It's going to be a long, lonely weekend 'round these parts. We'll have to wait until Monday for some proper footballing action, what with the Canaries traveling to Stamford Bridge to face down the Blues. In the meantime, there's—oh, wait. Almost forgot we do play, also on Monday. However, that's a long, long time from now, so long that we can probably sort out once and for all just how poor Giroud has been, where we'd be had Ramsey not gone down, and just who might replace Arsène (and how soon we'd turn on him). That said, there are a fair number of matches scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and some of those have some impact on us. Here, then, is a quick set of suggestions of who to root for—or, more accurately, who to root against.
25 April 2014
No joke. I wish it were. In what is becoming a ludicrously tragic or tragically ludicrous farce, a Kafka-esque nightmare, a boilerplate Bill Murray movie involving Groundhog Day, Abou Diaby has again suffered an injury. After playing 45 minutes with the U21s against Arsenal and by most accounts, doing well, it appears that the Fates have seen fit to once again strike down a man whose only crimes are being harshly tackled and trying his level-best to fight his way back. Apparently, he should have just hung up his boots and taken up crochet. Even then, I suspect the Fates, capricious and cruel as they are, would find a way to snap some heretofore unknown knuckle ligament, rendering him incapable of even knitting. Forget purling. Don't even ask.
Ever since the departure of Patrick Vieira, it seems, we've hungered for that domineering, physical defensive midfielder who can bomb forward and wreak havoc on the opposition's structure, defense, and counter-attacking options. We've tried Diaby but, for various reasons, failed. Alex Song filled in for a spell but was never as disciplined in the back or assertive going forward, offering recklessness in place of swashbuckling. More recently, we've gotten by with various permutations of Ramsey, Arteta, Flamini, and Wilshere but have struggled to replicate the kind of partnership that saw Vieira work so well alongside Silva, for example. For better or for worse, the myopia that results has seen us set our sights on Juventus's Paul Pogba, but I'm not seeing it. As exciting as he may be, he's just not the player we need.
24 April 2014
Sigh. Just when the 'silly-season' moniker seems to say it all, along comes a story so preposterous as to mock the idea of mockery itself. It's a bit of a mobius-strip. In saner times, if they ever existed, we could roll our eyes at certain suggestions. We could rue the decline of proper journalism, overthrown by sensationalist headlines followed by boilerplate articles filled with bogus unnamed sources, recycled content, even fill-in-the-blank formats that would allow 'professional' journos to generate articles with no more thought than it takes to flush the loo. Those are now apparently the good old days, the halcyon ones we'll look back on fondly. Why? The story making the rounds has Barça offering to unload Mesut Özil for the sum of £25m, which is either insulting to us or degrading to them. I'm going with the latter.
The man between the sticks often cuts a forlorn figure. If his squad are doing well, he ends up with little to do but adjust the straps on his gloves, do some calisthenics, and perhaps chat with a few of the fans behind the goal. If his squad is coming to pieces, he ends up as the most-visible culprit when a goal gets conceded. Never mind whatever series of errors leads to a goal; it's always the keeper's fault once the ball's in the back of the net. It's a bit ironic then that Arsenal, famous (or infamous) for its attractive attacking style (for whatever it's worth), might find itself developing a bit of a reputation as an incubator for the Prem's best keepers. Before you scoff, ponder the names and their achievements to date. I'd challenge you to name a club that featured, at once, three keepers capable of as much as Mannone, Fabianski, and Szczęsny.
23 April 2014
As the season draws to a close, thoughts start to turn to the summer transfer-window. At a risk of overlooking the fact that we still have to actually clinch fourth place and perhaps win the FA Cup before counting our chickens, we're well aware of our deficiencies and needs going forward and it might be wise to address them, even if only to assuage the more unhinged among us that something is being done. Still, as Ernest Hemingway once put it, "never mistake motion for action." With that in mind, remember that there will always be an insane amount of motion. What we're hoping for, of course, is some decisive action of the sort that will enhance our chances going forward. Does Karim Benzema qualify as motion, then, or action?
