07 December 2013

Match Preview: Arsenal v. Everton, The Emirates, December 8 (11 am EST)

Another game, another win.

Nicklas Bendtner
The Great Dane had a successful return
(Photo courtesy wonker)
This one was a little different, though, as it featured a goal from the rarest of sources: Nicklas Bendtner. The Great Dane headed Carl Jenkinson's superb cross in to the back of the net after just 93 seconds to score his first Arsenal goal since March 2011 in his first Premier League start for the Gunners in 1005 days. The early goal was followed by a period of dominance, in which it seemed that Hull couldn't keep the ball more than 30 yards from their goal; despite not scoring again during this spell, it looked like the Gunners were going to run away with it. Eventually, though, Arsenal won 2-0, Aaron Ramsey finding Mesut Özil with a delightful reverse through-ball early in the second half to complete the win. Bendtner himself had a decent match, apart from missing a sitter (to be fair, he was probably surprised the ball even came to his feet off the keeper), and his performance has encouraged Arsene Wenger as well as NB's fellow players; if this signals a full return to form for Bendtner, it can only be good for Arsenal's title challenge.

06 December 2013

Daily Links: The World Cup Draw Bonus Edition

Maracanã stadium
Estadio Maracanã, venue for the WC Final
(Photo courtesy Leandro Ciuffo)
Well. We finally have it. After an interminable wait, with bizarre video histories of the World Cup, musical interludes, and an equally bizarre draw (Pot X?), we now know who each country will be facing in their quest to reach the knock-out stages. Why can't FIFA and UEFA make these thing quicker? We don't really need eight different people drawing from the pots. There are understandably geographical concerns to take into account, with so many European teams in the draw, but I could have performed it in 5 minutes. When did it become such a song and dance? It seems they are meant to be exciting for fans, but when the show starts at 11am EST and the first team is drawn from a pot an hour later, you have to wonder what the attendees are thinking. I'm sure they'd rather just get in and get out, while fans must get bored by the point their team is drawn - I know I did. Zinedine Zidane, one of the ex-players involved in the draw, certainly didn't look amused about the process.

03 December 2013

Match Preview: Arsenal v. Hull City, The Emirates, December 4 (2:45 PM EST)

With roughly one third (13/38ths for the perfectionists out there) of the 2013-14 Premier League season having been played, Arsenal begin December 4 points clear of Chelsea at the top of the table. The Gunners will be happy to have come through a difficult - on paper - November, in which they only suffered defeat away at Old Trafford. The home wins over Liverpool and Southampton were especially convincing, and the positive atmosphere around the Club was boosted with an away win in the Champions League against last season's runner-up Borussia Dortmund.
Giroud celebrates his goal
Arsenal celebrate yet another victory
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)

Focus will now shift to another difficult looking December; Arsenal will play title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea, London rivals West Ham, a decent Everton side and face a tough away trip to Napoli, looking to ensure qualification to the CL knock-out stages. First though, the Gunners welcome Hull to the Emirates. Last time out, Arsenal beat Cardiff away, with 2 goals from ex-Bluebirds midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Rambo did the decent thing (*ahem* - Judas van Persie) and refused to celebrate, and even earned praise from his former club's fans who sang his name after another great game for Wales' best player.

02 December 2013

The WAT: Arsenal's title hopes to be crushed by the transience of time

Arsenal extended their first place lead to seven points on Saturday, after a 3-0 demolition of Cardiff City -- no small feat, given the well-drilled and newly promoted side earned a draw at home against Manchester United, the current title holders.
Aaron Ramsey, who scored a brace on Saturday,
and will someday die, whether we win this thing or not.
[credit: Ronnie Macdonald]

However, ecstatic Arsenal fans were once again reminded of Father Time's brutal and unyielding transience when, the following day, that lead was diminished to four points -- three points less than the day before.

When reached for comment, Arsene Wenger, who is French and therefore spends a lot of time thinking about this, said: "Euhhh, yes, it is true. Time passes inexorably, but we have trained for this. I think it requires a little bit of mental toughness, and the players know how to take the season one game ... one day at a time."

25 November 2013

The Daily Links: The Let's Get It (Re-)Started Edition

Well that was a good weekend of football all round. After another interminable international break, the Premier League returned to action with a bang; there were high-scoring derbies, questionable refereeing decisions, dropped points by big clubs, and a thrashing for a so-called title contender.

Olivier Giroud 1
Arsenal's goalscorer, Olivier Giroud
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Arsenal will be happy to have bounced back from their defeat to Manchester United two weeks ago with a solid 2-0 home victory against this season's surprise package, Southampton. While it was never a classic, Arsenal will be happy with the result and the fact that, despite pressure from the Saints after Olivier Giroud's first goal, they kept a clean sheet and did enough at the other end to earn a late penalty, which Giroud coolly converted to calm nerves at the Emirates. If you haven't already seen the Handsome One's first goal, it's well worth a watch, just to see Artur Boruc's Johan Cruyff impression. If that goal felt a bit fortunate, it was fully deserved after the Club had earlier hit the post twice via sublime efforts from Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. The match was also notable for the return from injury of Theo Walcott, who looked sharp and came close to scoring in his 20-minute run out.

18 November 2013

The Token Englishman: Why do all my countrymen underrate Jack Wilshere?

I've been asked once to try and come up with a British point of view for this blog, and ever since, I've been racking my brains for something to write. The aim is for this to become an (irregular) series of posts whenever I have a particularly English point of view.

The Roving Midfielder
Wilshere - Underrated for England?
(Photo courtesy - dom fellowes)
As a Brit raised in a household without Sky Sports (shocker, right?!), my main source of football news and commentary has always been the BBC. If any of you have ever followed a BBC live text commentary, you will know that they allow people to interact via text and Twitter. Every time I've logged on to BBC this season and followed their text commentaries, there are always a number of tweets saying that Jack Wilshere shouldn't be in the squad and that he's "out of form".

01 November 2013

The WAT: Correspondent wakes up disoriented, naked, reads about League Cup exit

Sources confirm that "weekly" The Weekly Arsenal Thing columnist, Alex Johnson, woke early Friday morning, stark naked, sweating, and completely disoriented.
(photo credit: ctmarie3)

"Jesus, it's November?", croaked the barely audible and now clinically dehydrated and malnourished Johnson, gleaning the dateline from the top of a stack of unread newspapers, which had accumulated under the front door mail slot.

"Oh, the Red Sox won the World Series. That's cool," Johnson reportedly said, before rushing out to make sure his black, 2011 Honda Civic, with moon-roof, remained unmolested where he had last parked it. "Phew," Johnson released in a follow-up statement. "The old girl looks all right."

"Shit!" Johnson announced to the press after thumbing awkwardly through the Sports section, overshooting, then returning to and checking page D6 for soccer scores, "We're out of the League Cup!", before issuing a follow-up verbal statement: "Whatever, it's the League Cup, I guess. Sucks that it was Chelsea, though. Was the game even on TV?"

