War-saw, What Was It Good For?

An all-too familiar sight.

Yesterday’s match in Poland against Legia Warsaw still has me scratching my head wondering, “What the hell was that?” Some have suggested that yesterday’s 6-5 victory over a team that finished 4th in the Poland encapsulated both the positives and negatives of the current side. We can score a ton of goals, but we also concede a ton. (Highlights on the right).

Of course, it’s impossible to judge a team based on pre-season results against lesser sides, as Arsene has said. However, there is no denying that what we all witnessed yesterday was nothing less than disturbing. And to still be without a 4th center-back, with Anfield a week away, is even more disturbing. A Liverpool side, revitalized by the arrival of Hodgson, could’ve scored 12 goals against our defense yesterday.

All this is further exacerbated by the keeper problems. Perhaps 1-in-10 Arsenal fans have any confidence in Almunia. Even less in Fabianski. We can all agree that Szczesny is a right prospect but not ready for a title challenge. Arsene must’ve been hoping that Fabianski would put the past behind him and put in solid enough performances over the pre-season to quiet criticism of the keeping situation especially as Fulham continued to rebuff his interest in Mark Schwarzer. Instead Fabianski goes out tripping over his own defender’s leg in front of his hometown crowd. He just doesn’t seem to have ever been able to put Porto behind him.

Nasri continues to shine to the point where it almost seems wrong to push him out of that central role when Cesc returns. Gibbs also appears to be getting back to his best. While many seem happy that Gibbs and Wilshere have been called up to the England squad for the most meaningless and inopportune of friendlies, I can honestly say that I’d rather they hadn’t been.

I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the criticism of the official website over the Spahic article. It is without a doubt hypocritical on the club’s part and embarrassing. This is most embarrassing because the article has an Arsenal player, Bacary Sagna, talking about another club’s player. But this isn’t something happening for the first time. It’s been going on all summer long with these ridiculous “Transfer Linked” articles. Since the summer started, I have been unable to understand just exactly what an official website is doing posting things like that. How can we complain about Barca’s players talking about Cesc when we have linked ourselves with 20 players on our own website since May? It’s obviously such bullshit anyway because anyone who knows Wenger knows that he would never let the club put a news article about a player he’s interested in on the website. That would only drive up the price further or, worse, alienate the other club into not dealing with us. So, please Arsenal.com, do us all a favor and remove the entire section and all the articles from the official website.

Boredom and Dealing with Delap

For the life of me, I can’t remember such a boring February, news-wise. With so many weeks in between the legs of the Champions League knockout round and us being out of the FA Cup, there just doesn’t seem to be much going on, besides the matches. So much so, that I haven’t even bothered to write on anything but matches in the last two weeks.

In the news, there are the Dutch doctors proclaiming van Persie will be fit by the beginning of April, which seems utterly ridiculous considering these are the same doctors who thought he would be out for a maximum of six weeks following the injury. They seem to be far worse at calculating recovery time than our doctors.

We also have Bakary Sagna claiming it is our “destiny” to win the league this year. I wonder if Sagna owns a dictionary because, considering everything that’s happened up until now, I can’t recall a season in which it seemed less our destiny to win the league. I remember thinking we were destined to win the league back in February 2008. Of course, then one thing led to another and…

Waiting all week for a match with Stoke City has become a somewhat torturous experience. Waking up in the middle of the night in a puddle of sweat from nightmares in which, instead of arms, Rory Delap has a cannon coming out of his chest and launches his throw-ins with it. A few years ago I used to get unbelievably anxious when we would concede a corner because we had such trouble defending them. We still do but not nearly as much as back in the “Toure-Gallas era.”

However, anticipating the Delap throw-in is even worse. Perhaps a part of it is not only the threat of conceding a goal but the added threat of, once again, appearing utterly foolish when defending it. If you’re like me, you’re sick of hearing criticisms of Arsenal’s defending, especially in the air. I mean, it’s all fair criticism… I’m just sick of hearing it. And should we concede again from one of the Freak’s launches, it will mean another week of pundits and journalists spewing the tired “Arsenal can’t defend” drivel.

