While we’re still basking in the glow of a glorious, scintillating, season-defining Community Shield victory over Man City, we’re finally starting to unload some deadwood, with news that Ainsley Maitland-Niles has joined Olympique Lyonnais on a free transfer, so we haven’t exactly gotten better at selling players…yet. The Birdman rejoins Lacazette (who also left on a free transfer) and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde. Let’s hope this gives the lad a chance to spread his wings and teachers us to, you know, sell players instead of setting them free (I understand that I missed a chance at extending the bird/freedom metaphor, so don’t bother pointing it out).Continue reading
When it comes to signing flops, Arsenal have, for the most part, avoided the worst of the worst. Yes, there have been more than a few head-slappers: Gervinho, Squillaci, Santos, Mustafi, Stepanovs, and on and on. None of them, however, quite reach the levels set by our then-record signing, Nicolas Pépé. Like a lot of so-called flops, Pépé was signed on a massive fee that heaped more-massive pressure on him to perform, and, well, he…um…didn’t. Yes, he popped up with some flashy goals here and there, but he was only ever a square peg in a round hole.Continue reading
As for the Monaco debacle, let’s admit that we had more than our fair share of chances which we either squandered or were flabbergasted to see get denied in the weirdest of ways. Kondogbia’s goal was just as unlucky as Walcott’s block of Welbeck’s shot, and that changed the game (in ways that we exacerbated in our own ways). What’s more, we do still have the second leg to play, and we’ve shown a remarkable ability to almost achieve the impossible against more intimidating clubs. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, and it’s far from over.
Sadly, however, let’s put our hands over our hearts and observe a moment of silence our our misbegotten brethren at White Hart Lane and Anfield, as each of them has been ousted from the Europa League. Fiorentina won 2-0 on Wednesday to oust Tottenham, and Beşiktaş (remember them?) overcame Liverpool through penalties. We may have made a meal of our first leg, but we can still cling to a glimmer of hope that we can conjure some of the ol’ second-leg magic to resurrect our Champions League dreams. Tottenham and Liverpool, however, will have to trudge back morosely from Italy and Turkey, knowing that they’d each squandered a chance at winning a bit of silverware, even if it shines a bit less than those we’re still vying for. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of schadenfreude,especially when it comes to close on the heels of our own setback.
Then again, two of our chief rivals can now focus almost exclusively on the Prem. Both Tottenham and Liverpool, who might have otherwise had to face unpleasant trips to Russian pitches in March or beyond, are now spared the expense, wear and tear, and distraction. For Tottenham, they now have only the League Cup final against Chelsea to worry about; Liverpool, like us, are still alive and kicking in the FA Cup and will host Blackburn. In each case, the removal of the Europa League fixtures, while gleeful to us in the short term, may very well complicate things in the longer term. They’re now spared the bother of at two more fixtures, if not more, in a competition that neither might have been all that excited for in the first place. Each club sent out a fair number of squad players, indicating a certain willingness to let the chips fall where they may against sides for whom this competition seems to inspire much more motivation.
At our end, the gloom and doom that pervades the atmosphere seems to portend our own departure, but that’s a bit premature. We’ve made a habit of botching the first leg in almost-comical fashion only to rebound just as heroically. If a side that sported Jenkinson in the starting XI and threw on Gervinho in the second half can best Bayern 0-2 at Allianz Arena, then surely a side that includes Özil and Alexis can find a way to beat Monaco 0-3 at the Stade Louis. The question that arises, though, is “is this what we want?” After all, considering how tight the race for third and fourth in the Prem currently is, can we sustain two more fixtures (in which we might very well get pummeled by Barcelona, Real Madrid, or PSG, among others)?
With Tottenham and Liverpool essentially free to focus on fourth place in the Prem, the better part of valour for us might be to let the Champions League go by the wayside. We already face an almost insurmountable challenge in that second leg, and the effort we might have to commit to overcoming that might undermine our efforts against West Ham and Newcastle, whom we face either side of that second leg. Dropping points against either of them might cripple us more than being dumped from the Champions League.
There are some who would claim that this is precisely what Arsenal needs: to miss out on Champions League qualification. This setback, they claim, would prove such a shock to the manager and the board that they would be forced to act decisively to strengthen the squad in ways we’ve never seen, whether it be the shock-signings of players we’ve only dreamed of or the sacking of a manager who’s brought to this club such exquisite achievements and has it poised on the brink of tantalizing success.
While I do believe in the idea that a short-term setback can inspire longer term achievements, the idea that we might have to fall to fifth in the Prem in order to prompt some kind of monumental overhaul of our club leaves me completely gobsmacked. I’m not saying that Arsène deserves to stay at the helm in deference to what he achieved a decade or more ago; that reeks of emperors wearing no clothes.