25 October 2013

Match Preview: Crystal Palace v. Arsenal, Selhurst Park, October 26, 7.45 am EST

Selhurst Park
(Photo Courtesy Patrick)
Match day 9 of the Premier League season sees Arsenal make the short journey south of the Thames to face manager-less Crystal Palace. Media and fan favorite Ian Holloway resigned his position after losing 1-4 at home to fellow Londoners Fulham on Monday. Holloway left after less than a year in charge, having led Palace to the Premier League via the playoffs. The usually exuberant and quotable manager claimed he felt "tired" and "exhausted" after a tough summer and a poor early start to life in the top division. During that tough summer, the Eagles lost star player Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United (though he was sold last January, he spent the remainder of last season on loan at Palace) and discovered that last season's top scorer Glenn Murray would be out injured until the New Year. They also made typical newly-promoted club signings, including spending £4.5million on Dwight Gayle, who not long ago was playing in the ninth-tier of English soccer, and did all Arsenal fans a favor by taking Marouane Chamakh away from the Emirates.

22 October 2013

Match Preview: Arsenal v. Borussia Dortmund, The Emirates, October 22 (2:45 PM ET)

Arsenal vs. Blackburn in the FA Cup
The Emirates Stadium via Ben Ward
There’s a weird dichotomy of feelings following winning the way Arsenal did on Saturday. There’s that elation and a need to want that feeling to last juxtaposed against an urgency to see the team play again as soon as possible. I’m not sure where I stand along these two lines. I do want to watch Match of the Day on repeat and the Ramsey skill gif that were part of that terrific result, but at the same time, I want to see more and I want to see them do it again against the next opponent. Unfortunately for me, it’s probably the former that I’m gonna have to go with since I will be working rather than enjoying the football. I’ll be the kid doing homework instead of going to the school dance.

It is a hell of a dance that I will be missing as Arsenal welcomes last year’s runners up, Borussia Dortmund, to the Emirates. Dortmund isn’t as strong as the side that romped Madrid on the way to the Champions League final, but that’s what happens when you have the heart beat of the team, Mario Gotze, pried away coolly by their much richer domestic rivals and European Champions, Bayern. That’s not to say the Germans don’t have any talent left, far from it.

08 October 2013

Daily Links: The Let's Fly Away Edition

Aaron Ramsey celebrates his goal
Ramsey: Player of the Month
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
After a hard-earned point against West Brom on Sunday, a large contingent of the squad will be jetting off around the world to join their countrymen as we look forward to another international break. The draw on Sunday sees Arsenal go in to the break still at the top of the pile, on goals scored from Liverpool. Chelsea and Southampton round out the top four after 7 games. Elsewhere in the Premier League, Manchester United had to come from behind to beat Sunderland (who, as of today, now have Gus Poyet in charge - their 6th manager in 5 years), Manchester City beat Everton 3-1 at home and Sp*rs were embarrassed by West Ham at Shite Hart Lane, Ravel Morrison scoring an early goal of the season contender.

The Club's strong September has seen Arsene Wenger and Aaron Ramsey win the manager and player awards for September. Ramsey scored 4 goals in 4 games to earn his first individual player award, while Wenger wins the managerial award for the 13th time. (Premier League)

05 October 2013

Match Preview: West Bromwich Albion v. Arsenal, The Hawthorns, October 6 (11 a.m. EST)

Ah, West Brom. Remember when you were one of those teams that we could afford to know nothing about? A Championship yo-yo team for most of the last few years, you were just part of the background noise for a while there, like Norwich or Darby County.
Mesut Özil looks hungrily at goal.
CC License: Ronnie MacDonald

Those days, however, are over. The last time you came back up, in 2010/2011, you came back up to stay.

The story of the Albion's last three seasons has been one of steadily solidifying mid-table success, and this year, the Baggies look to have taken another step forward.

We've already heard about West Brom's thirst for managerial blood - four bosses have gotten the sack in the last year and a half after defeats to the West Midlands club. Admittedly, these were mostly foregone conclusions anyway - particularly given that two of the victims were Chelsea managers, and Roman Abramovich fires managers like it's a bodily function - but it was tough not to hope for a new level of chaos at Manchester United after West Brom's convincing win at Old Trafford last weekend.

04 October 2013

The WAT: Wilshere looking pretty cool lately

All reputable sources who aren't pussies reported today that Arsenal midfielder and on-and-off wunderkind Jack Wilshere has been looking pret-ty fuckin' cool lately.
image courtesy: thesun.co.uk

"We can't quite put our fingers on it," said a club spokesman at a press conference, held earlier today. "But Jack, in spite of his nagging fitness issues, is looking cooler than ever. I mean, ask anyone. He's like from [critically acclaimed AMC drama] Mad Men, or something."

Olivier Giroud, Arsenal striker and Club Handsome Liaison, had this to say: "Wow, you know? For a while, when I first got here, I thought, 'Hey, big fish, small pond' as they say in English. We're an attractive team, I think, but lately ... lately Jack has been getting a lot of calls from modeling agencies, casting directors ... he just, euuuhh ... 'oozes' cool, I think. When Jack is around, women can't even see me."

Music video sex icon Lukas Podolski is also impressed with Wilshere's off-the-pitch form. "Jack has had his ups and downs on the pitch ever since his injury problems started ... but off the pitch? It's all ups, as far as I can tell. Sure, he's been a father for a little while. But recently ... I don't know. Recently, he finally seems like a man. I can't explain it."

One Club on Boylston was lucky enough to sit down with Jack Wilshere for a word on what the press are labeling his "Butterfly Phase":

"Well, y'know, I think there's a lot of things that come along with being a professional footballer and you just need to keep your head down and focus on what's important -- do you have a light? Thanks. Oh, man, that's smooth. Anyway, yeah, mate, I don't really know what everyone's on about. I'm the same ol' Jack I've always been, you can ask anyone. I guess I'm just a late bloomer."

Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, wished not to be interviewed, but made the following comment: "I do not know, euuuh, what is the new fascination with Jack, but he is a great player and we are mostly concerned with his performance on the pitch. But, of course, we are always concerned for his health and his recovery of form, so whatever keeps his confidence high is I think a good thing."

In other news, Arsenal head physio Colin Lewin has requested that all first-team players refrain from unhealthful activities like smoking, except for menthols, which "are probably fine."

03 October 2013

Daily Links: The Basking in the Glow edition

What a difference six weeks makes...

