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August 12, 2010

2010-11 EPL Previews: Arsenal

It's a cannon!

Official Name: Arsenal Football Club

Nickname: The Gunners. Some would call them Thirdsenal, but that would be mean. The Yids, Lilywhites (YES I’M JOKING)

Home Colors: Red and white. Originally it was a darker red, or redcurrant, and that color was used for the Arsenal kit in Highbury’s final year.

Trophy Case: As Nick Hornby will tell you, Arsenal seems to win trophies in spurts. They’ve won the English top flight 13 times, with three Premiership titles in 1998, 2002 and 2004. They also won titles in 1989 and 1991, the former coming after the now famous 17 year drought that caused Colin Firth to get his boxers in a twist. Arsenal have won the FA Cup 10 times, including 2002, 2003 and 2005. They won the League Cup in 1987 and 1993; the Community Shield 12 times; and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994. Surprisingly, and I mean this, Arsenal have never won the European Cup or Champions League.

2009-10 League Finish: Shockingly, Arsenal finished in third place. They were in the title hunt until late January, when they drew 0-0 to Aston Villa to drop to third place, then lost consecutive matches to Manchester United and Chelsea. Even though they were mathematically in the title hunt for weeks afterward, a run of six matches from the end of March to the beginning of May saw four losses, one draw and just one 1-0 victory over Wolves.

2009-10 Cup Finish: In recent years, Arsenal have treated the domestic cup competitions as youth matches. They lost in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup to Stoke City and in the Fifth Round of the League Cup to Manchester City. In the Champions League, Arsenal overcame a 2-1 deficit to Porto with a 5-0 home victory to advance to the quarterfinal, where they drew 2-2 at home and were thumped 4-1 at the Camp Nou.

Home sterile home.

Stadium: Emirates Stadium. For all of this North London stuff, Arsenal actually moved around a bit before settling in 1913 at Highbury. The club played there until 2006, when the move was made to a 60,000-seat state-of-the-art ground. Highbury, if you didn’t already know, was converted to condos or apartments (or whatever you English people call them). The Emirates has been praised as a great stadium but given some guff because it lacks the dank charm of Highbury, so the club as moving to bring back some of the icons of the past, including a clock (for the “Clock End”) for the new stadium.

History: The club was created in 1886 by workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. After some financial troubles and poor results, the club was taken over, moved to North London and the Woolwich was dropped from the name.

The rivalry with Tottenham Hotspur seems to have arisen not only from geography but from controversy. In 1919, Arsenal finished fifth in the Second Division but were elected to move up to the First Division at the expense of Spurs. Apparently, there were shady dealings going on, and the hate grew from there.

The team dominated English football in the 1930s, then had a down spell, followed by a great run, a downturn, a run, then the 1970s and ’80s. During this time, Arsenal were known for playing dour, boring football that would make Stoke City look like Barcelona. Sure, that reputation might be overblown, but it’s fun to talk about, right? Heck, it might even be worth writing a book or something.

This is his happy face.

Gaffer: Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman is a genius and has an eye for talent better than 95 percent of managers. He brought free-flowing football to Highbury along with an influx of players from Europe that led to a great run of success in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The fact that it’s been five years since the club’s last silverware has caused some to question Wenger’s policies, but as an outsider, I must say that he’s been doing things the same way when they won and when they haven’t. I trust the guy more than anyone except for Fergie when it comes to running a team.

The interesting thing about Wenger’s time at Arsenal is his transfer policy. He brings them in young and cheap (or at least cheap) and sells as a profit. This worries supporters sometimes because they see other clubs buying big names.

And yet, despite all this, Arsenal are always near the top. They never falter. Despite all the injuries they suffer, all the bad luck, all the problems that come up, Arsenal are perpetually in the Champions League and have at least ashot at the title every year. He has my respect.

Transfers In:
Marouane Chamakh, ST, Bordeaux, free
Laurent Koscielny, D, Lorient, £8.5m

Transfers Out:
Fran Merida, MF, Atletico Madrid, free
Phillippe Senderos, CB, Fulham, free (how’d that one work out?)
William Gallas, CB, released
Mikael Silvestre, CB, released
Sol Campbell, CB, Newcastle United, free
Eduardo, ST, Shakhtar Donetsk, undisclosed

Key Players:
Cesc Fabregas, CM: Talk about this era of Arsenal starts and ends with Cesc. He is a stellar talent whose ability and creativity on the pitch embody everything that Wenger believes is great about football. The questions with Cesc are almost always his frail body. He missed 11 of the 38 EPL matches last season, but he still led the team in scoring with 15 league goals. There also is the lingering question about his desire to return home to Barcelona at some point. I don’t expect him to tank, but this question isn’t going away, even with a long-term contract.