Instead, let’s remember that on Wednesday, it was the players on the pitch who let us down, not the manager, and that each time we’ve seen those players founder on the shoals, they’ve risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their own reported demises. So Giroud, Welbeck, Walcott, and Alexis missed chances. Özil was worse than invisible. Good. Each of them, as well as the squad and manager, will likely respond with the same kind of defiance and determination we’ve seen after almost every other setback. That may not be enough to see us through to the Champions League quarterfinal, but I’m willing to bet that it’s more than enough to see us finish fourth or higher in the Prem.
If such a finish doesn’t satisfy you, well, go find a club that’s willing to spend so much on players that it makes drunken sailors embarrassed.
- Everton 2-2 Arsenal: a tough away-match against a top-four rival. Yes, Everton have gotten off to a dire start, but they lost only three times at home last season, and we were bedding in Alexis, Chambers, and Debuchy. Nice fightback after going down 2-0, scoring two goals in the final ten minutes…
- Leicester 1-1 Arsenal: Deprived of Giroud and just a few days removed from an intense second leg Champions League playoff against Beşiktaş, we looked ragged against a grimly determined side. For those guffawing at the Giroud reference, we fielded Sanogo, subbed off by Podolski.
- Arsenal 2-2 Man City: A regrettable one, to be honest, but tolerable considering the opponent. Welbeck’s Arsenal debut very nearly got off to a glorious start, but he hit the post. Pity that Demichelis snuck in for that late equaliser.
- Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham: First off, all bets are off in an NLD. The intensity of the clash overrides form or table. Were it not for Flamini’s error or Lloris being just a split-second slower, we might have won it.
- Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal: Stamford Bridge. Mourinho. That there says about enough. Throw in Abramovich, Fabregas, and Costa, and you have your recipe. That said, it took one moment of industry from Hazard to change the complexion of the game.
Yes, we might feel as we’re already up against it, what with our feeble returns to this point, but there’s still some fight in us, and there are reinforcements on the horizon. So this first light of the fifth day didn’t quite shine as brightly as we had hoped. There lies still ahead Sunderland, against whom Southampton scored eight goals, after whom we face winless Burnley, they of the -5 goal-differential away from Turf Moor.
It’s always darkest before the dawn, as the hoary, old saying goes. A loss to a hated foe two weeks ago may have felt like that darkest moment, coming as it did against the darkest of foes. A draw against a more determined if less diabolical one would be darker. We shall rise. Summon up you courage, your determination, your fervor. No, none of us will take to the pitch on Wednesday against Anderlecht or on Saturday against Sunderland, but, at some level the squad does feed off of us. Collectively, we have the will to win. Set aside the doldrums and depression that say otherwise!
Victoria concordia crescit.
As to the match itself, it seemed all too often as if we dared ourselves not to win even while knowing that a draw could be enough to end our European aspirations. Yes, we threatened and looked lively in stretches, but there were as many stretches when Beşiktaş looked the livelier, and why not? They had nothing to lose and everything to gain while we had much the opposite. They were playing with reckless abandon, dominating posssesion (54%), earning six yellows through 32 tackles to our 20 (how often does a team win the possession-battle and out-tackle the opposition?). Just as a tetchy first half was going into the books and I was ready to throw it all over, along came Wilshere. And Alexis. No, it wasn’t quite as poetic as some of last year’s goals, but a few quick touches in the box sent the ball to Alexis, who slotted home 35 seconds into extra time. The lead would hold well enough to see us progress to the group-stage.
However, question marks remain, chief among them being, “what does this mean for between now and Monday?” On one hand, the win should pave the way for us to make a signing or two. After all, we can now confidently offer Champions League to Cavani, Carvalho, Khedira, or others. Crashing out would have closed the door on any such business and relegated us to rummaging among the scraps for an “as-is” purchase. On the other, the win could convince Arsène that all is well with the current squad and that no signings are needed. Still, the options on offer are much preferred to the alternative. A loss (or a draw in which goals were exchanged) would have ended our streak of Champions League appearances; with that, we would have seen the top-shelf signings we coveted close up shop. Cavani? No. Carvalho? No. And so on. Scylla: win but forego any signings. Charybdis: lose and settle for a few squad-player-esque signings. A rock and a hard place, indeed.
Thus far, we’ve emerged with nothing but positive results, even if the method has been madness. A comfortable, convincing win might be nice, if only to soothe tattered nerves. This after only four matches of record. How are we going to feel after an actual loss, something we haven’t suffered since April of
2014? Still, for as unconvincing as the process has been to this point, the results should offer some kind of solace. We’re undefeated. We’ve qualified for the Champions League group-stage and are owed a favorable draw. Far be it from me to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but with this win in hand, we must now turn our hopes to the potential addition of one more player, just one more, who can bolster our chances in the Prem and perhaps in that Champions League as well.
Your thoughts, as always, are welcome below the fold. Thanks for reading!