Arsène Wenger praises ‘outstanding’ Mesut Özil as Arsenal beat Napoli 2-0 telegraph.co.uk The Arsenal manager lavishes praise on his team, in particular record signing Mesut Özil, after the Gunners beat Rafa Benitez’s Napoli 2-0 in their Champions League
The new Bergkamp?
(Photo courtesy Hasegawa Takashi)
After 10 consecutive wins in all competitions, Arsenal are looking much better than they did in mid-August. The beginning of October finds the Club top of the Premier League and in charge of their Champions League group, and the plaudits are coming in from far and wide. In researching today's links, I found many recent articles, posted in the aftermath of the Napoli win, praising both Arsene Wenger and Mesut Özil. Things are looking good now, though with a tough November coming up, the Club will be looking to continue its form through October and hoping that key injured players will return soon. Until then, let's just bask in the glow, and enjoy the praise of journalists who were so eager to write us off at the start of the season.

Elsewhere, the rest of the Champions League teams played yesterday. Manchester United continued their poor form as they drew 1-1 with Shakhtar Donetsk (though that is a tough place to visit), and Manchester City once again experienced defeat in the CL as Bayern Munich took them apart at the Etihad stadium with a dominating 3-1 victory. Of the other big name teams, Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain both had convincing home wins. There's some kind of soccer being played today, featuring Eastern European teams whose names I won't even attempt to spell and some team from deepest, darkest Middlesex.

01 October 2013

Daily Links: The Merchants of Naples Edition

th_5871.jpg © sscnapoli.it
Marek Hamsik, a key player for Napoli
(Photo courtesy Gilyo)
After another win on the road this weekend, Arsenal resume their Champions League campaign today, hosting Napoli at the Emirates. Rafa Benitez's side find themselves second in Serie A after 6 games, with new center foward, and former Arsenal target, Gonzalo Higuain contributing 3 goals in the league so far. Other players to look out for include on-loan goalkeeper Pepe Reina and Marek Hamsik, a player who always seems to be linked with a big move but still plays in Naples. A tenth consecutive win in all competitions would put Arsenal in the driving seat in Group F. In the other game in the group, Borussia Dortmund host Marseille, with both sides looking to pick up their first points of their respective campaigns.

Arsene Wenger celebrates 17 years in charge of the Club today, and the website's resident statistician has analysed the Boss' reign so far. (Arsenal.com)

30 September 2013

Daily Links: The pinch-me edition

What a weekend, eh? It seems like just about everything that could've gone right for the Arsenal did, with victory in a hard-fought away win at Swansea meaning that Spurs' draw with Chelsea leaves the club two points clear at the top of the league.
Like a boss.
Creative Commons / Gordon Flood

Manchester United's post-Fergie hangover is looking more and more like the kind that makes you blearily scarf down the greasiest food in the house and call in sick to work, which I think we can all agree is highly enjoyable - witness the 2-1 loss at Old Trafford to West Brom, who are to struggling managers what Aaron Ramsey used to be to dictators and troubled celebrities. (Not that Moyes is getting sacked, of course.)

Manchester City went from imperious conquerors of their crosstown rivals to hamfisted coughers-up of a goal advantage against Aston Villa in the space of a week, providing further encouragement to detractors of all things soccer from Manchester.

Of course, Arsenal can't get too comfortable - being two points clear, while a lot of fun, is essentially meaningless at this point in the season, and midweek visitors Napoli are apparently a little bit scary even to Le Boss. (The Guardian)

27 September 2013

Match Preview: Swansea vs. Arsenal, Liberty Stadium, September 28, 2013

Liberty Stadium
Photo courtesy of Matt Daubney

One of the big surprises of last season was Swansea. After safely staying up in their first season in the Premier League, the Welsh side found themselves without a manager after Brendan Rodgers left the club to become a reality TV star. Not a lot was expected of the Swans in year two of their Premiership excursion. I don’t recall if they were talked about in the relegation conversation, but they certainly weren’t expected to repeat the performance of the year before.

The WAT: Silent Stan speaks up

The StanMan.
image courtesy: namjaideemak
Stan "Silent Stan" Kroenke recently spoke up in an effort to reinforce fan morale by speaking up.
"Look, a few of the guys and me -- Randman [Randy Lerner], [John] Henry, Wrath of [Shahid] Khan, Malcolm [Glazer] and Captain Pussyface [Ellis Short] -- we all thought it'd be a pretty funny goof to buy weird sports teams in another country, start a little fantasy league among ourselves. You know, something to keep us busy during the fall, but lower pressure than something like an NFL holding in case we have to skip a few weeks. ... Did we follow these clubs before buying? No, that was against the rules. It just kind of worked out that [Ellis Short] drew Sunderland. ... Well of course I wish I drew Manchester United ... look, it's moot. The point is that I now think it would be pretty cool to rub it in Glazer's face--err, win the league with Arsenal. I [love] Arsenal. I certainly understand that the fans are skeptical of my commitment, but trust me -- I'm rich. You don't get rich by losing. Doesn't matter what it is. Oh, and also my fucking kid would probably love it. He hates Glazer's kids."
Kroenke went on to discuss his relationship with manager Arsène Wenger, as well as the Frenchman's contract situation:
"Of course we speak with each other. Love the guy. Can't understand a fucking word he's saying, but it's all soccer, so he could be talking Greek and I'd still be just as lost. Yeah, he speaks five languages, big deal. They're all in French accents. I'm just saying, I speak one language, and guess how much money I have? I'll give you a hint: way more than Arsène. And he's rich. What do you think of that, Glazer? I'm gunning for you, motherfucker. Oh, hey -- 'gunning.' That's an Arsenal thing, right?"
When asked about record signing Mesut Ozil, Kroenke continued:
"When Arsène first got on the horn with me about the deal, I was all like, 'Ozil? What is that, some kind of pasta salad thing? Yeah, pick some up.' It was only after I got the receipt that I realized I had just bought a very expensive human being. But hey, fuck it. The StanMan [sic] isn't afraid to get his hands dirty in the transfer market. You hear me, Glazer? I'm gonna fuck your wife, pal. That's the endgame here. Total victory. If I have to win some stupid soccer cup to get there, then whatever."
Stan Kroenke concluded the interview:
"Eat my fucking shit, Glazer. And tell that wife a' yours to start hitting the gym. I don't want to see any jelly rolls come May 2014. Stan likes skinny girls."
In other news, Theo Walcott's recently botched surgery has left the well-compensated forward with legs for arms and arms for legs, due to a hospital clerical error. He will be out for a likely three weeks, according to the club.

26 September 2013

Thursday Throwdown: So what the hell should the midfield look like, anyway?

ANDREW: Well Jon, now that we've had a chance to see our German savior in action it seems a good time to discuss the state of the center of the pitch. If we entertain the wild fantasy that everyone will be in perfect health, what would our ideal midfield look like to you? I have turned this over in my head for a while now and always come back to the same lineup, so is it possible that we might actually agree, thus defeating the whole purpose of the Thursday Throwdown? I would put Arteta back in his role as holding midfielder, Ramsey as our box-to-box, Santi on the left (drifting into the center), Theo on the right, and Özil bossing the entire league at the CAM spot. Can it be that simple?"

