22 November 2014

Now that's a result that changes nothing whatosever.

And do we lurch from one calamity to the next, with this latest one apparently another nail in the coffin of Arsène's tenure. Turning around, it doesn't seem like there are too many more nails left.
We're off to our worst start in three decades, far and away our worst start under Arsène. We've one only four matches while losing three and, if Liverpool and Tottenham manage to pull off some thumping victories on Sunday, winning by seven or eight goals respectively, we could end the weekend as low as tenth place. In the process, of course, we have lost to a hated rival that is itself mired in its own season of mediocrity, a result that seems to symbolize everything that is going wrong at Arsenal. We can't score. We can't defend. We can't win the big matches. We pass and pass and pass and pass. Key players get injured. All of the symbols and portents seem to be aligning against us.

Gunners 1-2 Man U: Gaper's block, with video...

A freakishly unlucky own-goal from Kieran Gibbs, assisted by a helpful shove from Marouane Fellaini, undid an otherwise dominant performance from the Gunners, who failed to adequately test David "fractured finger" de Gea, shooting directly to him time and time again instead of a few feet to his left or right. By the time Rooney found himself through on goal against Damian "but I helped us beat Reading" Martinez, the outcome was all but assured, and only a 95th minute goal from Olivier Giroud salvaged a 1-2 scoreline. Long periods of dominance, highlighted by moments of sublimity, come to naught in the video below. Keep the antacids at the ready...

21 November 2014

Can Arsenal do its part to restore the lustre to this rivalry?

Going into the start of the season, this fixture stood out as a finish line of sorts, a marker against which we could measure our progress after roughly one-third of the season gone. The latter half of this still stands although for reasons a bit different from what we anticipated: instead of vying with Man U for supremacy atop the Prem, we each need a win from this match just to keep alive our hopes of finishing somewhere in the top five.  Both clubs have been decimated by injuries, but unlike Man U, it's starting to look like we're on the mend. Giroud is available, and even if Walcott has suffered a setback, it looks like Alexis and Welbeck will come through late fitness tests. Despite a few disappointing results at our end, it's starting to feel like we're about to find some form after staggering and sleepwalking through the first third of the season.

20 November 2014

Will Welbeck find vindication against "Vanchester?"

From early in his childhood, he supported the club. He dreamed of playing for it, adorned his room in that famous shade of red and trained with some of its legends. And then, it went sour. He was played out of position. Slated for failing to live up to his potential. Derided for disappearing in the big games. Meanwhile, other, bigger names had come along to displace him, shouldering him from his preferred central position, out to the wing, but he did what he could, tracking back, creating chances, doing more of the donkey-work that the prima donnas wouldn't deign to touch with a ten-foot pole. When the final indignity came in the form a of £20m loan-deal for Falcao, the writing was on the wall: we don't want you anymore. In short order, Danny Welbeck was sold on, deemed superfluous to needs, making room for the fancier if more fragile van Persie and Falcao. Saturday offers him a chance to show his childhood club just what it's missing out on—will Welbeck seize the chance?

Jack Wilshere, heir to Vieira...

Ever since the glory days, we've pined (somewhat excessively, in this correspondent's opinion) for a brash, brawling, brawny defensive midfielder, someone who could and would win a fight in a back-alley or in the prematch tunnel...someone in the mold of Patrick Vieira, that swash-buckling, swaggering buccaneeer who terrorized the Prem in nearly a decade as Arsenal's domineering defensive midfielder who, at 1.9m, lorded it over all opponents. Ever since he left the club in 2005, we've yearned for the arrival of a similarly-dominant destroyer who could lay waste to the opposition, both demolishing their attacks and also launching counters of our own. We've had to make do with Arteta and Flamini in the last few years, neither of whom intimidate or inspire. Looking beyond them, only Abou "I'm unbreakable kind of like Little John is little" Diaby seems to fit the bill. Given his recent performances for the Three Lions, then, could the diminutive but feisty Jack Wilshere be the DM we've been waiting for?

