Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving (Except you, Arsenal)

I hope everyone is having a great holiday, despite Arsenal's best efforts to ruin it. The panic button shouldn't be pushed yet, but I understand if you're hunched over the button with your arm raised and glancing around with crazy eyes.

This Saturday against Aston Villa, the Gooners have the opportunity to start off the weekend in amazing fashion. And I'm not referring to the three points. Those will be nice of course, but I'm most referring to timing of it all.

It's a long weekend, it's the holidays, and Arsenal is the opening ceremony. An Arsenal win means the United-Blackburn match is exceedingly more enjoyable. You get to be that guy at the bar wearing Arsenal red, oooh-ing and aah-ing obnoxiously over every Blackburn miss. You can drink your beer with a conspicuous air of entitlement, talk loudly about how, "Wayne seems to have lost a step", and still leave happy after United win 2-nil. The day has just begun.

After an early lunch of leftover turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, the Serie A is there for dessert. AC Milan and their enigmatic all-stars face a tricky Sampdoria side to increase their lead atop the table. Then comes Juventus, or rather, the Milo Krasic show, on FSC. If you haven't tuned in to see Milo Krasic run circles around slow Serie A defenders, this is your chance. The Old Lady has a swagger about them lately, so lets hope they keep it up.

Before you drift off to sleep in the wonderful food comatose that can only occur this time of year, let Diego Forlan tuck you in. The World Cup's best player leads Atletico Madrid against Barcelona's younger brother, Espanyol. With rumors of a scoring drought, Doug E Fresh set the record straight against Osasuna, and ever since, he and Kun Aguero have been running trains on La Liga defenders.

On Sunday, Liverpool will beat Tottenham after Chelsea loses to Newcastle and the Rams, who are shockingly relevant this year, will pull out a nice road victory a mile in the air. You'll say goodbye to family, eat one more turkey sandwich for the road and wonder why you don't make 15 pound turkeys more often because the leftovers are so damn good. Unfortunately, it can't be replicated; it won't be same if it's not Nov 25th, but you knew that already.

None of these things will happen if Arsenal comes out and loses. So yeah, no pressure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Enter the Spin Zone

Here, drink this champagne, eat this hors d’oeuvre, and take a seat. I’m here to make things better.

Pay attention.

Let’s suppose that Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal are the three favorites to win the title this year. Each team has played 14 matches so far, 7 at home, and 7 away. Chelsea and Utd lead the Prem with 28 points, and Arsenal are not far behind with 26.

Of the fourteen games played so far, all three teams have 6 opponents in common. They are: Liverpool, Manchester Citeh, Sunderland, West Brom, West Ham, and Wolves.

Whether home or away, Chelsea, United, and Arsenal have all faced the aforementioned teams. Here are the points earned for their shared opponents:

Chelsea - 9 points
Man Utd – 12 pts
Arsenal – 11 pts

This is important because not all wins and losses are the same at this stage of the season. When Arsenal go to the Eastlands and smash on Manchester Citeh, those three points have more inherent value than Chelsea’s home beat down of West Brom. At this point of the campaign, all three points are not created equal.

It’s less fun to analyze the season this way, but it’s the truth. Would any Gooner feel confident at Old Trafford for the final game of the season, top of the table by one point? Oh by the way, 2nd place Chelsea have West Ham at home… didn’t think so.

The key, as always, is expectations. Every manager knows this. Ian Holloway rested ten of his starters because Blackpool cannot be expected to get points away at Aston Villa, not when four days later West Ham comes to visit. Mick McCarthy did the same thing against United last year. Five days later his rested team beat Burnley. Ian earned a draw for his next game.

Granted, these are managers trying to avoid relegation, not win the Premier League, but what is a “good results” and what is a “bad result” still holds. Take a look at last year. Recall that Chelsea won the league with 86 points, Man United finished with 85 points, and Arsenal third, with 75.

Of the 38 fixtures every team plays, 14 of them are exceedingly tricky: home or away games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool, Man Citeh, Tottenham (12) and also away games at Aston Villa, and Everton (2). Twelve plus two makes for 14 critical fixtures in any team’s title chase*. Wondering how critical? – Just ask Arsenal.

Last year Arsenal earned just 14 points from the “tricky” fixtures while Chelsea and Man-U earned 24 and 22 respectively. Ouch.

Put this in a different way. For the 24 matches that a team such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Man-U are expected to win, they earned 61, 62, and 63 points respectively. No big difference. Not nearly the 14, 24 and 22 spread from the crucial fixtures. You earn your paycheck for the twenty-four regular matches; you get paid for the other fourteen.

So how is this season shaping up? Obviously I wouldn’t have gone through all this trouble if it didn’t mean good news for Arsenal… right? Right?

Each team has conveniently played 4 of their 12 tricky games so far this season:

Arsenal – 7 points
Chelsea – 4 pts
Man Utd – 6 pts

With such a limited sample size it’s tough to jump to any major conclusions. We’ll know more about Arsenal very soon; 3 of our next 5 games are Villa away, United away and Chelsea at home.

One detail, however, does stand out; Chelsea is in worse shape than the table shows. They’re trailing their peers on points against the same opponent as well as crucial fixtures. And even though they’re still top, a smart Chelsea fan would be worried that they haven’t met the expectations of a championship caliber team.

You know, a team that blows a 2 goal-lead, at home, to their biggest rival - that kind of championship team. Ugh, I think I’m gonna be sick again.

*It’s really 12 for a top team since they don't play themselves.