JON: Those are the obvious picks, yes, but I don't know if they make for a terribly balanced midfield - particularly against tough opponents.

I think the problem here starts with Arteta - as good as he is as a "metronome," I've never been completely convinced that he provides much cover for the defense. He's a regulator, not an enforcer. With Arteta and Ramsey the central pairing, I worry that Arsenal will be a little light on graft and ball-winning ability against the most elite midfields in Europe, approximately all of whom are in the club's Champion's League group.

Arteta, irked.
wonker from London /CC License

ANDREW: I feel like Arteta does not quite get the credit that he deserves when he plays as the holding midfielder in Arsenal's system. He was 13th in tackles per game and 8th in interceptions per game in the Premier League last season (stats courtesy of www.whoscored.com), showing that he not only gets stuck in but also has solid positional awareness. He's not a huge, bull-you-over midfielder but he breaks up attacks, cuts out forward passes, and gets the ball moving quickly in the other direction.

That being said, I feel he is the best option available on this squad, not the best option Arsenal would have if they made a move to upgrade the position. Arteta has played very well for Arsenal during his time with the club, but he is 31 years old and playing a position that requires him to be physical and quick. There's no confusion over why the Gunners were linked with Lars Bender and Luis Gustavo during the summer transfer window (though there is some over why Wolfsburg were the ones to come away with Gustavo), but since those players aren't with the club, I believe Arteta is the man for the job. Do you think someone else in the squad fits the role better?

25 September 2013

Match Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal, The Hawthorns, September 25, 2013

Mikel Arteta 2
Photo courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald

Many of us question the value in having the top clubs competing in four competitions. With the Premier League and Champions League both more prestigious, it is the domestic cup competitions that seem often to take a back seat and in particular, the League Cup. To win the top league in a country makes sense. To win the top competition of the top European clubs makes sense. To win the FA Cup is prestigious as well, since the tournament dates back to the 1870’s and it features more than 700 clubs. It is no surprise that the League Cup, of the four competitions, is the one that most has to fight for legitimacy.

But can you blame clubs for treating the League Cup as a lesser competition? With the fixture congestion, clubs are forced to prioritize the competitions and the League Cup is often for regaining fitness and giving the reserve players a chance to gain experience. Arsene Wenger has even called it the “Mickey Mouse” cup. At times, doing well in the League Cup seems a chore to avoid embarrassment than a genuine attempt to win it. 

Daily Links: The Reserve Team Edition

Nicklas Bendtner
Will the Great Dane feature?
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
The Arsenal make their season debut in the Capital One Cup this afternoon, as they visit the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion. There were no surprises yesterday as all Premier League sides easily handled their lower-league opposition. Chelsea eased to a 2-0 victory over Swindon, while Manchester City went some way to avenging their FA Cup final defeat with a 5-0 victory over Wigan. Sp*rs fans deluded themselves further with a 4-0 win over a poor Aston Villa team in a worthless competition, and Sunderland were victorious in their first match since Paulo di Canio's sacking.

Having started with two high-scoring games in last season's Cup, Arsenal will be looking to make amends for their disappointing exit at the hands of Bradford City. Traditionally, Arsene Wenger chooses to use the League Cup as a chance to rest his key players and give the reserves and youth players a run out; however West Brom away is nothing to be sniffed at, which is reflected by the match day squad, announced earlier today. (Arsenal.com)

24 September 2013

Daily Links: The Return of the Crap-ital One Cup Edition

15 - Capital One Cup Final
Who'll be playing at Wembley this season?
(Photo courtesy Bradford Timeline)
Everyone's favorite domestic cup returns to the spotlight today, as the top Premier League clubs make their season debuts in the League Cup; which, due to commercial rights, I'm sure I'm obliged to call the Capital One Cup. Standout ties today (Tuesday) include two fixtures of claret-and-blue teams versus those in red (Burnley v Nottingham Forest; West Ham v Cardiff); a repeat of last season's FA Cup final, as Wigan visit the Etihad looking to repeat their shock victory over Manchester City; and a Midlands derby-of-sorts as Leicester face Stoke.

Quite what this competition offers is beyond me. Obviously, a trophy in the cabinet and a spot in the Europa League await the winner. Not exactly the most appealing prize for a top-4 club, though it gives teams around the level of Swansea (last season's winners) and lower-league clubs a chance at European football. Admittedly, as an Arsenal fan, any trophy would be good now, if only because we would no longer have to hear about how many years it's been since we won something.

23 September 2013

Daily Links: The Audacity of Höpe Edition

Mesut got this.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
We could be forgiven for being a little confused right now - Arsenal just beat Stoke City with three goals from set pieces, went top of the league thanks to Liverpool's first loss of the season, and it seems as though the powerhouses of the past few years are collectively emitting the clunks and groans that herald mechanical failure in important parts.

It's as though all the crappy luck is headed elsewhere, for once. I mean, this is usually the time of year when Arsenal's important players get crocked for huge portions of the season, goalkeepers suddenly develop an intense aversion to the ball, and the team suffers record defeats to bitter rivals.

Yet it's Manchester United that slumped to ignominious defeat against rivals City - they also lost to even fiercer rivals Liverpool, as well, lest you forget. Before the Manchester derby, City had been held to a draw by the same Stoke team that Arsenal dispatched on Sunday, having lost to Cardiff already. Jose Mourinho looks a lot more like the petty, spiteful autocrat that poisoned the dressing room at Real Madrid en route to mediocre* results than he does the petty, spiteful autocrat that shaped Roman Abramovich's billions into a footballing juggernaut at Chelsea. Tottenham's brigade of new signings has yet to truly gel.

20 September 2013

The WAT: Correspondent wowed by Champions League match after reading live text updates, watching Russian highlights

Arsenal secured a victory over Marseille, according to live text updates from The Guardian, this past Wednesday at
Better than actually watching?
(screen capture from theguardian.com)
Stade Velodrome.

This correspondent was lucky enough to be given unfettered access to theguardian.com's "Live scores/fixtures" section this week, its live text coverage of the 2-1 Arsenal victory a reminder that this is, truly, the beautiful game.

The press pool was also treated to almost four and a half minutes of low-definition highlights -- broadcast in the original Russian, or whatever -- creating an audio/visual delicacy of color, shape, sound and perception of movement before this reporter's very eyes.

Goals from Theo Walcott and risen phoenix Aaron Ramsey were enough to secure the Group F win at Marseille, adding to Arsenal's already impressive away record. The goal was Ramsey's sixth already this season, in only seven games, and sounded like it probably looked pretty fucking sick, according to the liveblogging service.

Match Preview: Arsenal vs. Stoke City, Emirates Stadium, September 22, 2013

One Aaron Ramsey
There's only one Aaron Ramsey ... And he's ours.
(Photo Courtesy of Wonker)

I think that we’ve all had a certain disdain for Stoke. Their style of football, their fans’ outlook on the game, basically everything about them has inspired hatred. As an American fan of the Arsenal, if you chose the Arsenal for style of play or club culture, you must have hatred for Stoke as the club whose values are the polar opposite of your club. There was all of that then that tackle happened.