Marouane Chamakh, ST: This was the signing of the summer, in my opinion. I didn’t know about him until he moved to Arsenal — before the World Cup. With Robin Van Persie always hurt and The Magic Pixie alternating between magic and injury, Chamakh is needed to take pressure off the strikeforce. He could have a breakout year in his first in England. Then again, he could rip a hamstring in the opener (I really hope he does well in every game except two).

Ouch.

Thomas Vermaelen, CB: Just like Chamakh is the signing of the summer this year, Vermaelen was the best signing last season. He was a horse, appearing in all but five EPL games (which is a good rate for Arsenal), and with the rest of the back line decimated by injuries for much of the year — they had to bring in Sol Campbell for god’s sake — Vermaelen was a rock. Will his second season be an improvement or a step back?

Manuel Almunia (or some other guy), GK: Arsenal’s goalkeeper had some of the worst howlers of the season, and the Gooners around these parts want him out. Will he be around? Can he be a top-line keeper? I’m not too sure about that. And besides, just look at what Arsenal’s backup, Lukasz Fabianski, can do…

Rising Stars:
Theo Walcott, RW: It’s amazing to me that he’s still only 21, and he really doesn’t qualify as a rising star anymore but screw it. Will he ever be what everyone expects him to be, or will he continue to rip apart his leg muscles until he has to use a motorized cart at age 27?

Jack Wilshere, CM: This is where I get confused. He’s only 18, and it’s obvious he has talent, but the love that the Gooner faithful have placed on “Jesus With a Football” is a little more than I can understand. He could be a superstar for England for the next 15 years — but to my mind, it’s still too early to tell. This season, playing with Arsenal and not SF Bolton, will be a real litmus test.

Drama:
The drama with Arsenal, as you might have noticed, usually has to do with injuries. This year is no different. Nicky Pink Boots is out for four weeks, Aaron Ramsey will be back from his Stoke City horror tackle in November, Alex Song might miss the opener with a calf problem, Denilson has an abdominal problem… anyway, you get the idea.

Tactics!:
One of the things I love about Wenger is his ability to use multiple formations. Often what starts as a 4-4-2-ish formation becomes a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-2-3-1. Arshavin, in particular, moves around a lot, playing wing, striker, etc. Wenger has been quoted in the past as saying the 4-4-2 is the most efficient and logical formation in football, but in this day and age, when top teams are playing the 4-2-3-1 or a 4-5-1, the 4-4-2 loses some space and players. Luckily for Arsenal, Wenger’s philosophy allows for flexibility depending on the players used that game.

The keys of Arsenal Tactics! remain no matter the formation: quick, fluid passing, with pressing attack on the wing and incisive passes to the center (not in the air, though, as Arsenal are not that kind of team).

The knock on Arsenal is that when they fail, it often is because they become victims of their own Tactics!, preferring to pass in the box rather than take the speculative shot from 20 yards out. But when Arsenal is on (and that usually coincides with when Cesc is on the field), they are a wonder to watch, even when I’m rooting so hard against them.

Question Marks:
How will the team’s health hold up?

How far can Arsenal go in the Champions League?

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the club’s ownership situation. The club is publicly traded (sort of), but there seems to be a coup brewing. Last season, Lady Bracewell-Smith announced she was willing to sell her 16% stake in the club. With American Stan Kroenke (who owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and possibly the St. Louis Rams) only 10 shares away from a full takeover bid, there is a lot of question about whether he can or will attempt to take over the full club. He is seen by most as a better option than Uzbek Alisher Usmanov, who is also near the takeover threshold. Will this ownership question become a distraction? Likely not as much as it has been as Manchester United or Liverpool, but it could spice things up a bit.

Important Fixtures:
With Arsenal, it’s all about playing the other big clubs. With all due respect to my Scouse friends, Arsenal need results against Chelsea and United. The losses to these foes last season effectively tanked the Arsenal title run, so they are the matches that matter most.

