Jonathan Blaustein: even the optimists are starting to get nervous

By Jonathan Blaustein

My wife is occasionally devious, though no one believes it, as she’s such a do-gooder- type. (Always helpful.) Jessie’s been a therapist for almost 20 years, and has spent much of her career working with abused teenagers.

So most people think she’s a saint.

They’re not wrong, of course, as she’s the best person I know. But as her husband, I’m privy to her deep secret, which is that she is not averse to manipulating situations to her advantage, or occasionally telling a white lie.

Just last night, in fact, she knew that Arsenal lost to Everton, but I had no clue. I’d taped the game on the DVR, and she accidentally encountered the score earlier in the day, but kept it from me, so I could experience the loss afresh.

She did the right thing, I guess. I certainly wouldn’t have watched the whole thing if I’d been aware of the shitty ending. I sat there on the couch, hoping, waiting, while she sat there, biting her tongue, holding back the truth.

Thanks, honey. I suppose.

It was one of those games that had a bad feeling about it ahead of time. Even though we looked amazing last week, I’ve learned in my 35 years of sports obsession that the hungrier team often wins the game, assuming talent is not a massive mismatch.

Everton had to break their bad run of form eventually, and Ronald Koeman told everyone who’d listen that he had Arsene Wenger’s number. He’s like Mourinho, if Jose became an albino Dutchman wearing a too-tight pea coat. (Yes, I’d love to see that. Photoshop anyone?)

Worry two came when Ozil missed that chance to go up 2–1. I said out loud, as you probably did, that things like that almost always come back to haunt a team. But then again, as the Gunners hadn’t lost in the league since the fucking SUMMER, I guess I also thought they’d find a way to win.

No such luck.

Tim does an amazing job covering the day to day of the club. And as far as analyzing stats, his forte, I’m about as capable as Donald Trump’s pick for (insert every cabinet choice he’s made so far.) What I bring to the table, every two weeks, is an attempt to look at the big picture.

To step back, if you will, and try to get a sense of the meta-story around Arsenal, and the league. As such, it’s a massive bummer that we drew Bayern Munich again in the Champions League. Sure, we can beat them, but this is the year we likely would have advanced against the Sevillas and Monacos of the world.

Bayern?

No matter how good AFC is this year, we’ll need a lot of luck, and when has Arsene had a surfeit of that? If he had luck, we wouldn’t have drawn Bayern. Right?

So thoughts of deep advancement in the tournament, commensurate with the quality of the squad, have been pushed aside faster than Eva Carneiro ran out to check on Eden Hazard that time he faked an injury. (Poor Eva. Life can be so unfair.)

Winning the EPL is still possible, of course, but by the time this article is published, there’s a good chance Chelsea will have a 6 point lead, which is not optimal. It looks like the hiding we gave them was all the excuse Antonio Conte needed to put Ivanovich and the other slowpokes out to pasture.

If Conte can run through the Euros with Graziano Pelle as his main striker, I do wonder when they’ll lose again, with a now-skinny- and-very- hungry Diego Costa banging in the goals. It’s weird how I hate Chelsea a bit less now because the Italian manager is so damn charming.

I’m optimistic in general, because Arsenal are clearly better now than they’ve been in years. But losing Mustafi just when we couldn’t afford to has such a whiff of Groundhog Day that I admit I’m starting to worry.

So far, my predictions have mostly been correct. I wrote that Oxlade-Chamberlain was about to take Iwobi’s spot, and that Ramsey would be the backup #10. I called, rather early, that Alexis had become Chile-Sanchez for Arsenal, and the league would feel his wrath.

Today, I’m sitting here wondering what will come next? It’s been so much fun, all the winning this autumn, but reading about the Ozil/Sanchez contract drama every day is starting to take the wind out of my sails.

With all the money in the club, surely they’ll just pay the men, as I recommended 2 months ago. But if Arsenal don’t win a major trophy this year, will the boys have faith in Arsene? It’s nerve-wracking, and I’m trying to tune it out, but as we just saw here in the US Election, it doesn’t take much to make a great story go horribly wrong. (No female President. Lunatic kleptocrat instead.)

Anyway, I think we’ll all have a better sense by next month. Make it through the Xmas season within 3 points of Chelsea, and I’ll feel much better. Watch that gap spread to 9 or 12, and it might be time to kidnap Alexis’s dogs so he’s stuck in London, no matter what.