22 April 2014
It's been more than a year since we last saw Abou Diaby, having last appeared on 16 March 2013 against Swansea. Ever since, the debate over his future with the club was been almost as divisive as the one over Arsène's. With Diaby having made an impressive return with Arsenal's U21s, is there any chance we'll see his resurrection, even if it's only a symbolic one? After all, he did play 45 minutes in his first appearance since tearing that ACL, no mean feat, and by all accounts was impressive if not dominant. Assuming we can sew up fourth place (something that may have been just a bit easier with Everton losing Kevin Mirallas), the return of Abou "like a new signing" Diaby might be just around the corner.
Well, this is all a bit awkward, isn't it? There we were, comfortably advancing through the usual stages of jettisoning a bit of dead weight. The rumors had been started about the player's impending transfer away from the club. Unnamed sources were mentioning friction between the player and club. The player's playing time or lack thereof, as well as his body language when subbed off, was magnified, scrutinized, and analyzed, and then submitted as evidence that he, like others who had not been up to snuff, were moved along to some other club elsewhere. Well, somewhere along the line, Lukas Podolski didn't get the memo or failed to read it, because he's been playing like a man determined to prove his worth.
21 April 2014
Every once in a while, such as now when we have to wait until Monday for our next match, I find myself staring at the vast stretch of time between matches and wonder just how I'll fill the time. How many different ways can we dissect the win over Hull and its ramifications on the Prem, the FA Cup, and the Champions League? How much is there to say ahead of the Monday visit from Newcastle, and when is it time to start saying it? Hint: Too soon. Maybe Thursday. It's with queries like that in mind that I can take a moment to examine myself. Take stock, as it were, and see just how far I've come and how far I've yet to go.
Pardon me, gentlemen, for interrupting the weekly briefing, but I've had a long night of it. So too, will each of you, as I've just know uncovered a conspiracy so vast and wide-ranging that it threatens to destabilize geopolitics on a scale not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis. You see, the foe we just dispatched—those whom we defeated by a three-goal margin—have played us for patsies. They strung us along, enchanting and beguiling us, all the while playing a much, much larger game that I'm just now wrapping my head around. We were but pawns in this game of theirs, powerless to comprehend, much less resist. We're wrapped around their little finger. Mephistopheles himself could not have concocted a plot more diabolical than the one that has ensnared us. We thought we were winning a simple football match. The truth, however, is much more than that.
20 April 2014
And so the FA Cup pre-final scrimmage is over, and the carnage, damage, and adages will all accrue to Hull's side after a 0-3 demolition that suggests the actual FA Cup final should be little more than a cake-walk for the Gunners. It was all one-way traffic, wasn't it? Three goals scored. A clean sheet kept for the first time since 16 March against Tottenham. 58% possession. Players back from injury and finding the kind of form that propelled us to the top of the Prem: Ramsey, Özil, Koscielny...Yep. Ain't nothing left to do now but skip the formalities and announce Arsenal as the FA Cup winners.
A Podolski brace followed Ramsey's first goal since 11 November 2013 as Arsenal stormed to a three-goal win at KC Stadium to stay ahead of Everton, who defeated Man U at Goodison Park. The Toffees still trail us by one point, but we now share the same goal-differential and continue to control our fate-slash-destiny regarding fourth place. It's still tighter than a nun's—well, it's pretty tight. However, we've now won three on the bounce. If we continue to play like this, there's little Everton or anyone else can do to slow us down, let alone stop us. Watch the video below to see what I mean (probably best not to enlarge as I'm still learning how to best-upload such videos...).
I know we haven't always liked Mike Dean. Some of us, to be honest, have struggled to appreciate the deeper insights into the game that surely he possesses. There have been times when, to put it mildly, we have had our differences in opinion, when we struggled to understand just what match he was watching when he made this call or overlooked that one. Now, finally, the esteemed Mr. Dean has redeemed himself in our eyes, setting aside those differences of opinion and rising above the distrust, and showing himself to be worthy of our respect, our admiration, our love. Heck, I might even go so far as to suggest that he's now our favorite referee in the Prem. Don't take my word for it, though. Take it straight from the 'little horse's' mouth—Jose Mourinho's mouth, that is.