On February 27th 2010, Ryan Shawcross flew in recklessly on a challenge, colliding with Aaron Ramsey’s leg, breaking Ramsey’s tibia and fibula. That challenge represented our worst fears about Stoke. After all, Arsenal has been a much better footballing side than Stoke for some time. It was the over the top physicality that worried us. It was the threat of someone getting hurt. We had seen Eduardo and Diaby crumble before. The way Stoke played, this was bound to happen. If you had had any doubt about Stoke before, your beliefs were firmly entrenched in your inner being following that tackle.

Daily Links: The We're Back Edition

Mikel Arteta's return may come this weekend.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Admittedly, it's been a tough couple week for us at One Club on Boylston. Rather than bore you with the details, we'll just pretend we've been here all along.

Arsenal takes on Stoke City at the Emirates on Sunday. We'll have a preview later today from Shep Mallya. For now, though, here are today's links.

Injuries have been an issue thus far, but we've received a bit of good news regarding some of them. Most recently, Mikel Arteta approached his return. It's not a certainty at this point. The Daily Mail isn't known for its commitment to accuracy. Still, getting the Spaniard back just means more options for Le Prof. (The Daily Mail)

There have been a number of bright spots for Arsenal after seven total matches this season. The most noteworthy has been Aaron Ramsey. He scored another goal in Wednesday's win over Marseille to reach six on the season. I still don't believe he's been this good. Arsene Wenger doesn't seem as surprised, though. (The Guardian)

13 September 2013

The WAT: Gunnersaurus revealed to have been Mesut Özil the whole time

In what was yet another watershed moment in Arsenal Football Club's 2013 late summer transfer saga, a team of plucky reserve players recently unmasked Arsenal's own anthropomorphic, kit-clad dinosaur, "Gunnersaurus", who turned out to be "new" signing Mesut Özil -- the whole time.

The team of young sleuths, ring-lead by Thomas Eisfeld and including members Daniel Boateng, Benik Afobe and of course their trusty Corgi, Ian (who can sort of talk), captured the mascot and revealed his identity Thursday at a public press conference:
"We are pleased to announce that, after following a lot of false leads, hitting the pavement day in, day out, and putting in a lot of good old-fashioned police work, we have finally confirmed the suspicions that many have harbored all along: that Gunnersaurus is, in fact, not a real dinosaur, but rather an impostor. And that impostor is none other than German superstar Mesut Özil. His reign of terror as Arsenal mascot is officially over," said Eisfeld, a barely visible tear struggling down his cheek.
Gunnersaurus/Mesut Özil seen here, playing with an Arsenal child-fan.
[image courtesy: http://upthearsenal.wordpress.com
Gunnersaurus, who at one point garnered infamy for the high-profile snubbing of 2009 Dad of the Year John Terry, and who is also Mesut Özil, made a follow-up statement:
"Yes, it was I, Mesut Özil, all along! It was I who convinced Bendtner his wages were too high at Arsenal to move on! I, who gave Giroud the sub-par haircut he's started the 2013 season with! I, who stole Rosicky's Slayer albums, under cover of night! And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you pesky U-21s!"
"Anyway," Özil continued, "I am honored and elated to begin my tenure with Arsenal as a player. I have the respect of the manager, which is very important to me, et cetera, et cetera [sic]."

 Following the remarks, the young crime-stoppers led their charge back inside their windowless "Mystery Van."

When reached afterwards for comment regarding Wenger's contract negotiations next year, Ian the Corgi articulated: "RENGER ROUT!", but later conceded that it's a complicated issue, we need to consider who would replace him, and frankly, it's just not the most important thing right now.

In related news, we all know that Arsenal's one and only mascot is Wenger's coat.

09 September 2013

Daily Links: The It's Almost Over Edition

Wenger still in?
(Photo courtesy Timothy Boyd)
International breaks are always a nuisance even when they're wholly necessary. I'll gladly sacrifice a couple weeks throughout the season for the glorious tournament that awaits next summer. The World Cup is always a good time.

Regardless, it's not easy to go 13 days without the Arsenal at this point in the year, but I'll take it. Aside from a few injuries that need some time to mend, a few days away from Colney and the Emirates after the hectic North London Derby and final few days of the transfer window probably did everyone some good.

Naturally, the lack of club games has led to its usual narrative driving from the media. An interesting piece suggests Arsene Wenger deserves a new contract. Obviously, this is a big talking point among Arsenal supporters, but the points made are worth discussing. (ESPN FC)

Still no exact timetable for Thomas Vermaelen's return, but it should come some time this month. Ideally, he'd be back for Sunderland on Saturday. That's unlikely. The defender is apparently eyeing the League Cup tie at West Brom as his first match of the season. (Daily Star)

06 September 2013

The WAT: Aaron Ramsey gets laid for first time

Dear loyal The WAT readers,
Ozil, right? Right. Injuries, though, right? Yeah. Look, you've read all about this stuff by now. What you haven't read is last week's The WAT. Which is, incidentally, this week's The WAT. Why, you ask? Well, in all honesty, we forgot to hit that orange bastard of a "Publish" button last week. Plus, it's another interlull and, if you haven't read this yet, it's new to you!

An Emirates spokesman announced last Thursday morning that Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey finally got laid Wednesday night.

"Arsenal is proud to announce that our very own #16 has finally had sex -- with a girl."

The news came shortly after a noteworthy performance against Fenerbahce, as the once fan-maligned player continued to show an improvement in form with a brace against the Turkish side.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said in a post-coital press conference: "Euuuuh ... we are very much proud of Aaron's progress both as a player and as a now sexually active young man. His performance against Fenerbahce showed great intelligence and his physical effort on the pitch, euuuh, I think will translate very well to love-making in the bedroom."
Heh heh, 'atta boy!
(image courtesy of walesonline.co.uk)

When reached for comment directly, regarding his performance against Fenerbahce, Ramsey said to reporters, "Yeah, all the boys put in a lot of effort and we got the desired result. Without their support, you know, this kind of thing doesn't happen." When asked if he planned on getting a full hat trick in the near future the Welshman replied, "Oh, you meant the--uhh, yeah. We'll see. Three in one sitting would be pure class. Pure class ..." at which point the young midfielder's eyes wandered into distant focus as he casually covered his lap with a hitherto unnoticed binder.

05 September 2013

Daily Links: The Looking Around Edition

We’re starting to see some of the fallout of the transfer window, though, unfortunately, none of it is on the pitch. I’m sure many Gooners are still buzzing from the Ozil transfer and why shouldn’t you be? We, as a fan base, have been crying for world class players to be brought in and finally the club has delivered. It’s been a long time coming.