Prediction:
I think Arsenal have the team to push for the title this season. They lost the old, slow guys, and the young guns are another year older. The question in goal is a real one, and Arsenal’s chances are always dependent on health. I think they finish in second place and make the Champions League semifinals.



About the Author

The Stretford End





42 Comments


  1. Autoglass

    20 major trophies missed and counting. It truly is about something other than winning.


  2. Tno

    5th
    Huge injury and Cesc’s mind wanders to Catalan shores.


  3. I think the Cesc drama will be the undoing of the club.


  4. Mountain Wag

    @TSE – for the Trophy case blurb, although you noted their ’04 win, we shouldn’t overlook the accomplishment of The Invincibles’ season. The Premier League commissioned a special gold version of the Premiership trophy to commemorate Arsenal’s unbeaten season. So..yeah. Can we get some editor’s note added there? (-;


  5. Mountain Wag

    And I think the Cesc thing will blow over when he starts playing again (and remembers how nice it is to be on the pitch instead of on the bench), but the media will milk it as long as they can, and that will continue to irk Wenger & co.


  6. Tno

    @Wag
    If you make your smiley faces face the right way like a real American.


  7. Mountain Wag

    German dog, backwards face. Seriously, it has less to do with being anti-american as it is that I’m a lefty. Separately, I’d give that credit to LFC as well (that was a mid-80′s season I think?) – except they were in the 2nd division.


  8. Ryan

    So, I was listening to the Football Ramble last night, and they mentioned that Wenger is in the last year of his contract. Is this a big deal?


  9. Portland Timbers U23 PDL 2010 team is truly The Invincibles. Unbeaten and untied run to the championship. Suck it and keep on sucking it, Gooners.


  10. Tno

    How many draws did the invincibles have?


  11. Keith

    well played, TSE. . .
    -
    well played.


  12. @MW: Don’t give lefties a bad name just because you can’t use emoticons properly.
    .
    I think the Cesc drama, RvP’s obligatory injury, the s**tty goalkeeper, and a s**tty defense will be their undoing. Also, f**k Arsenal.


  13. Outside Mid

    Just an excuse to post this. And 5th by the commentariat? If Chamakh can take over for the injury-prone front, these guys are challenging for honors and surely in a Champs League position/performing proper penitence now

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSSlZd3nJqQ


  14. phil

    Might think about including Schwarzer in the transfers in as an “expected.” He’s publicly declared his desire to play for l’Arse.

    Also, it looks like Balotelli will be signing for Citeh sometime in the next 24 hours.


  15. whizalen

    @Ryan – Wenger said in an interview published over the weekend that he’d likely have to “move on to something else” when he hit 65. He’s 61 now. Can’t manage the stress of 100% involvement in all aspects of the club; I think he’ll be with arsenal in some capacity till the day he dies.

    Re: Wilshire. Wilshire and Ramsey (oh we love him too) are seen as the first stars to graduate from the “new and improved” academy which is why they are so beloved. Whether that statement is right or wrong – Song, Diaby, Denilson, Clichy were all in the academy about the same time or longer. Wilshire’s English, Ramsey Welsh which I’m sure helps a bit.

    I don’t know what to make of this season. We still need a goalie and a starting CB – Gallas IS still available! I don’t doubt Cesc’s commitment and we finally have some players willing to lead this club besides him: RVP, Wilshire, Verminator, Nasri. Yet it’s likely we’ll see Diaby and/or Denilson every week and who knows what they’re going to give on any given day.

    I think we end up getting Schwarzer and a not-ideal CB at the death; our core is at the age where it’s put-up time and they know it. We’re looking shockingly deep yet we’re likely to see: Frimpong, Wilshire and…Nasri? in midfield on Sunday @ Anfield. Chamakh becomes a huge asset for us…who knows?

    Most importantly though: we’ll be above Spurs at the end of the season!


  16. Tno

    @OM
    Jenas was teh seks in that game.


  17. The Likely Lad

    no goalie, no (reliable) striker, no second center back, no muscle down the middle. third on pixie-power.


  18. Outside Mid

    @ TNO: I’d forgotten he had that El Debarge-ish ‘do; and, Steed!


