Repeat: We Are Top of the League

quinnboslice-120Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ Don’t say ‘I told you so.’ I feel like Bart Simpson at the chalkboard.
Look at the league table (below). Pretty, innit? Who’d have thought it’d go this way? Oh.

Truly special.

The Hawthorns, November 21. A game that I, and Arsenal, got totally wrong. I should have known better than to expect Arsenal to do what was only logical, to defeat a lesser opponent in a campaign that’s all up for grabsbut I’m an Arsenal fan. I shouldn’t be so naïvebut I’m an Arsenal fan. This game is memorable for the unholiest of hat tricks: a banjaxed Coquelin, an Arteta own goal, and a Cazorla fluffed penalty.
As an aside, I did manage to salvage some credibility on the fortune-telling front during the West Brom match, despite getting the end-result terribly wrong. When, in the second half, Alexis was hauled down in the box and a penalty was awarded, I knew what would happen. “Why are you guys getting excited? He’s not going to score. There is no way we score here. It’s pointless.” I scowled at my Tri-Cities Arsenal pals. Then this happened. My pals would attest to that. The Guinness hit the spot after Santi missed from a different one.
Next, I predicted an easy win against Norwich. The less said about that the better. Arsenal, man. Oh—for two.
I will not go through every result, because truthfully, I didn’t get a lot right at all and my capacity for self-deprecation only goes so far. Barriecuda, @CanadianGunners, thinks I look like a short Per Mertesacker—an SFG if you will. Here, then, in this comedic Mertesacker miss, is an accurate parallel to how my predictions went. Inconsistency has been a pebble in our boots since the opening day defeat to West Ham and that has made the task of prediction an uncomfortable one. In total,  I correctly predicted only 3 of 9 results: the Zagreb win, a match that was always only going to go one way, setting us up for the big one in Greece; the Sunderland win, a match I seem  not to have formed a single long-term memory of; and the Bournemouth win, foreseeable due to our impressive record against newly promoted sides.

Make that 22.
3 of 9. That’s Chelsea form. It must be said, however, that there were plenty of surprises. Some pleasant, like the decisive win versus Olympiacos to secure our inevitable (?) doom at the boots of Barcelona in the Champions League, or the confident and fruitful display against Manchester City,  or the emergence of the tireless if Genvinho-esque Joel Campbell. Some unsavory, like our players being outed as having legs constructed out of Popsicle sticks, chewing gum, twine, and wet garbage, or Leicester hanging around like an annoying little brother, or Shane Long looking little-bit Suarez while Koscielny looked little-bit Squillaci in the recent St. Mary’s Massacre (trademark pending).
We’re first. We are top of the league. Despite it not going, game by game, kick by kick, how you or I would have expected (don’t you lie to me), we’re sitting pretty. Like Giroud pretty. We’re 3 points up on our main competitor, Manchester City. We’re 4 points up on our bothersome, white-wearing neighbours. If the season is seen as a single match, we’re leading at halftime. We must do what we’ve done. And maybe more. If I may continue in this vein, we have subs coming. The injured will return, one by one. The newly signed, those one or two players who will arrive in January, will hopefully carry us on through stoppage time. As 2016 arrives, we must not grow too fond of orange slices. We must not rest. We must not shell up. We must attack. It’s all there for the taking.
Pundits have long discredited Arsenal, asserting that we can’t do it, that we take too many selfies, that we’re mentally weak.
Let’s not let them say ‘I told you so.’
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January First: Arsenal on Top in the New Year

quinnboslice-120I’ve decided to write a New Year’s piece early. Twenty-fifteen has been jam-packed for me–I graduated from university, I put together a pretty fun footy event, I travelled through Germany, and then I got an awesome job–so I figure I’ve already used up all of the excitement. Sorry, just lots of grey and beige from here until January folks.

But, it’s not all bad. 2016 is here. Would you believe it? (Hey, play along.) What’s more, Arsenal sits on top of the Premier League.

Pictured: Chelsea giving the league leaders a lift through London.

Pictured: Chelsea giving the league leaders a lift through London.

A quick aside: I had to visit the Manchester City website to find their fixture list for what follows. I will repent. At the very least I will shower, the quick browse left me feeling rather… oily.

Back to the future. Arsenal is in the ascendancy. And to think, looking back at mid-November 2015, we sat level with Manchester City and we were playing some guy’s cousin on the right one week, another guy’s work-mate the next. This is how the table looked back then:

In fairness City were playing some boy band’s token blonde guy in net – every week.

In fairness City were playing some boy band’s token blonde guy in net – every week.

But that is merely a snapshot of what was. In November, we still had to go to West Brom and Norwich, with a European fixture at home to Dinamo Zagreb sandwiched between. Three wins from three games; that’s the stuff! Fair play to Arsenal, keeping things interesting in Europe despite supporters’ already knowing we’d surely bottle it away in Greece.

Our co-leaders had a tough task wrapping up November in the same manner. Hosting Liverpool proved routine, but a European loss to Juventus wounded City’s momentum. As a result, they had to settle for a draw against Southampton. Up two on City by December 1st.

With November and traditional calendars out the window, it was time for a chocolate a day and a frantic fixture list.

