22 December 2021

Arsenal 5-1 Sunderland: Player Ratings & MOTM Poll results

Good news: we thrashed our quarterfinal opponents and advance to the semifinal. Bad news (?): we drew Liverpool for the two-legged semifinal. We'll have to assess what that means later. For now, let us all bask in our win's warm glowing warming glow. "Only" 351 votes for this one, possibly reflecting a lower opinion of the League Cup or of the significance of this particular opponent. In either case, we're three matches away from a trophy, and that's not to be underestimated. For those afeard of Anfield, remember that we were holding our own—okay, holding on by the skin of our teeth—until Arteta riled up the fans with a bit of ill-advised sideline histrionics. He may have had a point, but one does not walk into Anfield and gesticulate wildly. Its black gates are—nevermind. I digress. Back to the Sunderland poll. No surprise as Eddie Nketiah claimed the MOTM with his hat-trick, but, in a surprise, he got just 68.7% of the vote. Then again, he was far and away our highest-rated player. Sometimes, you lot are inscrutable. Anyway, check out the poll results below...

21 December 2021

Arsenal 5-1 Sunderland: Vote for Player Ratings & MOTM!

Eddie Nketiah got his first hat-trick as Arsenal blitzed a spirited but outclassed Sunderland club, who did have their chances and briefly threatened to make a match of it. We were just too much to handle though. With all of the attention paid to Nketiah, and deservedly so, let's not overlook Pépé, who added a goal and two assists while thoroughly eviscerating Sunderland's left flank time and time again. The only blemish was the conceded goal, our first in this competition, but we're through to the semifinal and will have to wait to see who we'll face. More on that later. For now, enjoy the result and a fine performance from a heavily-rotated squad. Capping things off was a fine goal from 18-year old debutante Charlie Patino, who found the back of the net in stoppage time. The youth project adds another member, it seems. Well, enough patter. Let's get to the poll. Click here to open it up. You can see how the voting is going after you finish, and a complete run-down of the results will be available come Monday.

Sunderland's manager tries to talk trash, gets taken out with it.

16 May 2017: Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland. It's been a while.
When asked before the draw for this week's League Cup clashes, Sunderland manager Lee Johnson said, “I’d love to have Arsenal away, or Tottenham away if not that. And then we’ll wait for the really big guns when it’s two legs.” It was, shall we say, not among the smartest claims made in recent memory as the League One side look ahead to facing a Premier League club for the first time this season. In fact, this is the first time that Sunderland will face a top-flight club since losing away to Everton in the third round of the League Cup back in September 2017, one year after being relegated from the Prem. Their decline has been striking and, to some, saddening. Perhaps someone should make a documentary about their fall from grace. 

20 December 2021

Rivals' Roundup #18-ish: Fixture Congestion and Covid Cancellations

Some clubs have played a full set of 18 matches and close to the halfway point; some have played as few as fifteen, which begs the question: is it a game in hand or three points dropped? Aspirational clubs like Tottenham will point to their three games in hand (and, it must be admitted, their display today against Liverpool) as evidence that they are in effect in fourth place already. They would be wrong, but they'll point to it anyway. The gap between the top three and the rest of us has narrowed ever so slightly, maybe enough to inspire feverish dreams of someone other than Chelsea finishing in that top three. Of course, looming over all of this is an aptly named variant of covid that threatens to postpone even more matches. Omicron. It sounds like an evil multimedia conglomerate run by someone named Hank Scorpio or some similar aptronym (look it up, unwashed masses). Let's get to it.

1. Man City (14W, 4D, 2L, 44 pts.).
The sky-blue paladins of the north sent an unmistakable message to Tyneside: one does not simply buy their way to success in the Prem. Just over two months after the confirmation of a Saudi-led consortium's purchase of the club, Guardiola's noble, selfless knights in shining armor, they who would sooner cut off their own hand rather than ink a big, fat contract, thrashed Newcastle 0-4. Let nothing be said about the possibility that Ederson should have been sent off for a slide tackle that took out Ryan Fraser. It's just not possible, nor should it be possible that so little contact in the box should result in a penalty. Clubs of this size never resort to chicanery, cheap fouls, or other underhanded methods. It is quite simply too far beneath their lofty ideals. What's more, they recognize the immense benefits that the Fates have bestowed on them and understand that it would be disrespectul to fall back on less-than-pure methods to achieve their goals. What other explanation could there possibly be?

