Sunday will mark the first time in the 2016/17 campaign that Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal go head to head on the pitch. With Arsenal sitting in second at 23 points and Spurs in fifth at 20 points, the stakes are that much higher besides the standard bragging rights for the fixture. Ahead of Sunday’s match, I invited pdb from The Short Fuse over to talk about Arsenal’s season, the fixture, and make WWE references that require a special guest appearance.
CFC: I watched Mesut Ozil systematically end the lives of two Ludogorets defenders and their keeper on Tuesday. Is he the most irreplaceable player Arsenal have right now?
TSF: As a Mariner fan, there was a slogan we used during the prime years of Felix Hernandez: "Felix is ours and you can't have him". I feel the same way about Mesut Özil. There are people who criticize his perceived tendency to drift in and out of games; do not listen to these people, because they eat crayons. Özil is indispensable and amazing and if all you ever do is watch the ball, you miss 75% of what he does; spend some time focusing on watching him and you'll come away in as much awe as we all do every week.
Arsene Wenger has been around for ages now, and he was even linked to the England job. I know I can insert the whole #WengerOut joke here, but honestly: Do you want him to keep going at Arsenal or would it not be a bad thing if he finally moved on?
I have followed Arsenal since before he was manager. I have repeatedly said during Wenger's tenure that I love him more than I love at least one of my parents. That said, I've never been unaware of his blind spots - his playing strategy rarely has a plan B if his plan A doesn't work, his substitutions are sometimes bizarre and always predictable time-wise (never before the 70th minute!), and he has his own blind spots for certain players, which I will get into in a subsequent answer.
But despite all that, I defended him against #WENGEROUTers for years, and did so happily. However, in the last few seasons, I have kind of come to the conclusion that I would like Wenger to leave at the end of this season - not acrimoniously, but willingly. I believe that the things that made Wenger a revolutionary in the 90's aren't enough any more, and Wenger hasn't evolved his thinking much. He's still good; it's just that everyone else has gotten good too, and he is no longer AS good, if that distinction makes sense.
I am also not obsessed with the Arsenal "trophy drought" - I'm one who wants my team to be in the best position to win a title every year, and if they win it's a bonus. Arsenal have never finished lower than fourth under Arsene Wenger, so the results are there, for me. It's just that I believe Arsene Wenger's management style (which, briefly, is "get smart players, give them the independence on the pitch to do things smartly") isn't necessarily getting the best out of his players and I'd like to see a manager come in and push the team a little more.
That said, the day he does leave I will probably cry.
Be honest with me, here: Do you guys have a mad-libs style article for Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere injuries? If you don’t, can we make one for you?
We really should. I think most of us on staff have essentially written off Jack Wilshere at this point - he's on loan at Bournemouth, and while none of us wish him ill, I think we're all just glad he's somewhere else. He's very much the "million dollar talent and five cent head" kind of player, who seems perfectly content at Bournemouth, so hopefully he'll stay there.
Ramsey, on the other hand...man, I wish he could stay healthy. He's so good! But every time he gets on a run of form, some random thing happens, and he's out for a month.
Arsenal spent £34m on Granit Xhaka, yet it seems like he isn’t even a nailed on starter. What’s going on with him?
Remember up there when I was talking about Arsene Wenger's blind spots? One of them is Francis Coquelin. Wenger will never not play Francis Coquelin, and it's infuriating - Coq would be a decent player in the right system, but in Arsenal's system, he is just not what that midfield needs. He completes a sh*t-ton of passes , but they're usually short, sideways passes that don't advance the play, and he's been given a license to roam that pulls him out of position so much it forces the other midfielders and the defenders to cover the space where he should be when he does roam.
It's gotten to the point where I can't even mention his name on TSF because we're accused of a heavy bias - and people aren't wrong about that bias. I don't like him, I want him gone, and I want Xhaka - a player who plays a position Arsenal fans (even fans of Coquelin) have been howling about the team needing an upgrade at for years - to take over that job full time. But for whatever reason, Arsene doesn't want to make that move.
You guys have to be excited for CFC Takeover 2: Still No Respect, right? :D
I work in IT, and I'm happy at my job. I have a LinkedIn profile, though, because in IT, that's what you do. Every day for the last two weeks, the same recruiter has called me, multiple times a day, about a job he's "really excited to share with me". I never answer the phone, he always leaves a message, I never respond, and he never gets the hint. I am almost to the point where I want to put my phone on the ground and smash it with my shoe.
Which is also how excited I am that CFC is taking over TSF. Again.
(Seriously, though, two things: you all were hilarious last year and I can't wait to see what happens this year, and the fundraising you did was amazing and I can't thank those of you who also donated to my charity enough as well.)
On a scale of Salvatore Sincere to John Cena, how important is Alexis Sanchez to your attack?
Hey guys, it’s The Short Fuse’s other manager, Thomas. I’m cashing in my Money in the Bank on this one. It’s a toughie, honestly. Alexis is definitely one of the focal points of the attack – along, obviously, with Mesut Özil – and yeah, he’s really important. But even beside Özil there are other good players in there. Theo Walcott’s been resurgent this year on the right side, and Alex Iwobi looks like a pretty fair country ballplayer on the left. Olivier Giroud’s never going to score 40 goals in a season, but he’s a good striker nonetheless. Point is, Alexis is great, but if he got It’s a Wonderful Life’d it’s not like the team would totally cease to exist. It’d be worse, but not unsalvageable.
I think I’d say Alexis is Seth Rollins. He’s not the best player in the team, but he’s close. He’s not irreplaceable, but when he’s not there you certainly notice it (seriously, ask Sean how many times I said "I miss Seth Rollins" after he had to vacate the title when he got injured). [Author’s Note: I lost count at about 50 times. Seth is the best.]
Also, they’re both ripped almost to the point of being too much to look at with the naked eye. Seth’s hair is wetter, though.
[hits Dustin with steel chair]
Are you mentally prepared for Harry Kane to make his triumphant return in the 65th minute and score a brace to win on Sunday?
My other soccer love is the Portland Timbers, who as you may or may not know have a particularly salty rivalry with the Seattle Sounders. Problem is, as a Timbers fan, I'm on the short side of that rivalry more often than not, so I have some window into what it's like to be a Spurs fan as far as rivalry games go. Anyway, in 2014, the Timbers puked up a 4-1 lead to draw with the Sounders 4-4, with Clint Dempsey scoring two goals in two minutes at the death to steal the draw. I didn't get over those two dropped points for like a month.
I expect that if Harry Kane does the same thing it'll feel about like that.
Here's something we can both agree with: How great is the full out meltdown of West Ham right now?
The only way it could possibly be better is if Harry Redknapp were still in charge while it was happening.
How do you see Arsenal lining up on Sunday?
Hopefully on the pitch. Oh wait, no, that's not what you meant. Well, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, and Theo Walcott are all serious doubts, with Wenger saying Walcott is "closest of the three" to making a return. Wenger has also expressed some concern over Granit Xhaka's temperament in a spiky derby like this, which tells me he's probably not going to start even though I wish he would.
So, without those three, it looks like it might be something like
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Elneny; Walcott, Özil, Iwobi; Sanchez
As easy as it would be to re-run the Walcott photo of him holding up a 2-0 scoreline while being carted off and call it good, that's not what I'm gonna do. Instead, I'm going to say that it will be 3-1 Arsenal, with Özil, Alexis, and super-sub Giroud scoring.
As always, we want to thank both pdb and Thomas for joining us for Know Your Opponent. I sat down with pdb over on The Short Fuse for their own Q&A so be sure to check it out when you get the chance.