Cesc Fabregas and Joachim Low chime in on their surprise regarding Ozil’s transfer. The transfer pretty much shuts the door on a potential Fabregas return to the Emirates and I’m going to go cry in the corner now. (Guardian)

I’m not a big fan of Deadspin’s sports coverage, but this column on the North London Derby is sure to put a smile on your face. (Deadspin)

Now that the window is over, it appears Arsene’s next bit of business is to offer Sagna, Mertesacker, and Rosicky new deals. Sagna looks to be earning that new contract both through his play and his utility by playing centerback. Mertesacker is the man and also a leader in the locker room. Rosicky just owns. (Telegraph)

04 September 2013

Wednesday Whine: Suddenly Arsenal fans are all cocky?

(Credit: Football365.com)

Arsenal signed Mesut Özil, and we all relaxed, as though exciting interpersonal exchanges had recently taken place, and we - figuratively, I must stress - were all lying there, smoking cigarettes and asking "Was it good for you?"

Sadly, we've gotten a bit ahead of ourselves. Let things happen too quickly, if you will. Allowed our imaginative passions to run amok. The Özil signing doesn't mean we're lounging in Fortune's bed, making pillow talk - Fortune hasn't invited us in for a nightcap, or even really talked to us. At best, we've caught Fortune's gaze resting on us for a bit too long at a friend's dinner party.

Put more plainly, the mega-deal that happened right at the end of the transfer window doesn't make the summer an unqualified success for Arsenal. But large sections of the fan base are behaving as if the club are a lock for a deeper run in the Champions League knockout stages, a shoo-in for the top four, and even potential league champions in what's shaping up to be an unpredictable campaign in the English top flight. It's in the bag now, right?

No; no, it's not. Not by a long shot. The marquee signing was for a player who plays in one of the few places on the pitch at which Arsenal have even a reasonable amount of depth, and the team failed to address glaring weakness in central defense and up front.

The striker situation is probably the most serious, as of this writing. Olivier Giroud is having a fine start to the season, without a doubt, but with Lukas Podolski absent through injury for the next three months, Giroud and Theo Walcott are the only players in the side that could be called striking options with a straight face. And while Walcott's finishing has improved out of all recognition from his earlier days at the club - it always used to seem like he more or less had to round the keeper to have much chance of scoring - he still doesn't convince as a pure striker.

He's developed into an excellent wing player, certainly, and his scoring record from last season speaks for itself. But while the infamous "footballing brain" strike against him is overblown, it can't be denied that his positional sense and decision-making in the final third is still frequently suspect. He's not actually a bad fallback - his pace and increasingly sharp eye for goal make him very dangerous in the right circumstances, particularly against weaker opposition - but as a main striker, against the toughest defenses, in the biggest games, he's still a fallback.

Arsene Wenger clearly recognizes the danger, with most of his summer attention focused on failed attempts to land Luis Suárez, Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema. But in the final tally, Arsenal have one excellent striker, a couple lesser options that usually play on the wing, one of whom is out for a large chunk of the season, some young guy named Yaya Sanogo who nobody knows anything about, and a drunk-driving zombie with a chimpanzee brain. A Giroud injury, in summary, would be a catastrophe.

The situation in central defense is much the same. The best option is a very good one indeed, with the top pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker fast becoming one of the better tandems in the league, but the obvious second choice is also unavailable through injury for a long, long time. It's worth noting that Thomas Vermaelen had endured a lengthy and serious drop in form even before his injury, so it's far from certain that he can simply slot back into the squad once he's healthy again.*

After that, the options become even more threadbare. Bacary Sagna has been startlingly impressive when pressed into duty as a center back, but, at the end of the day, he's a fullback, like all the other defenders currently on the first team. Freebie signing Mathieu Flamini could be pressed into service in an emergency, but who's he really going to fool?

All this isn't to say that Arsenal's summer was a disaster. Özil, obviously, is a fantastic signing, both in terms of what he can do on the pitch and the signal he sends to players and fans alike about the club's level of ambition. Flamini** isn't going to set the world on fire, but he brings a ton of experience and adds steel to the midfield. And Emiliano Viviano is arguably the perfect foil for Wojciech Szczesny in goal. The team is measurably stronger than it was before the window closed.

But the fact is that Arsenal remain dangerously weak in two of the most critical positions on the pitch. Even if Wenger is willing to do business in the winter transfer window, his team essentially have to play the entire first half of the season a single injury away from crisis.

If it happens - and I obviously will be knocking on every piece of wood I can find in the hopes that it doesn't - don't say the warning signs weren't there. 

*Personally, I give him the benefit of the doubt - it's entirely possible that his recent crappiness was the product of playing hurt, which could mean that a fully fit Vermaelen will look a lot more like his old, imperious self.

**You could make an argument that Arsenal's mystifying failure to re-sign him all those years ago contributed to Cesc Fabregas' eventual departure and the team's slide from regular title contenders to top-four hangers-on, although it would be almost entirely speculative. Jesus, I still get mad thinking about that.

03 September 2013

Daily Links: The Great Danish Ego Edition

Nicklas Bendtner is still an Arsenal player.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
The failed attempt to pry Demba Ba away from Chelsea forced Arsene Wenger to kill a deal with Crystal Palace for Nicklas Bendtner. The egomaniacal Danish striker hasn't appeared in a match for Arsenal since Aug. 2011, spending time at Sunderland and Juventus in search of a new permanent home.

Despite his greatest efforts, he is still a member of the Arsenal first team, and it's pretty clear he's now apart of Arsene Wenger's plans. Bendtner released a statement on Tuesday, which seems to admit that he's been a childish prat and that he wants to be friends again.

With only Olivier Giroud and Yaya Sanogo as true strikers, Bendtner is needed. Theo Walcott will probably see time up front, as will Lukas Podolski whenever he's healthy enough to do so.

Regardless, here's Bendtner's statement. (Arseblog)

Like Robbie Savage or not, I agree with most of this column. Olivier Giroud is going to get goals for Arsenal as long as he is healthy. He was great against Spurs, and he has been for most of the season. But Arsenal needs another striker. It's why the Boss didn't sell Bendtner after the Ba deal fell through. Frankly, I'm a bit worried even with that other big signing. (BBC Sport)

02 September 2013

Weekend in Review: This Season is Going to be Special

The race for this guy just got harder.
(Photo courtesy David Squire)
On Sunday, Arsenal beat Tottenham, 1-0.

Liverpool beat Manchester United, 1-0.

These are both among the marquee fixtures of world football. The results are about more than bravado for rival fan bases, frequently representing power shifts in the league or statements from a club.

Both results did exactly that on Sunday. Liverpool handed the defending champions their first lost of the season and earned a win over top competition. Arsenal continued its fantastic play after a season-opening defeat to Aston Villa and made it clear it's still the better of the two North London clubs.