2. Liverpool (12W, 5D, 1L, 41 pts.).
Liverpool, perhaps bored by having topped the league at Christmas for the last four years, apparently rolled the dice against Tottenham, gifting their hosts no less than six clear-cut chances at scoring. Spurs, being, well, Spurs, spurned them all but still found two goals, more than good enough to keep a point against a superior side. Liverpool's Robertson went from Man of the Match to Mare, assisting and then scoring and then seeing just how hard he could kick through Emerson Royal without getting sent off. It turns out that he kicked just a smidge harder than that. VAR eventually decided that a reckless change that could injure an opponent should be a straight red, which will come as news to one Harry Kane, who very nearly Shawcrossed Robertson earlier in the match but was only cautioned. Apparently, captaining the England national team confers benefits that captaining the Scotland national team. Shocking.

3. Chelsea (11W, 5D, 2L, 38 pts.).
There's a strange malaise emanating from Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have now drawn three and lost one of their last six. Compounding the problem, Chelsea were missing a grand total of three players to covid plus five other players, leaving pundits to wonder whether Chelsea might consider investing a little more in a squad that is, apparently, lacking depth as well as quality. With only narrow wins over Watford and Leeds to spare them further blushes, Chelsea have gone more than a little wobbly of late. Wolves had several chances at scoring, quite notable for a side with the second-lowest goals scored in the Prem, but just couldn't find their way past a Chelsea side that I would like to describe as "stalwart", but my mother raised me better than that. Let's just say that Chelsea should count themselves more than lucky to have escaped with a point. If Tuchel can't right what's wrong over there, Chelsea might very see Liverpool and Man City pull away--and may even have to look more in their rearview mirror to see who's nipping at their heels.

4. Arsenal (10W, 2D, 6L, 32 pts.).
Did someone say something about nipping at heels? Maybe it's just an old man's mind playing tricks on him. Anyway, the youth movement at Arsenal is, to put it mildly, scintillating. Against a Leeds side decimated by everything other than covid, the Saka/Smith-Rowe/Martinelli trio ran roughshod. Oh, yeah: Ødegaard also found time to add an assist. Considering how abysmal our away form has been, this was a welcome result. It may not be quite enough to suggest that we've got our sights set on third place, but even a modest improvement on that away form, coupled with continued Stamford Bridge stumbles, could lead so some justified salivating. At the same time, we have to remind ourselves that Leeds have conceded fourteen goals in their last four matches, so it's not as if we're suddenly to be taken seriously. After all, it Man U and Tottenham were to win their games in hand, we'd slip to sixth. Still, it's a refreshing change of pace to feel...what's the opposite of shame? Pride? No, not that far from shame. Less shame? Yeah.

5. Honestly, I don't know who to put here. We have West Ham on 28 points with one game in hand, Man U on 27 points with two games in hand, and Tottenham on 26 points with three games in hand. Hell, even Wolves and Leicester might merit a shout, but I'm a lazy, lazy man. As alluded to above, a game in hand is only as good as the result one can wring from it, and each of those opponents have other distractions to worry about. The only real benefit to those games in hand comes if they're rescheduled for late in the season when relegation spots and top-six are settled, leaving the Brightons, Burnleys, and Norwiches of the world with little to play for and less to prove. Even then, the fixture congestion will take a toll. In the short term, new managers like Conte and Rangnick will be frustrated by the obstacles covid poses to instiling their methods and tactics in training. Long may that last to two interim managers whose contracts expire come summer.

Honestly, I don't know what to make of it all. On one hand, chips seem to be falling where we want them. Key rivals are suffering setbacks on and off the pitch. Our own squad seems to be building confidence, leading to positive results, and...and, yet, there looms over all this the very real possibility that a major shakeup could ensue. Already, ten matches have been postponed, with more likely, and then there's the prospect of AFCON and World Cup qualifiers adding even more uncertainty to the mix. Isn't it all too typical that, just as things seem to breaking our way, circumstances so far out of our control threaten to pull the rug out from under us? The universe may not be cruel, but it sure does seem to have a warped sense of humor.

19 December 2021

Leeds 1-4 Arsenal: Player Rating/MOTM Poll results

607 voters weighted in this week, naming none other than Martinelli as our MOTM with a whopping 84.3% of the vote. I suppose that's what happens when one bags and plays with such electricity and verve. Even if Leeds were discombobulated, the lads deserve a lot of credit for refusing to get complacent. It was a commanding performance, the kind that can build confidence going forward. We have a few days before our League Cup tie with Sunderland, after which the fixtures come fast and furious. Let's enjoy this result and hope it's a springboard to success!