27 March 2014

The Token Englishman: How Far Does Loyalty Extend?

Controversial content alert: this article contains some thoughts that are likely to provoke outrage; please remember when reading that these are musings, and not necessarily my own beliefs.
Arsene Wenger had little to celebrate during his big week
(CC Licence / Wikipedia)

1,000 games is a long time to spend at one club. Only four managers have ever done it in English football. It shows (and requires) loyalty and respect from 4 parties: the club, the manager, the players and the fans. Managerial stability is something very few clubs can lay claim to - look at the situation across North London - but at what point do the parties involved look at each other and decide to call it a day?

Look, this is somewhat of a 'hot sports take', after Arsene Wenger failed to win games 1,000 and 1,001 of his Arsenal career. I'm not calling for his head at all, but I'm hardly at the wheel of the In Arsene We Trust bandwagon; I'm just voicing some thoughts and hoping to inspire a conversation (which I'm sure others have had).

21 March 2014

Match Preview: Arsenal v. Chelsea, Stamford Bridge, March 22, 8:45am (EST)

The long-awaited fixture is finally upon us: Arsenal v. Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This London Derby could be one of the most important matches for the Arsenal over the last decade– a win keeps us within reach of the EPL title to the disbelief of our naysayers, a tie lets us live to see another day, and a loss harshly tells us that it's time to move on, put on our yellow ribbons and put our hearts and souls into supporting the boys in the FA Cup.
Wenger will reach a milestone this Saturday
(CC License / Wikimedia)

In a season characterized by its unpredictable title race, a match of this caliber is certainly make or break for the Arsenal, and statistics show that this should really be one for the ages. This will be Arsene Wenger's 1000th match at the helm for the Arsenal, with an overall record of 572 wins, 235 draws, and 192 losses. Not a single one of those 572 wins has come against Jose Mourinho, who boasts a 5 win, 5 draw, 0 loss record against the Gunner boss who, in his words, is a "specialist in failure" (cue Mourinho hatred). Could there be a better scenario for Wenger's 1000th game? Can you even imagine the pure joy and utter elation that we would all feel after crushing smug Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge and destroying his records? I can. I think the boss can too.

Another striking statistic to keep in mind is the Blues' home record. I'm sure we're all well aware of Mourinho's record at Stamford Bridge, but it's still worth noting that Chelsea has been exceptional at home this year– the Blues have yet to suffer defeat at the Bridge. Meanwhile, the Arsenal has won more away matches against their London rivals over the years than any other Premier League side to visit Chelski, with a total of 7 victories.

13 March 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Bayern and Beyond

Andrew: Well Jess, another year, another exit from the Champions League in the round of sixteen at the hands of Bayern Munich. While I never want Arsenal to lose a single match, I feel strangely content with what happened on Tuesday, especially after the awful turn the first leg took. In my mind, winning in Munich was going to be incredibly difficult and I wanted to see a good performance more than anything since I had mostly accepted elimination anyway. 

Lukas Podolski scored for Arsenal in Munich, but it wasn't enough to see the Gunners through.
The Gunners held up their end of the bargain with a draw to the world's best team and we even got to celebrate a goal courtesy of Lukas Podolski. Perhaps even better was Lukasz Fabianski's penalty save after Arjen Robben dove in the box for the second time in the match, a moment that was loudly celebrated in the bar including some choice words that perhaps should not be repeated here. 

Elimination never feels good, but with a close league race winding down and a clear path to the FA Cup in front of us, I don't feel like the loss is the end of the world. Have you rationalized things the same way or are you more of the fell-asleep-with-a-bottle-of-whiskey-in-your-hand type?

10 March 2014

Week in Review: We're Going to Wem-ber-ley, Que Sera, Sera

'The Raven' silenced his critics this
(CC Licence / Wikimedia)
WIGAN! They only went and bloody did it again! When I saw the draw for the semis - before the Man C-Wigan game had started - my first thought was "Of course. We would draw Man City. We've dared to hope and now the FA have torn it away from us." But then lightning struck for the second time, and Wigan became just the third side to win at the Etihad this season. The Latics beat Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday to extend the defense of their trophy and book a return trip to Wembley, where they will face Arsenal in the semi-finals.

On to the Arsenal then. The Gunners beat Everton 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday morning to book their place in the final four of the FA Cup. The final score was a little harsh on the visitors, who once again came to North London to play, unlike most sides. Mesut Özil scored after seven minutes, and immediately every football journalist marveled at his return to form. Özil may not have been playing brilliantly recently, but he was never terrible (the Bayern game might have been close to that). It was just better for narrative and for selling papers if he was described as 'fatigued' and 'struggling'. I wrote a few weeks ago about how random goals can be, and assists can be just as random. One of the stats writers were so happy to trot out was that Özil had only got 1 assist in his last 12 games, which is a very blinkered way of looking at a player's effectiveness. This season, Özil has still created the most chances of any player in the top 5 European leagues; there just wasn't anyone converting those opportunities during the time-frame they selected (another example of selective us of stats). In the era of advanced statistics, just looking at goals and assists is the soccer equivalent of only tracking runs and hits in baseball 1; you ignore all of the circumstances and events around that one single moment of play.

Match Preview: Arsenal v. Bayern Munich, Allianz Arena, March 11, 3:45pm (EST)

We need to score at least two goals in Germany to take this tie to extra time. Two goals. We've scored 79 in all competitions this season. And in 26 (around 60%) of those matches we've managed to score at least two goals. Can Giroud and Koscielny pull through for us again vs. the German powerhouse?

Will Koscielny find the back of the net in Germany?
CC License / Wikimedia
There's no denying that a win against Bayern Munich is extremely difficult to come by. A win against Bayern Munich at the Allianz, where they haven't lost a domestic match since October 2012, is an even more challenging undertaking. There's not much that one can say about the German side that we don't already know, as this is the second time in as many years that the Arsenal have faced the FCB in the round of sixteen. Bayern are the current champions of Europe. They haven't dropped a point in five months, and their only fluke loss came against Manchester City after already having clinched the top spot in their group. This weekend the FCB not only extended their Bundesliga lead to 20 points– with an absurd 61+ goal differential as the cherry on top of their success– they stretched their domestic unbeaten record to 49 games as well (tying our beloved Invincibles).

06 March 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Recent Contract Extensions

Rosicky, recipient of a very well-deserved extension
(CC Licence / Wikimedia)
Jessica: It's always exciting to hear that one of our beloved Gunners has extended his contract with the Arsenal, and this week we've already been lucky enough to hear of two new contract deals for a couple of our favorite legends– Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky– as well as talks of two others who look set to follow in their teammates' footsteps. Mertesacker has stepped in as our valiant captain in the absence of Arteta and Vermaelen this season, establishing himself as an indispensable member of the squad in his position in the center of the defense. The importance of Rosicky– now in his eighth season with the Arsenal– is perhaps less well known (or at the very least less recognized), but as we saw against Sunderland he is capable of playing some absolutely sublime football. Sam, what do you make of our recent spike in contract extension activity? How important do you feel that these extensions will be not only for our future success, but also for our morale going into the final stretch of this season?

Sam: First, I'm very pleased that Super Tom has signed a new deal. I've always been a fan of his. Unfortunately for him, the first half of his Arsenal career was injury-filled, but in recent years he's been contributing some big goals in important games. It always seems like he steps up at a key moment, whether that's in a North London derby or coming in for an injured player.