A guest post from our very own Finsbury.
Time itself will be altered this weekend. Suddenly the early evenings will be dark. Winter is coming. And the Arsenal head to the far North, towards the wall and the very verge of Scotland for their visit to Sunderland.
What do I know of distant Sunderland? Not a lot. There was an infamous VHS edit of the Star Wars trilogy that was doing the rounds in the nineties. Produced by some of the more humane people who have worked for the Bleeb, who were from Newcastle. This science fiction masterpiece was re-dubbed into Geordie with a new script. And most of my knowledge of Sunderland comes from this movie. Mos Eisley cantina, the ancient sarlaac pit, all the important stuff. Enough about the town, what about the football club?
Poyet appears to be less repulsive then most of players who have played for the Gazprom Fulham franchise it I could be wrong. Does anyone actually know what happened when he left Brighton? What happend to the walls of that dressing room? How comes no one ever tells me the good stuff? Shades of Mackay and Mr. ‘Vincent’ Tan with the PR war in the aftermath. I could drift off into another tangent here on events involving the entertaining gentleman from Singapore and the conduct of the LMA and the baying and bigoted press pack after Mackay was sacked. But I won’t. There’s no need. We all know the score.
Gus Poyet is at Sunderland now, and the fans up there must be hopefully happier after he replaced a manager who did not represent the traditional values and character of that football club. Sounds like an interesting club to me. A proper football club. The last bauble for the fans up there to celebrate was the FA Cup in 1973. Since then like the equally admirable Southampton they have paid for and built their own stadium (I think). And it also cost them a relegation and promotion.
Their nickname is the Black Cats, and interestingly for fans of the Arsenal this name comes from the Black Cat Battery, an old artillery unit. The Sunderland FC website tells us that:
“The link between Sunderland AFC and the black cat stems originally from a gun battery in 1805 on the River Wear which was renamed the ‘Black Cat’ battery after the men manning the station heard a mysterious miaow from a wailing black cat.
A hundred years later in 1905, a black cat was pictured sitting on a football next to Chairman FW Taylor and three years later a black cat featured on a team photograph…
…Sunderland’s match programmes of the 1930’s often featured black cats on their covers, but the place of the black cat in Sunderland folklore was sealed when a black kitten owned by twelve-year-old Billy Morris was believed to bring Sunderland luck as it sat in his pocket at Wembley throughout the 1937 FA Cup Final when Sunderland came from behind to beat Preston 3-1.”
It’s hard not to like such a cool football club. They appear to share many things off the pitch with the good old Arsenal. I’m glad for their fans that they now have a manager who is not openly against the traditional values of their club. I can’t recall those fans making idiots of themselves in front of the watching world like fans of Blackburn Rovers and others, I mention no names, when upset. A little bit of class.
Unfortunately after such a big defeat the Sunderland players will have to try and perform in front of those fans. Fair to say that Gus will probably opt for some rotational fouling and some OTT hacking. They can also play, beating a faltering Gazprom in Fulham last season (In the opinion of quite a few Gazprom fans I have spoken to, Mourinho blew the title last year). Fletcher, he knows how to sniff out a goal. Arsenal were also alleged to have had a look at Wickham. Then there is Johnson, another wide player who has simply highlighted over the years for the AAAA how good a player Walcott has been already, whilst they were groaning at the player. Another refugee who escaped from Abu Dhabi City, Rodwell is in the squad and might play. And of course they have Donny Vito in goal who up until last week was living the dream after graduating from the Royal Academy. Seb Larsson is another graduate who has gone on to have a good career at the top level. We note that the AAAA try their disingenuous best to ignore the success of all these graduates. But there they are! As with almost all squads in the PL these days they’re not a bad set of players, and I think it’s safe to say that they’ll play better then last week.
How about the Arsenal? Well. There’s been a lot of talk. As usual. About this, about that, but how much talk has there been about the actual football? We witnessed uber fans and gallant podcastateers knocking Özil after a game where he clearly picked up a knock, obvious for those watching on the telly. It seems to me that unless they were stuck behind a column in Fulham that they weren’t paying attention to the football. And we can see the same thing from people looking at average position charts after recent games. Charts that confuse themselves because players swap wings etc. I can’t understand why anyone would ignore the football and indulge in such lame confirmation bias. The football is much more fun.
I thought the first half of the first half in Belgium was decent from the Arsenal. Variation in the rhythms, tempo and the range of the passing looked good even without Arteta. It was an interesting game of football. But I haven’t watched the whole game again, I’ve watched the last fifteen minutes,and then the last five minutes again. Once or twice. And this is the thought that occurred to me:
Whatever is going on, it’s not so different to last season. I apologise again if that is a boring if honest observation. No memes to hang your hat on I’m afraid. I guess that the ‘gameplan’ (you can tell I’m an expert) is the same as it was. Try to control the game, tire out the opponent whilst trying to get a goal, and then to use their greater fitness to kill off the opposition in the last third of the game. That’s how those results in that run of results last season including all those uber-efficient 2-0’s were achieved.
Anderlecht did not so much switch off, they ran out of juice chasing the ‘arc of frustration’ as we have seen with other teams. In the end they were the ones frustrated. I can’t comment on the formation as I’m not sure what the game to game changes are. Not sure i would trust people to describe the formation when they can’t even tell when a player is hobbling. I once read a light hearted comment: “It’s not the tactics, it’s the players. Stupid.” And I’m happy to admit that it made me think twice.
The spine during last season was the CB pair, the midfield pair of Arteta and Ramsey, Özil and up top Giroud. As the interesting people tell us it’s all about the combinations.
Koscielny as you all know is my favourite defender ( he is quick!), the defender I used to imagine myself playing like some years ago (please don’t laugh). He should’ve taken the summer off. He already knew of this niggle and he’d already lost his starting place for France after the red mist descended in Ukraine, of all places – http://youtu.be/jyCWcl2tjIE – Koscielny seems to have that sixth sense off the pitch as well as on it.
Prolonged rest is the only hope of nipping the danger to those tendons in the bud, but he has already played and trained through the WC/Summer. He could be out till the new year. When you put your body on line game after game like Koscielny does such injuries are a possibility. I guess that he won’t play as long as Per will in his career. I also have the strong impression that the club learnt a lot about such tendon problems for athletes with Rosicky. Hopefully he’ll be ok after a rest.
At the back I’d be happy to see both nineteen year olds start, they are both very quick, and I can’t deny it, I love to see quick players. Bellerin got the appreciation from the home support. But there are other considerations, I think it’ll be the same back four as the last game. Maybe they’ll rotate the two rookies over the next month? Ian has been a reliable scout for us here at PA, and I’d also be happy to see Hayden play. He looked very promising against the guy who has replaced Balotelli for Italy, against Southampton. Manolas? Meh.
The key player who has been missing for me from all those listed above from last season’s spine has been the captain. I don’t need to explain to people who’ve been watching Arsenal these past three years why that is. Let’s just remember that a month or so ago that John Gregory a former manager at the top level said that Arteta was his pick from this (he must have meant last years’) squad.
Wilshere’s suspension may have come at a useful moment, his good form dipped these past two games. So we might see a Flam-teta midfield with Ramsey who is also coming back to fitness. Or something else? Chamberlain in CM with one of Plodders or Campbell coming in or maybe both if Welbeck needs a little bit of rotation or has a niggle. Rosicky? In spite of all these injuries there are options. Accurate and interesting referee previews are available, you know where to look if you like.
Playing Anderlecht away was probably good preparation for this match. I hope it’s as interesting a game and the result makes us smile again.