01 March 2014

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal. On cue: The sky is falling, the sky is—

Honestly. Get a grip. From the reactions I was seeing to this one, our season is not all but over—it's over. We'll be lucky to hold onto the fourth place. At the rate we're going, European competition of any kind may be little more than a pipe-dream. The hyperventilation that's going on after the match might actually be louder than the fan-support during the match. Look. I know that these were three points we had counted on—assuemd—and to see them slip through our fingers in such a fashion is hard to take, even more so when Chelsea would go on to win, as would Liverpool, who vault us into second on goal-difference. With Man City now holding two games in hand, the maths do indeed look bleak. However, those have finished their calculating and lay down their pencils in despair have done so on the assumptions that (1) our rivals will not drop any points, any where, and (2) there is quite literally nothing we can do to change our fate.

28 February 2014

Stoke Tactical Preview: Hobbits vs. Orcs

Our trip to Brittania is rarely one to look forward to, what with the contrast in styles, the history, the general unpleasantness that surrounds the fixture. There's a silver lining in that certain bogey-men, namely Tony Pulis and Rory Delap, have moved on. The ill feelings, however, linger. As we go into the clash, a great deal of the talk has centered on the infamous Shawcross tackle, which I've taken on here and here in a perhaps-heretical attempt at recasting the villain in a softer role, that of misunderstood or unwitting kid rather than unmitigated monster. However, last I checked there will be a fair number of other players on the pitch, a score of them, more or less, and so it might be worth stepping back in order to see the forest as well as the trees.

Ox's England call-up and Nasri's France fall-out

There is a pair of contrasting stories out in the last few days that, to me, serves as a bit of a parable for young footballers as they consider the various paths to glory that present themselves. On one hand, we have the path paved with gold bricks at the end of which sparkle countless trophies, gleaming, blinding in all of their glory. On the other, we have a tougher road, one made of less-gilded material and that often winds around corners that obscure its end-point. The first one beckons, siren-like, with promises of honours for player and for team, not to mention contract-riches galore. The second one challenges and demands to look within and ask themselves what kind of player they hope to me—what kind of player they're willing to work to become. And so I present to you the contrasting tales of Samir Nasri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

27 February 2014

Stoke Preview: 99.9% Ramsey-Shawcross free!

Ever since that fateful day in February 2010, the Stoke-Arsenal rivalry has become one of the most fervent fixtures of any Prem season. At the Arsenal end, of course, we have Tottenham and Man U. Stoke have West Brom and Port Vale. Stoke-Arsenal, especially at Britannia, has become a match marked by one horrific tackle, a tackle thas has reduced two men to caricatures of their respective clubs while reducing fans on both sides to foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics. The storyline could come from right out of The Hunger Games.

Uncertainty at left-back as we prepare to face Stoke...

It looks like we have a bit of a dicey situation at left-back. According to Arsène, speaking at his pre-match press conference, there "are uncertainites about Monreal, who had to come off last week [against Sunderland] with a foot injury and about Gibbs [still recovering from a Ribery—er, buttocks injury]." While it's possible that Gibbs will be fit enough to face Stoke, this thrusts into the delicate position of having to consider Thomas Vermaelen, who is still not 100% and doubtless a bit rusty, having played a mere 45 minutes of football since facing Tottenham on 4 January. Arsène claims that Vermaelen is available, but where does that leave us? Do we play Gibbs at his preferred position on the notion that he's perhaps less-fit but a better fit than Vermaelaen? Is it better to play Vermaelen at left-back where he's out of position, a bit rusty, but perhaps closer to having fresh legs and fitness?

As Arsène put it, "Thomas can play [left back]; it's hot his preferred position and he has been out for a long time now, but we'll see. I still have 48 hours to make a decision." None of the options seems ideal as we face playing one of two (or three) players, none of whom seems fully match-ready. The one closest to it has fallen out of favor for his preferred position, in part due to his own patchy form and in larger part, it must be said, to the improved form of his teammates at that position. With Monreal the least likely to make the trip, what's the best option—the rusty, out-of-favor and out-of-position Vermaelen, or the pained-in-the-arse Gibbs? Casting our net a bit fruther, could we send out Flamini at left back? It may not be his preferred position, but he's at least fully fit and defensive-minded enough to press too far forward, as an overly-aggressive Vermaelen might be.

In the longer term, converting Vermaelen to a versatile defender who can cover at left, right, and center, but that's another question for another day. For Saturday, we'll have to rely on the idea that Stoke does not pose a terribly potent attacking threat so that whoever it is who gets the nod at left-back can put in an eventful shift. We'll take a closer look at that as match-day approaches.

'Til then, feel free to weigh in: who's our best option at left-back against Stoke? Vermaelen, Gibbs, or Flamini?

