubus clouds than symbolism...
13 April 2014
Simple as pie—click on a score for each player, scrolling down as you go. Add your comments in the comments-section below. Thanks! UPDATE: Live and learn. I've just now figured out how to present to you your voting options without all of this scrolling-business. It's too late to change without losing the precious, precious data, but I'll incorporate the changes going forward. Thanks again...
Despite a thorough-going, dominant performance, Arsenal eked out a nail-biting, skin of the teeth "victory" on penalties that puts them through to the final. It's a win in name only, as Wigan, the decided underdogs, fought bravely and answered nearly every question put to them by Arsenal, forcing their fancier, better-financed foes to confront if not quite answer long-standing questions about their own suitability and aspirations. As it stands, it's hard to suggest that the better side won, on this night or on the whole, as the grit, effort, and organization Wigan displayed was often more than a match for the supposed elan, price-tag, or desperation of Arsenal.