COME AT ME, BRO!
Of all the other SBNation soccer blogs (and there are many that rate very, very highly), the lads over at The Short Fuse may be my favorite. Fiercely loyal, incredibly insightful, funny, and quite poetic in their musings, the Gunners fans are definitely some that are difficult to hate... or at least more difficult to hate than those tossers over at Sunderland. I had the honor and privilege of chatting with their wonderful managing editor, Ted Harwood, in anticipation of Monday's incredibly important fixture.
1. After a slow and tumultuous start to the season, Arsenal has had an amazing run of form. What do you think lit the fire under the Gunners, so to speak? How has the recent stretch of brilliance got you thinking about where Arsenal will finish this season?
It is difficult to pinpoint one thing that has seen Arsenal improve dramatically over the past few games, but a couple of factors do stand out. One is the growing understanding between the back four, who are now more or less as everyone thought they should be at the start of the year (Sagna-Koscielny-Vermaelen-Gibbs). While they've still made some mistakes at times (and let's not talk about Milan away), they appear to have an understanding brewing again, which, along with the better play of Alex Song, has shored up Arsenal's defending a bit.
Another factor is Tomas Rosicky. Aaron Ramsey wore out a bit in January, and Rosicky stepped in after the Welshman picked up an injury, and I think everyone is seeing the "real" Rosicky now. He never stops running, he presses very well, and he is Arsenal's most dangerous vertical passer. He also seems to have an undeniable will to win, which is hard to say with any certainty, but he plays as if his shoes are on fire and he's really in a good patch of form.
That, plus, well, Robin van Persie.
More wonderful insight into the mind of the enemy after the jump.
2. What are your thoughts on the miracle-that-wasn't? I must say that Tuesday's performance was absolutely cracker from your boys, and I thought for a second that it might actually happen. How do you feel about Arsenal's recent losses in the Champions League and FA Cup (damn you, Sunderland!)?
I thought Arsenal would win the game, but I didn't think they'd get to 3-0 as fast as they did. They had nothing to lose, and this team seems to play best when in that position. I was thrilled with the frist half, and I was happy to see the squad at least put some of the doubts behind them again and show the world what they're really capable of. I'm bummed that Arsenal couldn't advance in either competition, obviously, but the one positive is that they can concentrate fully on the league now.
3. What in the world just happened with Lukas Podolski!?! How do you think Wenger managed to swing that in the early stages of March, and what kind of impact do you expect him to next year?
It appears that Arsenal worked out some kind of deal to sign him in the summer, but I'm waiting to see. I really don't know what Wenger did, especially since he always talks about respecting other clubs, so that also gives me pause. Assuming it happens--which isn't confirmed yet--I think Podolski offers a viable alternative to van Persie, whom Arsenal almost never can afford to rest, right now. It also allows for a bit more tactical flexibility, as Arsenal could deploy Podolski on the right or left of a 4-3-3, or use him in combination with van Persie in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2. He's better than Chamakh or Park at this point, so it improves the team.
4. Speaking of Wenger, what do you think about his season and place with Arsenal so far? Pocket-finding mockery aside, it appears that the man is a bit of a miracle worker. So far, Arsenal are an incredible +22 million in transfers, and yet you're still in 4th place, on FIRE, and have some incredible players (Bendtner, Frimpong, Arshvin) out on loan.
I wish he could manage forever. It's been hard at times this year not to feel really down about the club and Wenger, but to see where the team is right now--four points from third with a game in hand, considering that they've started nine different fullbacks this year, considering that Jack Wilshere has been missing all year, considering that Thomas Vermaelen was gone for a long time, as was Bacary Sagna--it's great to see the club where they are. A more stable offseason this summer should help even more, as Wenger will be able to take an undistracted look at the state of the squad, which he must surely have a grip on now. I think it was always going to take some time to see what the team would look like without Fabregas and Nasri, and now he knows. The one thing that clouds his vision the most, perhaps, is his loyalty to players, which may mean he hangs on to players who need to move for too long, but it's a relatively small gripe.
5. Of all your young stars, and you've got a litany, who do you think will have the most impact on Arsenal's future? Between Oxlade-Chamberlain, Miyaichi (who I rate the highest, personally), Wilshere, Walcott, and Szezesny, Arsenal looks amazingly stacked for the next ten years or so. Bring in some defenders, and I don't see how the league will cope.
I think Wilshere and Chamberlain have the most promise, personally, but I'm excited about most of Arsenal's young players, really. I have a particularly crazy love for Ryo, who really does look fearless and fast as lightning at times. Walcott is maybe a known quantity at this point, but he's still very young. Francis Coquelin, when he's played this year, looks really composed and is promising as a deeper center mid. I think it's important, too, to remember that Sagna and Mertesacker are 27, and Vermaelen and Koscielny are 26--not the oldest, by defender standards. Szczesny could keep goal for Arsenal for the next 15-20 years. It really is a promising setup, and hopefully Wilshere and Chamberlain can lead the team forward whenever they both get a chance to combine forces.
6. Along the same lines, do you think that Wenger and Co's long term investment strategy has been worth this soon-to-be seven year drought in silverware? When and where do you think Arsenal's next trophy is coming?
Setting aside the whole debate about whether trophies are the be-all and end-all of football, I think the stadium was a must-do, in some ways, but the timing of it was unlucky, given the housing collapse. In the long run, assuming the club invests its new revenues properly and figures out how to get some better commercial revenue streams set up, I think it will be worth the drought. I'm not sure that the drought has been because of the economics, though, so much as just bad luck and poor play at crucial moments. If the current team brings in one or two more pieces and stays healthy, the next trophy shouldn't be far off. But spending is no guarantee, either.
7. Finally, a prediction for the match, my good man?
It's going to be tough, and I think both teams have the quality to score a bit. As Arsenal are at home, though, I think it'll be 2-1 to the Gunners, or maybe even 3-2.