Arsenal took care of business at home to Sunderland. Next, we travelled to Greece, and as anyone could predict, “crashed out of Europe” by a “Herculean effort” from the home-side. This was bad. So bad that our next league match, away at Villa, was one that we weren’t quite present for. A bad loss to a bad team. Blegh.

Meanwhile, City found their form only to misstep again. A big ‘W’ away at the Britannia (nothing to scoff at). Three points in Europe against Borussia Monchengladbach. A disappointing draw to Swansea.

Arsenal 35 points. Manchester City 34 points. The top two then had to face each other. There’s no need to linger here though, as, this already being 2016, you know that it was a stale draw. The best case scenario for Manchester United I suppose, and I suppose not much else.

Arsenal would go on to win their remaining two games, the depth of the side evident given that there wasn’t even 48 hours between the trip to Southampton and our match at home against Bournemouth.

City wrapped up 2015 with two convincing wins; first against Sunderland, then against hangers-around, Leicester.

Where’d that leave us? Arsenal atop by one glorious point. Everything to play for (except the Champions League). A squad regaining its once-wounded bodies. A squad without excuses.

But you know all that. Now get off the computer and enjoy the future. There’s hover
boards and stuff.

That’s the future. See you there.

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I Ain’t Even Mad Brolympiacos

barriecuda-120Man, we suck. Seriously, Arsenal gonna Arsenal. After a good bit of fun at the King Power Stadium on the weekend against Leicester (where both teams sportingly met before the match to agree not to defend for 90 minutes) we resumed our tireless efforts at the Champions League today by welcoming Superleague Greece champions Olympiacos to the Emirates. After a poor away loss to Zagreb on Matchday 1, three points were surely needed in a home fixture against a team most Gunners fans are bored of watching in the UCL. It turns out, the Arsenal players are bored of Olympiacos too! They decided not to turn up, conceding three goals at home to lose 3-2. You’d almost think it was the first leg of a knockout tie!

I didn’t get a chance to watch the match admittedly, but I am very alarmed to see us lose to a weaker team, while at home, in an important game, when we field one of our strongest possible starting XI’s. Say what you will about transfers, the eleven players Arsenal had on the field today absolutely must be able to beat the eleven that a team like Olympiacos put out – and don’t even get me started on the massive differential in talent available on the bench.

Speaking of the bench, there’s some unrest about Cech not getting the start. I don’t have much time for that argument, for two reasons. First, Arsene frequently rotates goalkeepers and it should be no surprise that we’re keeping our backup option ready through the use of regular game time (PS: Don’t worry, Szczesny didn’t have much fun today in the CL either). Additionally, even considering the poor game by Ospina, that provides an all-too-convenient scapegoat for the other ten players who couldn’t muster up enough to beat the Greek upstarts. Clearly someone forgot to turn the defense switch back to “ON” after the Leicester game. You’d think we’d have learned from our European mistakes when it comes to conceding goals – especially against a team we’ve seen a lot of in the past five years. It seems that our opponents are the only teams learning lessons from these repeated encounters.

But you know what? As the headline reads, I’m not even upset. The Champions League is a pipe dream for this club. I would suggest to you that the hope of winning the competition most Gunners fans have stems from the painful memories of a runner-up finish in 2006, although we are no longer the same team in terms of players or mentality. Despite the additions of proven winners like Özil and Sanchez we still have a soft underbelly, one we expose frequently enough to put us out of the running of major trophies year after year. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Juventus, Barcelona, the current royalty of European football are all too battle-tested to lose a two-leg tie against us. And that’s assuming we could even reach their station; considering our struggles with teams like Olympiacos, Zagreb, and last year’s Monaco, going deep enough to face the super clubs seems unlikely (excluding the possibility of getting an unfavourable draw early on).

Even if we do something equally “Arsenal” next – i.e. taking a bunch of points from Bayern Munich over the next two games – it would be difficult for long-term fans to get excited. It has become commonplace to see the club climb mountains only to fall down molehills. When our back is against the wall, and there’s seemingly no hope for us, we fight like a different animal and often make a real scrap of an “unwinnable” contest. That type of fighting spirit may be required to even grasp at second place in our Champions League group this season, the way we’ve started.

The reason I won’t be too upset if we can’t get ourselves going again in Europe this campaign is because I’d rather see the club focus its efforts on a Premier League title chase. The Premier League involves 38 incredibly demanding games and with the Chavs looking completely lost, Man United unconvincing, and City prone to form-swings, it could be available for Arsenal to take a proper run at. The only way we can effectively mount a proper League challenge however, with our current (thin) squad, is for us to stop wasting our collective energies and health in the European fixtures. Play the kids in the Champion League and/or Europa League as necessary (preferably effecting a speedy exit) and let’s give the domestic competition a real go this year. While we might not be able to beat the aforementioned European super teams in two-leg ties, I’m pretty confident we can do some damage in England (and Wales, so to speak).

With a game against Manchester United coming up on Sunday, it looks like a convenient time to forget about our Olympiac-woes and move on. I invite you to join me in encouraging Arsenal: Forget Europe – let’s win local.

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