24 Comments on Jonathan Blaustein: even the optimists are starting to get nervous

  1. Let’s forget about our Chelsea match for a moment and take a look at all the other matches we’ve had against the top 8 of the EPL and PSG. Against the latter, we clearly looked the weaker of the two squads. Back to the league, I’d argue we were also outplayed in our matches against Liverpool, United, Spurs, and Everton, and we struggled mightily, as usual, against Southampton (winning the league game and shitting then bed in the League Cup match). After reflecting on it this way, And considering that injuries aren’t becoming less of a problem and considering that Alexis probably won’t keep on his goal per game pace, we are likely going to be focused on just finishing top 4 yet again, a healthy distance between us and the league leaders. We’re lucky to be only 6 back at this point.

  2. Aside from Chelsea, we’ve been outplayed in every match against a top 8 side and our two matches against PSG. We are pretending, not contending, at this point. A win against City would be a step in the right direction. Otherwise, it could be like a few years ago when we finished miles behind Chelsea.

    • Precisely. Only the blinkered, with rose-tinted glasses fail to face up to that damning stat. There is no questioning Arsenal’s collective technical ability. However, as has been demonstrated quite emphatically the past ten years , Arsenal have neither the physical nor psychological fortitude to win against the better teams. They are a team of nice guys, reflective of the gentleman in charge, with neither the fight nor the will to win at all cost . Against the better teams and even against lesser lights with greater aggression, Arsenal have been found wanting. By Sunday evening Arsenal could be 9 points adrift of Chelsea and out of the league race. Heck they may be in a fight for the proverbial fourth place trophy.

    • Let’s say we played like PSG and they played like us and the result was the same. You’d be saying how useless we are and we need ‘world class’ players and better tactics. How we managed to let a game slip away. How we were lucky to not actually lose a game that we were dominant in.

      There’s always a negative way to look at things. It’s not hard to find. Arsenal have finished 4th, 3rd, and 2nd in the past 3 seasons. Beaten some big clubs along the way. Have shown some great moments of fortitude. Played some great football. Won two FA Cups. If you want to keep looking for criteria to exclude these as achievements, well that’s what you’re going to do.

      By mid January Arsenal could also be some 20 odd points behind Chelsea, and out of the FA Cup. What of it? Let’s all just give up now and then still complain all the way till May? Jeez. One defeat and it goes back to the same woe is me narrative.

      • Amen.

        I too found the Everton game hugely disheartening (especially coupled with Chelsea’s winning run, which is showing no signs of stopping), and I’m not at all satisfied with coming 4th every year.

        But this smug negativity (taking one of two forms: 1. over the top anger and hatred directed at Wenger and the team, or 2. know-it-all condescension towards anyone who suggests we ever had a chance of winning this year), that’s come out of the woodwork in the comments section from the last couple articles on here, after one (ONE!) bad game, is a little bit much, I think.

  3. So what happens if we again lose out to one of the “big teams(Leicester included)” and end up losing one or most probably both of them..or even worse trio(the man himself). Does the club die? does our love for the club die? does our love for football die?In one of your previous blogs you stated about death and the necessity of it. I think it has to occur eventually. The invincibles were phased out and so did fabregas, nasri and van persie. Our club replaced them with the likes of Benayoun(on loan…just imagine) Arteta and Per. Replacing flair and sheer talent with mettle and hard work. When we lost Van persie, the situation at Arsenal was lot worse than the day when we ultimately lose both of them and thats the beauty of the game.They all will be replaced by some one else and the show goes on as nothing happened and that is what I think he means when he repeats his now famous record of “Loook….you must give ussss some credit because we have been so consistent”

  4. What is clear is that most of us have pretty much entrenched positions on where Arsenal stands as a club. No amount of argument is likely to fill this chasm in the club’s support base. The only thing that can change the narrative radically is a major trophy (the premier league or the champions’ league). While some of us are perennial optimists, some are habitual pessimists. Happily for us, Tim has admitted to being bipolar in this regard – we all can therefore be accommodated in his blog! More seriously though, what is important is that differing views are expressed as articulately and respectfully as possible. We can’t all be wrong at the same time! Personally I’ve picked up a lot from views here that are diametrically opposed to mine. As Hegel once said, “Contradiction (often) moves (things) forward.”