  19. @OM: He’s like Samson. The hair was the secret to his powers.


  20. Outside Mid

    @ LE: Fair point; now it’s gone and he’s a bit pants.


  21. Ryan

    @whizalen: Sounds about right on his end. What about the fans? Say the Fabregas thing does go all wrong, and they do finish 5th or lower? 2 big “ifs” right there, but if that does happen, do you think there might be a campaign to move on?


  22. @MW: I choose not to recognize the existence of that team. It didn’t happen.
    /holds hands to ears and crawls into fetal position


  23. ebullientfatalist

    Second. No major injuries this year. We win the FA Cup.


  24. ebullientfatalist

    And good write-up TSE. Eminently readable. If I was doing a preview, it would look just like this.


  25. bergkampesdios

    TSE – commendable, but you forgot something in your preview. Here, let me help you get started:
    Henry, Vieira, Adams, Wright, Smith, O’Leary, Seaman, Pires, Winterburn, Dixon, Bould, Overmars, Petit, Parlour, Ljungberg, Campbell, Rice, Graham, and oh yeah DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP!


  26. @Bergkamp: I will now cut and paste an e-mail I sent to the rest of the UF crew when I posted this preview…
    “FYI, I intentionally left out the legendary players section because I didn’t want to deal with you guys saying, “but what about…” all f**king night. suck it, Ray Parlour.”


  27. @TSE: hahahah. i was going to tell the story but thought you should do it.


  28. bergkampesdios

    TSE – I knew it wasn’t oversight and if I had to write a Manc preview I would avoid it like the plague as well. As far as I’m concerned none of the t**ts that have played for you are legendary.

    Oh – and we’ll be 2nd or 3rd and fall at the semis of both the FA and CL.


  29. Be warned that tomorrow you get Ned writing the Chelsea preview and James T writing the Man United preview. Yikes!


  30. bergkampesdios

    Actually glad you’re having non-fans do the previews. Seriously – you did a great job.


  31. James T

    Ah, Manchester United… where on earth do I begin?


  32. I love Nigel Winterburn


  33. James T

    No, you love rug burn.


  34. MP

    Jesus, JT is giving us the United preview? “Non-fans” is one thing, but mortal enemies is completely different


  35. James T

    @MP
    Yeah, but look at TSE doing Arsenal and a Chelsea fan doing LFC. There’s some “mortal enemy” element there too, right?


  36. Eladio

    Wenger is building a team for the future.


  37. whizalen

    @Ryan – I don’t know what the fans will do if that happens, I really doubt it though. It seems to me it’s more pundits and arm-chair fans who are all up-in-arms about 5 years, 5 years! I started supporting L’Arse in 98/99 so I’ve only lived the Wenger era and it’s been glorious. I understand how he works the transfer market and, now, how he envisions the youth set-up. And I like it and despite all the money thrown about, we’re still better than Spurs every year and minus one or two years, we’ve competed for top honors on all fronts. That we’re in a position to fall apart every year is more than 20+ English clubs have been able to say over the last 5 years. (disclaimer: I’m a life-time Cubs fan, so my definition of “success” is probably skewed from the norm)

    I was talking to a ringer on my intramural team last night who was wearing a Cesc jersey. for me, the two biggest regrets of the last period were Gilberto and Flamini. Given the shadiness around his arrival, Flamini’s departure wasn’t a surprise and he got what he deserved in the end. But had we held onto Gilberto another season, at least, he would’ve still done a job and shown the younger players what it meant to play for Arsenal. Despite filling a huge hole we had and playing well, Sol’s biggest contribution last year was showing this team what it meant to love Arsenal. And you can laugh at that idea, but the foundation of this club is the desire to do anything for it; I think that’s what we’ve been missing and we have more than just Cesc now who embodies that. Mes que un club and all that.

    Looks like he’s going to sign a new contract anyway. The board loves him. Knowing what I do about Kronke, I’m sure they get along very well and ultimately he’s going to own the team. The day will be sad when Arsenal fans stop singing him name


  38. Keith

    @Whiz: So Arsenal’s Concordia rules out over Spurs Audere?


  39. whizalen

    I want to throw in my, “TSE, you did a great job!” comment because when I saw who wrote it I was not expecting something both fair and balanced. Do you work for Fox News, sir?



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