18 November 2014

Szczesny forces £18.5m Man U move—and forces a moment of reckoning

In a stunning reversal of fortunes ahead of Saturday's epic clash, Polish goalkeeper Wojiech Szczęsny has forced through a jaw-dropping, £18.5m move to Manchester United, continuing an appalling trend of the London club losing its best and brightest to league rivals. As if it wasn't enough to lose to Chelsea thanks in large part to the efforts of former talisman Cesc Fabregas, or laboring to a tough draw against Man City thanks, again, in no small part to the labors of Clichy and Nasri, Arsenal now face the unsavory prospect of watching van Persie score on them at one end of the pitch while Szczęsny denies them at the other. Instead of looking forward to exploiting the absence of de Gea, Gooners will have to hope for Szczęsny to go on one of his foolish forays if they expect to find the back of the net...

17 November 2014

Stars starting to align around our clash with Man U and...oh. Mike Dean.

De Gea? Out. Blind? Out. Carrick, Rojo, and Lingard, all out. Add to that list a whole host of "maybe's"—Falcao, Rafael, Jones, and Evans are all hoping to return by Saturday, according to most sources—and we might start to feel cautiously optimistic about our chances against a club against whom we've struggled. We haven't beaten Man U since May 2011, a string of six matches that includes that infamous 8-2 drubbing. Still, setting that aberration aside, we've only conceded six goals in the subsequent five matches. If we could have just done one or two better than the three that we've managed to score in that same set, we might have found a few wins. With Man U missing four or five key players and hoping that at least two or three can come back from injury, we might even lick our chops. Cue the unholy spectre that is Mike Dean, for it is he who shall preside over the proceedings.

For those who don't know, Mike Dean is a bit of a bête noire thanks to his involvement in quite a few infamous decisions, none of which have ever seemed to go our way. A 2010 Louis Saha goal for Tottenham during which Dean appeared to hop around in delight. The 2011 League Cup final, in which we lost 1-2 to Birmingham. The 2012 League Cup quarterfinal defeat to Bradford on penalties. A month before that, Koscielny was sent off (correctly, it must be noted) against Man City in what ended as an 0-2 defeat. These are just some of the lowlights. For more-pertinent results, we should look at the role Dean has played in our clashes with Man U. Four matches. Three losses. No wins. Without suggesting error or bias, it's worth pointing out that Dean has been involved in some painful, painful results against our long-time foes:
  • 29 August 2009: Man U 2-1 Arsenal. A 95th minute equalizer from some bloke named van Persie is disallowed because some other bloke named Gallas is ruled offside. Arsène sees red for his protestations. Earlier in the match, Darren Fletcher bowled over Arshavin with nary a whisper from Dean. Instead, it was Almunia who was called for bringing down Rooney, and the resulting penalty turned the tide in Man U's favor. 
  • 12 January 2012: Arsenal 1-2 Man U. Let's not breathe too much of this one, as it was a Danny Welbeck goal that made the difference. To be honest, there wasn't much from Dean to criticise in this one.
  • 3 November 2012: Man U 2-1 Arsenal. Wilshere was sent off for a second yellow that seemed harsh, Cazorla was called for a handball in the box (correct), and we had to endure the Dutch Skunk scoring thanks to a scuffed clearance from Vermaelen. Might we have done better at full strength in those last 20 minutes? Hard to tell, to be honest, as Man U did dominate that match for long stretches. 

Confirmation bias suggests that we'll find what we're looking for. In this case, we're looking for some kind of excuse to explain why we've struggled so much against Man U. Sure, Mike Dean seems to have played a role, but what? Can we really blame him for our failings against Birmingham or Bradford, or does the guilt lay closer to home? Against the likes of Man U, the story is little different. It's been a while since we could honestly measure ourselves against Man U. Saturday's fixture might offer the first chance in a decade when we could say, on paper, that we're equal to the challenge.

Given Man U's current form and injuries, we should feel like we can go into Saturday's clash on level terms, if not better, regardless of who the referee is. To some degree, we have a right to feel aggrieved at the treatement we've received at the hand of referees, whether they be Dean or Taylor or anyone else, but that mindset conceals deeper issues around transfers, formation, and tactics that have bedeviled us in match after match regardless of who the referee may be. If we can't knock off a squad as psychophrenic as Man U, well, we'll have to ask questions of ourselves first and foremost.

Thanks, by the way, for the messages and so on during my week off. This past week off was the first break I've given myself since starting in February 2013 during which time I've posted 896 times in those. It's good to hear that my ramblings have been missed almost as much as those ramblings have missed. The interlull coincided with a bout of ennui as well as a physical illness, but I'm back at it, for better or for worse.