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Pulis rings up Shawcross

It was a slow Thursday, and Ryan was scrolling idly through twitter, checking for hashtags #supportshawcross or #potternation but, getting irritated at how many #supportaaronramsey results he was getting, slid his thumb over to the power button. A tell-tale buzz made him pause. Ryan glanced at the screen. "PULIS, T" screamed out silently. Urgently.
Ryan swallowed hard before answering. "Coach!" A little forced, Ryan thought to himself, but coach always wanted enthusiasm.
"Rye-guy! How ya doing? 'member yer ol' pal Tony? Tony P?"
Bridling a bit at the accent, the nickname, the pleading, almost needy undercurrent, Ryan managed a polite if awkward reply. "Of course, coach! How could I forget?"

26 February 2014

Champions League breaks our way...for the most part...

As we continue to size up our rivals in our chase for silverware, results in the Champions League have given us a bit of a boost. Once we slipped into second place in the group stage, finishing behind Dortmund on goal-differential, it looked like we would have to write off progress in the UCL for another year even if we had drawn someone less-dominant than Bayern. Now, of course, having lost the first leg at home, progress looks even less likely, and this suits me fine. More importantly, it seems to enhance our prospects in the Prem and FA Cups as our chief rivals in each competition have distractions of their own. Whether we can seize the slight advantage those distractions create depends on us, of course, but in a race that sees us a point behind Chelsea and two ahead of Man City (who have a game in hand at the moment), every little bit matters.

Joel Campbell goes the distance

We've had to observe Joel Campbell from a distance for a few seasons now, having signed him—kind of—in 2011 only to have his work-permit turned down, forcing us to loan him out, first to Lorient, then Real Betis, two locations where he failed to distinguish himself except in the collecting of yellow cards. This season's loan to Olympiacos seemed to further suggest that he'd already come as close as he would to ever appearing at Arsenal, which is to say, never. However, his wonder-strike against Man U revives interest, if not hope, in the idea that he may yet have a future.  There must be something there or we wouldn't have jumped through so many hoops to get him in the first place. At 21, he's still too raw and inexperienced for us to start dreaming. Then again, he did in 54 minutes what no current Gunner has done in 180—score against Man U. It's not so much who did it as from where that interests me.

25 February 2014

Should Sagna see £100,000-a-week?

It's a long week between matches, what with no mid-week fixture to look forward to (or dread, as is your wont), and there's apparently not enough misinformation or ginned-up scandal to fill the void as we wait to visit Stoke. Some of the more-desperate and lazier of the rags are building up around the idea that Stoke haven't yet forgotten Aaron Ramsey's temerity in daring to decide to break his leg and are working themselves up into a frenzy over his return, which is more than a bit silly because (a) he's already injured (no, Potters, not in a way that allows you to take glee from it) and (b) he won't even make the trip. Maybe they could arrange for Shawcross to break an effigy's leg at some point to sate their blood-lust? I kid. In the absence of much else to talk about, then, we look inward. It seems that Tomáš Rosický is set to sign a new deal with saying he is "adamant" that Tom stay. Of the other member of the long-in-the-tooth crowd, it seems that Bacary Sagna or the remoras attached to him are holding out for a bigger payday.

24 February 2014

Look out, bloggers! Piers Morgan has a lot more free time!

Brace yourself, Gooners, for no longer is Piers Morgan bound by the strictures of his dayjob. Yep. It's true. CNN has decided to pull the plug on his show, "Piers Morgan Live", which may come as a surprise to the eight or nine people who still watch it. Those of us in America who follow the Arsenal may celebrate the potential departure of an illegal immigrant whose attitude towards has probably only irritated those who disagree with him and embarrassed those who agree. Those who follow the Arsenal across the pond may fret that the termination of show may see him return to England to resume his unaccuntably boorish behavior.

23 February 2014

A chance encounter between Shawcross and Ramsey

Ryan and a few mates were sittin' at Delilah's, having a pint or two, trying to relax, when Ryan's eyes widened over the lip of his glass and saw him. Him. The man who very nearly ruined his carer. What was he doing here, in Delilah's, for crissakes? Ryan could feel the rage boiling up in him, threatening to erupt. For almost four years, Ryan had simmered and fumed, and now, here was his chance to confront his tormentor, the man who had cast himself as a victim and made Ryan into a schoolyard bully, a monster, an orc. Well, it was time to set things right. With a look of grim determination, Ryan finished his pint and slammed it down on the bar with an immediacy that silenced those around him. This was a moment he had waited for since the 27th of February, 2010...

Our rivals squeak by; we waltz. Guess who's written off?

Richard Jolly, writing for ESPN after Liverpool eked out a victory over Swansea, had this to say about the title-chase:
[Liverpool's] is an unusual title challenge, but it is a title challenge nonetheless. Liverpool have momentum and match-winners, confidence and the invaluable asset of being the underdog when the burden of being favourites lies on the shoulders of Chelsea and Manchester City.
Nowhere does he go on to mention the second-place team, the team that has until recently held onto first place for two-thirds of the season (18 of 27 weeks, plus five other weeks in second place). To an extent, I get it. On one hand, Man City and Chelsea have each won a Prem championship recently—Chelsea in 2010 and City in 2012—and finished second the year following, while we cling to a 2004 championship almost like a toddler to his comforter. On the other hand, we have Man City (again) and Liverpool scoring goals as if it's a pub league. Lost somewhere in the shuffle is boring, old Arsenal.