But no one is talking about those wins right now. It was, of course, the end of the Transfer Window on Monday. Naturally, the talking points around the world are Gareth Bale and the other stars that opted to continue their careers in other leagues or with other clubs.

Bale's record transfer from Tottenham to Real Madrid, Mesut Özil's move to Arsenal and the status of Marouane Fellaini dominated talk shows, social media, blogs and the hilarious English press. Europe's assortment of leagues require no additional storyline generation to captivate its audiences. Deadline day always yields a bit of it anyway. However, the most important take away from the week is that, after three weeks, it's pretty clear we're in for a pretty special Premier League season.

Daily Links: The What Now Edition

The newest Gunner.
(Photo courtesy Jan Solo)
By now, you’ve probably heard that Arsenal have made the big splash of the Summer, signing Mesut Özil for a club record fee. The key thing you need to know is that we can thank our North London neighbors for this. Once Real bought Gareth Bale for whatever outlandish fee he ended up costing, they needed to off load somebody to fund that transfer. Arsenal swooped in and got this World Class “outcast.” Thank you, Tottenham! (Arsenal.com)

Even though he’s hurt, it appears that Poldi is still a goodwill ambassador for the club. He posted a picture of him and Özil on Instagram, which, like anything Poldi, should put a smile on your face. (Instagram)

Arsenal also have brought Emiliano Viviano on loan from Palermo. The club has a £5 million buy option if they decide they want to retain Viviano beyond this season. If he plays well, it might just be an offer they cannot refuse. (Arsenal)

In other transfer news, the Demba Ba loan deal fell apart, when Arsenal balked at the loan fee of £3 million. I guess we can’t have everything.  (Fox Sports)

28 August 2013

Make a Good Squad Better, Mr. Wenger

Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs are good.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Sports are funny. They’re much like a relationship with an actual human. You create a bond with them, learn about them and depending who they are, you develop a variety of feelings for them. These feelings range from true happiness to utter frustration. I have a relationship with Arsenal — all 13 members of it. Right now I’m not sure what sort of feeling is going through me, which I guess in turn makes me frustrated.

In a tie that was supposed to be a rather difficult test, especially with traveling to Istanbul first to face Fenerbahçe was always going to be a rocky challenge. Except, in the end, it wasn’t. Sure the first half seemed testy at times, but when it ended 3-0 and our cannon-clad hearts could beat surer after a terrible start to the season, things were looking up. Arsene Wenger stated that our "transfer window started now," immediately rousing up a new set of rumors that all seemed to be deflated in a mere weeks time.

Arsenal followed a relatively easy 3-1 win over Fulham over the weekend with last night’s 2-0 sweep away of the Turkish side. In the end it was an impressive performance from a team that’s had an imaginable amount of pressure on it.

With no signings yet coming in since Wenger’s declaration a strong starting 11 was again put out and as luck would have it, not all came back. Lukas Podolski was stretchered off near the start of the second half with what seemingly was a hamstring injury. While Yaya Sanogo and Ryo Miyaichi got a rare taste of first team soccer, the Turks seemed to change their strategy around the 75th minute to treating Jack Wilshere like a medieval serf. While shockingly no opposing player was sent off for their lashings, Aaron Ramsey subbed himself off, leaving his squad down to 10 men with just minutes remaining.

27 August 2013

Match Preview: Fenerbahçe vs. Arsenal (0-3 agg.), Emirates Stadium, UEFA Champions League, August 27, 2013

Arsenal looks for its first home win of the season.
(Photo courtesy Jeremy Couture)
Having heaped derision on Fenerbahçe ahead of the first leg of Arsenal's Champions League qualifier in Istanbul last week -- a decision I made largely in order to avoid having to think too hard about the terrible, aorta-straining implications of a bad result -- it's probably time for a slightly more sensible look at the Turkish club and its prospects for overturning a three-goal deficit at the Emirates in the second leg on Tuesday.

Those prospects are, to put it bluntly, not great, based on the first leg's evidence. Fenerbahçe didn't look able to keep up with Arsenal, getting eaten alive in midfield by Jack Wilshere and consensus man of the match Aaron Ramsey. Grievously wounding Laurent Koscielny proved an unprofitable strategy. Despite the isolated chance or two after the game would have been beyond doubt (for other clubs), the Gunners were firmly in control for most of the match, and the scoreline seemed appropriate for the performance.

Still, as a lazy writer, I can't help but be mildly superstitious heading into today's game. Down three away goals, massive underdogs, and with the prospect of a failed appeal over the match-fixing allegations threatening to bounce them from the group stage even if they were to overcome Arsenal? If it happened in a movie, you'd walk out. Just too unlikely. But such is the stuff of which sporting legend is made.

26 August 2013

Week in Review Vol. 2: Stop Comparing Everything to the U.S., NBC

This year's Premier League has plenty of history.
(Photo courtesy Toby Jagmohan)
In general, these first few weeks of NBC's English Premier League coverage have gone over well.

The match production and commentating are superb. The talking heads throughout the network seem generally excited about discussing the EPL, and the ability to watch matches at home without breaking the law is, obviously, an improvement.

Inevitably, the move isn't without its hiccups. For the most part, I've enjoyed the programming. The hosts are informative and engaging, but there's one crutch the writers and others rely on far too much -- Please stop comparing everything to American sports.

There are, of course, many similarities between the Premier League and American leagues. The desire to point out these commonalities makes sense, but they shouldn't be the only retort of these men and women hired to talk about the game.

23 August 2013

Match Preview: Fulham vs. Arsenal, Craven Cottage, English Premier League, August 24, 2013

Feel any better? I know I do. The difference between the emotions following Saturday’s match and Wednesday’s is unbelievable. It’s not as great as the feeling that we’ll feel when Arsenal wins its next trophy, but it did feel pretty damn good. It was relieving.
This man will always terrify us.
(Photo courtesy Nick Sarebi)

There’s something about getting a result that puts the mind at ease. Perhaps, it’s the whole “you’re only as good as your last game” thing. If we go by that, Arsenal is quite good. I know that there are still a lot of off the pitch complaints and things that need to be resolved within the squad right now including that dreaded “t-word.” Sometimes, it’s nice to stop worrying and to just watch football. Football cures all worries.

After the win in Istanbul, Arsenal is back in England for a short trip to West London and Craven Cottage. While Craven Cottage is one of the smaller grounds in the Premier League and Fulham are a relatively modest club, the Cottagers have consistently given Arsenal trouble over the last couple of seasons. Despite Wednesday’s stellar performance, there is nothing to suggest that this match should be anything but challenging.

