13 February 2014

Thursday Throwdown - Momentary Blip or True Problem?

Is Olivier Giroud starting to slow down for Arsenal?
Andrew: Jess it seems like the obvious question has to be 'what is wrong with Arsenal?' Now, I'm not a part of the doom and gloom brigade that sees the Gunners as a lost team despite being only one point off of the top of the table, but it does seem that something is amiss. The last four games in the league have been a draw away at a talented Southampton team; a routine home win to Crystal Palace; the absolute debacle at Anfield; and the 0-0 draw yesterday at home to United. That's five points out of twelve, not exactly league winning form. Is something particular wrong or is it just a slump in the middle of a long season?

Jess: Despite being an overly dramatic fan and consistently joking about how Arsene could really use me on the bench as a "no name assistant coach" (my dream job in real life), I'm more inclined to believe that this is just a slump in the middle of a (very long) season. As you rightfully pointed out, we're only one point off of the league leading Blues after coming away with a disheartening one point out of six in the last two games– life could be much worse! 

That being said, I do see some issues in our recent form and style of play. The 0-0 draw vs. an extremely basic mid-table Red Devils squad last night proved, in my opinion, that we really lack creativity and pace in our attack at the moment. I loved seeing Ozil with a bit of rejuvenated energy– attacking defenders and taking people on with pace like the wizard that we know and love– and I thought that Santi was very creative especially towards the end of the match, but our lack of inventive runs and our love of playing through the middle rather than getting runners in from out wide is troublesome. Not to mention the fact that Giroud looks exhausted with so much constant pressure on his back, and with no one but the King sitting eagerly on the bench waiting for a chance to take his spot (Sanogo too, I suppose).

10 February 2014

Week in Review: Let's Just Brush Past This One

Mertesacker has had a bad week
CC Licence / Wikimedia
Well. That was ... unfortunate. Arsenal suffered another defeat in the North West of England on Saturday. While it's not a complete surprise to lose at Anfield - Liverpool were taking a record of 10-1-1 into Saturday's fixture - the manner of the defeat is the biggest disappointment for Arsenal fans. The Gunners seemed to forget they were actually playing a match, and found themselves 4-0 down within 20 minutes. By that point, the game was as good as over; at half time, Arsenal were 90-1 to turn it round and get the win. The Gunners came out stronger in the second half, and managed to draw those 45 minutes 1-1. Looking for positives, Wojciech Szczesny had a decent game and will think himself unlucky to have conceded so many goals, Jack Wilshere showed some grit and anger - in this case a positive, as at least it told us he was pissed off with proceedings - and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked sharp when he drove at the Liverpool defense, winning the penalty for Arsenal's only goal.

I'm going to try to draw some more positives from this result. Goals in soccer matches are, statistically, pretty random events. We've seen matches where one team will score with almost every shot they take, while in other games one team can have 20+ shots on target without scoring, yet lose to the opposition who score with their only attempt on goal. A ball hitting the woodwork can cannon away from goal, or end up nestled in the back of the net. What are the chances that something like this will ever happen again - let alone once? Or the chances of this goal happening? Liverpool's first goal could (should?) have been called offside while Raheem Sterling was extremely fortunate that Szczesny's block bounced right back to his feet for his second goal. Granted, that's only 2 of the Reds' goals, and I may be clutching at straws, but the number of goals conceded shouldn't really be the issue - the performance should.

06 February 2014

Thursday Throwdown: The (First) Gauntlet

Giroud's form and fitness will be key
over the upcoming fixtures
CC License / Wikimedia
Andrew: Sam, this Saturday Arsenal begins the first of two murderous runs through all competitions. The Gunners will play four matches in twelve days and none of it is pretty: away to Liverpool in the league, home to Manchester United in the league, home to Liverpool in the FA Cup, and home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. There's a slight benefit with the majority of games coming at home, but this is still a brutal stretch. What does Arsenal need to do to make it through in respectable shape and should there be any priority given to certain competitions?

Sam: Well, in terms of 'physical' shape, the squad need to get through these games without any other injuries. If Arsenal can get to the end of the Bayern game without losing anyone, then we should have players starting to come back for the second gauntlet of big games. In terms of where we stand in competitions and squad confidence, the minimum I would want is 2 wins from the 4 matches. The problem is the spread of those two wins; the games take place in 3 competitions, and a loss in either of the cup games would mean that all focus would shift to the Premier League, and of course would reduce the chances of winning a trophy this year. If I were Arsenal manager, I would focus on the FA cup and League games. With Manchester City and Chelsea playing each other, there would be less top competition in the later rounds. The Man Utd game looks more winnable every week, despite the returns of Rooney and You Know Who and the addition of Juan Mata. What games would you prioritize? And what do you reckon to Arsenal's chances in each of the four fixtures?