I fail to understand what it is about the throw-in that makes it even harder to defend than a corner. I mean, the ball isn’t in-swinging. I concede that the placement is better but surely those high throws give enough time for any keeper (except ours) to get out and up on it. For me, the keeper coming out is the best defense against that type of throw-in. But when your keepers are Almunia and Flubianski, that probably doesn’t apply.

Anyway, this is all conjecture, of course. We could very well never put the ball out of play in a position for Delap to light the fuse on his cannon, though that is unlikely. Should we concede a throw-in within 70 yards of our goal, the players will have to suck it up and the supporters, well… we’ll just have to pray.

Déjà Vu, All Over Again

Robin van PersieAs always, highlights are below and are also archived on the right sidebar. Don’t forget to click on “see all videos” at the bottom of the widget for the rest of the highlights from this season and preseason.

Last week, following our last-minute capitulation to AZ Alkmaar, I wrote a post entitled, “Déjà Vu,” which talked about how the result was reminiscent of all those draws, many nil-nil, from last season. I could essentially just copy and paste that entire article only a few days later to describe the highly disappointing draw at West Ham Sunday afternoon. However, I am not quite that lazy (though close). Being days later, I only wanted to talk about the disappointment of the draw and what, if anything, it may tell us about the side, especially when coupled with the draw in Holland five days previous.

The most disappointing aspect of the draw is the fact that we lost the chance to gain three points on United and Tottenham, and two on Money City. Yet, despite the draw, we still found ourselves higher up the table sitting in third place, level on points, ahead on goal differential and a game in hand over fourth-place Spurs. We are also three points behind second-place United but also with a game in hand. That game in hand is home to Bolton and tentatively scheduled for December 2, unless we should advance past Liverpool in the Carling Cup tonight. In that case, we would play the Carling Cup Quarterfinal and the Bolton match would be rescheduled, likely for some time long after the new year.

Emmanuel EboueDodgy decisions abounded at West Ham, not the least Song’s foul on Cole. But also a foul, and penalty, was not given on van Persie’s header in the box where the defender was practically piggy-backing him as he went for the header. There was also a handball not given in the first half. The foul which led to the free-kick and the first goal was just as questionable. However, had we gotten the third goal, the match would have been killed off and even these mistakes would not have changed the result.

For most teams that defend well, “killing the game off” means getting that second goal, or two-goal lead. However, with a defense that has only five clean sheets in its first fifteen matches in all competitions, killing the game off means getting the third goal. We have done it for much of the season, and so this week seems to be something of a anomaly. Whether it will stay that way or Arsenal will lapse back into their 2008-09 form remains to be seen.

However, I don’t think it will. I genuinely think the side has turned the corner in regards to finishing teams off and that this week will prove to be a momentary blip rather than a portent of things to come. Had West Ham’s goals come through more legitimate means, I might not be so quick to make that statement, but, as it stands, it took a few very generous decisions for them to get back in the match. Of course, the decisions in no way excuse fundamental errors from Mannone not parrying the ball away from goal, and Song not carelessly kicking out at a striker with his back to goal, however innocuously, in the box with a late one-goal lead.

So, it’s Liverool tonight in the Carling Cup at the Emirates. Arsene has named his side:

Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski, Philippe Senderos, Kyle Bartley, Mikael Silvestre, Kieran Gibbs, Kerrea Gilbert, Fran Merida, Francis Coquelin, Craig Eastmond, Emmanuel Frimpong, Aaron Ramsey, Mark Randall, Samir Nasri, Eduardo, Gilles Sunu, Nicklas Bendtner, Sanchez Watt

The absence of Vela is the biggest puzzle especially considering that he was interviewed about the match two days ago on ArsenalTV Online. Samir Nasri is expected to get his first competitive action since breaking his leg back in July, and we are also likely to witness the return of Lukasz Fabianksi, not a moment too soon, in my opinion. I’m looking forward to seeing Coquelin and Merida as well as Emmanuel Frimpong. I expect a mixed side from Liverpool as well.

After this midweek diversion, it is back to the Premier League and Spurs at the Emirates on Saturday. There will be plenty time to build up to that match starting tomorrow, but I just wanted to let all my fellow-American readers know that Saturday morning will be the first time Arsenal have ever been broadcast in the United States in High-Definition on ESPN2HD.