Weekly Arsenal Thing: Arsenal Secure Titles with Massive Flamini Signing

Reports are pouring in from credible sources that Arsene Wenger is on the cusp of securing erstwhile former-Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini and, by extension, the 2013-14 Premier League title, Champions League Cup, Capital One and FA Cups, and -- fuck it, why not? -- World Cup 2014.
He has returned.
(Photo courtesy Nick Wadge)

"It has been requiring a lot of the mental toughness for me to keep this signing a secret since May, euuuhh, but I know that, euuuhh ... this will I think silence the critics in the media who have been wanting me to fail," said the be-grinned Wenger, hardly able to contain an excitement sure to be shared by Gooners the world over.

Meanwhile, sources at Old Trafford have confirmed that David Moyes is "inconsolable"  after learning his new club lost out on the 29-year-old midfielder who spent the entire 2011-12 season on the disabled list at AC Milan.

"I am already bested," admitted a sullen and "visibly humbled" José Mourinho in an interview with A Bola. "I wish now only to return to Portugal, to fish the waters of my father, and to live simply for whatever time is left to me."

21 August 2013

The Deadline is Coming

In the HBO television series "Game of Thrones" (based on the series of books entitled "A Song of Ice and Fire") the audience is introduced to the Starks, a proud, historic family that lives in the north of Westeros. The family patriarch is Ned Stark, a highly principled man who believes in honor and duty, and is unwilling to compromise those values for pragmatic gains.
Even with Wednesday's win, Arsene Wenger must buy.
(Photo courtesy Wonker)

This ethos serves him well for most of his life, until he is thrust into a brand new situation in a different world, a world that renders his honor moot and laughs at the principles that he holds so dear. Despite standing tall in the face of these dark forces, he eventually is laid low, a victim of the very philosophy that made him one of the most respected men in all the land.

Arsene Wenger has been in the "Ned Stark in King's Landing" phase of his career for several years now and like Ned, he seems to be fighting a losing battle. Wenger is one of the most respected managers in the history of Arsenal and of the modern English Premier League. Upon arriving at Arsenal in 1996 he transformed the Gunners into a new breed of squad, doing everything from introducing dietary guidelines to bringing in foreign talent if he felt it benefited the team. 

With Arsenal he won four FA Cups and three league titles, including 2003-2004 when "The Invincibles" became the first in 115 years to go undefeated over the course of a season. He is a legend both at the club and in the league, and he was the perfect manager to guide Arsenal into the current era of football. The problem is that like Ned Stark, he hasn't adjusted to the changes that have been made since.

Daily Links: The Just Win Baby Edition

You will not see this for at least 12 weeks.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Good morning folks. I know that this isn’t exactly the most peaceful time to be a supporter of the Arsenal, but I hope you’re all excited for the Champions League first leg against Fenerbahçe. If you aren’t, I suggest you check out Jon Gold’s match preview. If you are, please read it as well. We’ll have a Whining Wednesday post by Andrew Klema on how Wenger needs to change his mind set up later.

Not to get anyone's hopes up, but today’s opponent does have a match fixing appeal court date next week, which could see the Turkish side booted from the Champions League if Arsenal doesn’t do it themselves. (Guardian)

Yesterday, we learned that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be out “for a while.” We learned that that meant 12 weeks from Ox last night. (Twitter)

Juventus says that Paul Pogba is not for sale. Add him to the banner.  (Telegraph)

20 August 2013

Match Preview: Arsenal vs. Fenerbahçe, UEFA Champions League

Hopefully these lunatics behave on Wednesday.
(Photo courtesy David Jones)
Hey, Turkish fans, remember when you were every lazy soccer nerd's tip (including mine) for the up-and-coming league in world football? Remember when we were all excited about the deafening match atmosphere that made Anfield in the 1970s sound like, well, Anfield these days? Remember how pumped everyone was about the rising quality and competitiveness of Turkish teams in Europe?

Yeah, well, congratulations, you've officially fucked the duck -- now you're Italy, with none of Serie A's lingering cachet from the glory days. Enjoy your new status as bar trivia answers for serious soccer dorks.

What may be most embarrassing for Fenerbahçe fans, in particular, aside from being the the one nobody can remember from the Three Tenors-like trio of Turkish teams anybody has heard of outside of the country*, is that even if they somehow win on Wednesday, they could easily be booted from the competition once again, given that they've already been banhammered by UEFA for match fixing for the second time in three years.

Daily Links: The At Least We're in the Champions League Edition

Despite the completely deserved fear, uncertainty and doubt facing Arsenal at the moment, the performance of last season's final few months has still guaranteed a chance at the Champions League's group stage. As you've heard, Arsenal is in Istanbul right now awaiting their first leg with Turkey's second fiddle, Fenerbahce.

Bacary Sagna's injury is not as bad as feared.
(Photo courtesy Warwick Gastinger)
Jon Gold's match preview will be up later today, so I won't focus too heavily on the fixture itself. However, there is some good news ahead of the tie.

Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs and everyone else we feared injured after the loss to Villa seems to be in better shape than expected -- except Ox. No one's sure if they'll play or not, but the fact that we can even have the conversation means they're healthier than we expected. (The Telegraph)

I don't really know how long "a while" is, but that's how long Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out for. Hopefully, Anthony Taylor is also done for "a while" for letting the match deteriorate as it did leading to these damn injuries. (The Independent)

I encourage you all to check out our piece from yesterday about the role Mikel Arteta's absence played in Saturday's debacle. (One Club on Boylston)

19 August 2013

Week in Review Vol. 1: Mikel Arteta's Pretty Important, It Seems

Mikel Arteta is expected to miss at least a month with a torn quadricep muscle.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Around 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, there were two primary targets of vitriol among Arsenal supporters. 

The first, as expected, was Arsene Wenger. The manager, as synonymous with the club as red-and-white kits and undefeated seasons, sent out a side that lacked a number of traits required to win matches. Chiefly among those was depth. A team plagued with injury and short-handed by a summer of inactivity quickly saw that shortcoming exposed.

Whether it was Aston Villa's design or sheer rotten luck, Arsenal saw three players go down to injury and another sent off. The second issue is where the other target of Arsenal fans' rage comes in. Official Anthony Taylor was wildly erratic in decision-making, awarding a pair of penalties to Villa and the same number of red cards to Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny.

The first penalty, while rightfully given in my estimation, was the most telling for Arsenal. The offending party, goalkeeper Wojech Szczesny, had little choice but to charge Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor seconds after he beat Koscielny and approached the box unmarked. Szczesny took the forward down in pursuit of the ball. Taylor awarded the penalty, produced the caution and Christian Beneteke scored Villa's first goal on the rebound of his own attempt. It was the beginning of a very frustrating day for Arsenal. Naturally, Johnson took some heat for the call, as did Szczesny and Koscielny for their efforts on the sequence.

The play developed, however, long before Agbonlahor did his damage. The leadup revealed an absence Arsenal simply can't deal with at the moment. Mikel Arteta's 20 months in North London have solidified him as one of the Premier League most influential players. There are, of course, more talented, more dynamic central midfielders around. Few, though, have proved more valuable to their club than Arteta to Arsenal.