24 April 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Renewed Optimism

Mesut Ozil's return adds to the optimism around
Emirates Stadium
(CC Licence / Ronnie Macdonald)
Sam: After (technically) 3 wins in 8 days, Gooners have a bit more of a spring in their steps heading in to the season's final stretch. Those results, combined with Everton's shock home defeat at the hands of Tony "Redemption Story" Pulis' Crystal Palace, has left Arsenal in command of the final Champions League spot. So, Andy, what has you feeling most optimistic?

Andrew: Easily the return of two of our most important players (all respect due to Per Mertesacker). Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil have been sorely missed from the Arsenal lineup, Ramsey for his ability to push the team forward and Ozil for his creative genius on the ball. In a vacuum Ozil is the better player but Ramsey is perhaps more important to this squad because of the role he plays. No other midfielder is a good match for the box-to-box midfielder position and it shows whenever Ramsey is missing. Jack Wilshere is defensively lax (and hurt himself, currently), Mathieu Flamini doesn't have the timing for forward runs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still too raw and unused to the position, Tomas Rosicky is better suited further up the pitch, etc.

Ozil is incredibly important because of his ability to move the ball around, retain possession, and find a killer pass. Ramsey is essential because he plays his position better than anyone else on the team could and his aggression drives the players around him on to do more. Having him back makes me feel as if the team is complete even though we are still missing several important players. Is it all Ramsey or am I making too much out of one player?

14 April 2014

Week in Review: Boring, Boring Arsenal

Mertesacker redeemed his earlier mistake with
the equalizing goal.
(CC Licence / Wikimedia)
At least we can say we're going to Wembley! After an incredibly dull match, Arsenal needed penalties to beat Wigan and book their place in the 2014 FA Cup Final. The game started with a bang, as Yaya Sanogo was unlucky to have an early header saved by Scott Carson, before the tempo slowed waaaaaay down after around 10 minutes or so, leading to your humble writer declaring every 5 minutes or so that we were watching a very boring match. Then, of course, the nerves kicked in, as in the 59th Per Mertesacker brought down Calum McManaman in the box for a penalty, which Jordi Gomez converted almost 4 minutes later due to an injury picked up by Nacho Monreal in the build-up to the goal. For the next twenty minutes, it looked like the Gods of Football were conspiring against the Gunners, as several chances went begging, before the Big F***ing German saved Gooners everywhere from months of 'banter' and negative media coverage, by nodding in from close range.

11 April 2014

Match Preview: Wigan Athletic v. Arsenal, Wembley, April 12 12.07 (EST)

Rambo makes his long-anticipated return to
the starting line-up.
(CC Licence / Wikimedia)
Arsenal make the trip across North London to Wembley on Saturday for an FA Cup semi-final that will play a huge part in defining the Gunners' season. After suffering a dismal defeat to a surging Everton side at Goodison Park, Arsenal remain in fourth place in the league, though the Toffees have a game in hand and sit just one point behind. Really, the FA Cup has looked like Arsenal's saving grace for a while now, especially once the Gunners beat Everton in the quarter-finals, creating a favorable-looking final four which also features Wigan Athletic, Hull City and Sheffield United. Despite struggling recently, the Gunners remain the favorites to win the Cup, and doing so would put an end to a 9-year wait for a trophy and the media's obsession with that statistic.

Arsenal enter this match with a squad depleted by injuries; Wilshere, Koscielny, Walcott, Özil and Diaby are definitely out, and there are questions over the fitness of youngsters Gnabry and Miyaichi. Arsenal will also be without Mathieu Flamini, who is suspended for this fixture, but Arsène Wenger has confirmed that Aaron Ramsey will make his first start for the Club for nearly four months, which is music to the ears of Arsenal fans everywhere. Lukasz Fabianski's role as FA Cup keeper will continue, as Wenger has confirmed that he, too, will start at Wembley. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky and Gibbs will all undergo late fitness tests to determine their availability.

03 April 2014

Thursday Throwdown: The Sticky Toffees Match

Can Arteta return to form against his
former club?
(CC Licence / Wikimedia)
Sam: After a week which saw Arsenal take just 2 points from 9 - though which finished with a strong 45 minutes against potential league champions Manchester City - the Gunners could be facing the strongest competition to their Champions League streak in the form of a surging Everton, who have won five on the bounce and find themselves 4 points behind Arsenal with a game in hand. Anything but an Arsenal win at Goodison will leave the race for fourth in the Toffees' own hands. So, Andy, what are the keys to what will be one of the Club's most important games of the season?

Andrew: I think first and foremost the emphasis must be on defensive discipline. The back line was the driving force behind last season's surge to fourth place, but while the Gunners are still fourth in Goals Against in 2013-2014 (and that number is skewed by several lopsided losses) there has been an element of panic in the last couple matches. The Chelsea loss was an unmitigated disaster of course while the draw with Swansea was inexplicably open at times. Arsenal needs to get back to that fortress defense they can rely on and take the game to Everton without getting out of sorts at the back.

The pairing of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini has come under some fire this year but I suspect that will be the makeup of central midfield come Sunday. Arsenal cannot sit back and try to absorb pressure for ninety minutes because they need the points and Everton is too good to allow them the run of the field, but this might be one of those matches where Arsenal tries to stonewall the opposition and then slowly come into the game on the attack.

02 April 2014

The WAT: Hamburger holds the Swiss

Bundesliga side Hamburger SV, which is the funniest of several acceptable ways of referring to that club in English, recently triggered a buyout clause in their loan contract with Johan Djourou that will keep the defender at the German club until 2016. While "Hamburger SV" isn't that funny, sources said, it is definitely the funniest option on the table thus far, overtaking competitors "Hamburg," "HSV," and the close second, "Hamburger Sport-Verein e.V."
(source: The Daily Mail)

The following statement was released by Hamburger SV head coach Mirko Slomka following the move on Djourou: "While the 'Hamburger' cross-language homograph is recognized as being nestled firmly within the upper stratosphere of contemporary world-aware English-language comedy, it loses roughly 50 percent of its hilarity when translated to any other language, particularly German and Arabic. It is regardless very, very funny, and is far and away the funniest way to talk about our club in any language."