  5. Yup. One loss, possibly due to a bad game but Everton were just as bad as we were, and all is doom and gloom. It’s a long ways to May my friends. Let’s see what Sunday brings.

  6. I’d have to agree with those saying we’ve been outplayed in many of our games this season. The difference is we’re getting results, however undeserved they may seem. We’ve shown fortitude to come from behind and we’ve been scoring quite a few crucial late goals. In seasons past, how often would we play a team off the pitch, only to come out with a draw or a loss? Obviously I’d like to play beautiful football and win every game, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather win ugly than look good losing. The Everton result was extremely frustrating, but on the whole, it’s our second league loss of the season. I don’t see any reason to give up on the entire season on the back of a poor result.

    Remember how shockingly average the last title winning United squad was? There were plenty of matches they didn’t “deserve” to win, but guess what? They did. They ground out results and we had to give that Dutch dickhead a guard of honor at the Emirates.

    Anyways, let’s try to keep a level head, this isn’t the end of our season and it certainly isn’t the end of the world.

  7. Just caught myself missing Wilshere. Carzola too. Both for the sake of Ozil who can only flourish when he has intelligent and technically gifted players around him.

    Ox is technically gifted but I don’t know about his playing intelligence. Walcott’s technical quality is not quite up there.

    Carzola’s positive effect on the team has a lot to do with his effect on Ozil. We need the kind of players that can raise Ozil for him to raise the team.

  8. Off topic but but will Ramsey ever be more than a squad player for us? I’m not talking about his quality or lack thereof but his injury record. Once he got injured from being rushed back from Euro 16, we were very careful in essentially giving him an offseason to recover and then building his fitness slowly and carefully. Since he’s been back, he’s not been an automatic starter. And yet he’s picked up a hamstring injury in training and been unavailable for us again. He’s clearly got an underlying issue and is prone to picking up muscular injuries.

    I actually rate him as a good player but our medical staff and/or training methods clearly are not conducive to keeping Ramsey fit and available. And I’m not necessarily blaming our medical staff, it could be that Ramsey is just one of those players who simply can’t withstand the physical rigors of top flight football. I’d be loathe to sell him but maybe it would be good for both Ramsey and Arsenal to sell him on.

  9. I watched most of the Everton game this week. I also watched Everton against Watford and the two performances, where they’re concerned, had nothing in common. Against Watford I thought Idrissa Gana was a passenger. He was subbed off early. Leighton Baines couldn’t handle Nordin Amrabat. And Funes Mori couldn’t handle Okako, who made himself look for one game like the second coming of Mo Diame against Arsenal. They got a couple of goals back but had been outplayed thoroughly.

    For the first 20 or so minutes before Alexis scored his deflected free kick, it was more of the same. They seemed to be stuck in first gear and never threatened our goal. After the goal, they moved higher and pressed us more and more vigorously. Had they not gotten a goal out of that, or had we managed to break their press even once, things might’ve been different. But this looked like a leggy Arsenal who couldn’t quite match the intensity of their hosts and their hosts intensity grew as they realized this and got more and more stuck in. Clattenberg, as usual, did us no favors, allowing Everton to get physical with us, and the result was fair in the end.

    From an X’s and O’s point of view, we needed one more technician in midfield. I believe this was a game suited to Iwobi’s penchant for dropping deep and helping link play, especially once their pressing started to get the better of us. I also think keeping the same XI from Stoke was risky and there were some heavy legs out there. Koeman makes it tough because his teams are comfortable dropping deep or pressing high, and so the needs of the game are dictated by the score; therefore it’s tough to second guess Arsene’s selections too much. He opted for quality and continuity, which is fine. However, his substitutions didn’t make a lot of sense to me. We were not getting crosses in from wide areas, but did profit from our pressing from time to time. Introducing Olivier Giroud into that mixture doesn’t help the side and indeed we were smothered as an attacking unit after his introduction.

    It was a tough fixture but a disappointing loss, and one where the manager didn’t make his best decisions in hindsight.

  10. Pony Eye, great observation. I never noticed that. It does beg the question though, Despite his gift/talent, is he(Ozil) really worth 200 grand a week? Those players should be able to dictate the pace for their team mates which he doesn’t. I will say yes if he can combine goal scoring with ‘assisting’ which he isn’t quite doing at the moment. I love him but not 200k much.

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