Arsenal Related Bipolar Disorder

If aliens were to come to earth the first thing I’d say is “please don’t eat us!” and if they didn’t eat us I’d ask if they could help me understand Charles Sanders Peirce. And if they granted me that understanding I would spend the rest of my days as a monk, traveling from college campus to college campus passing on their wisdom to 4th years struggling to finish their semiotics class.

That Charles Peirce joke is hacky. Every Liberal Studies major has made or heard that joke. Not my particular form but the basic joke is “Charles Peirce is hard to understand.” I wonder if the joke itself is a representamen of the sign that I am a Liberal Studies major. Or is it a representamen of me saying “I’m smart!”? I suppose it’s up to the interpretant.

At this point, we can stop the blog and everyone can have a seat, sip on a tincture of laudanum, and fan themselves in the parlor.  That opening paragraph has literally nothing to do with the rest of this blog.

If aliens were to come to earth the first thing I would want to know is how but I’m sure that their answer would be beyond my comprehension. So, instead, I’d probably ask something like “can you please explain why I have Arsenal induced bipolar disorder?”

How can I go from one day feeling like Wilshere’s Arsenal career is over to the next day thinking that Wilshere will be like the 6 Million Dollar Man and Bournemouth will rebuild him stronger, faster, better! And then the next day I’ll think about Wilshere and be like ‘yeah, but… if he gets good again, where is he going to play? Not in the Ozil role. So, just a replacement for Cazorla? Is he good enough to do that? Can he regain the form he had when he was 19 and bossed the midfield against Barcelona? Why do I think these days are gone for him?’

I can do this all day.

For example, look at our three signings. On the one hand, I am excited to see Arsenal finally spending some money and getting in three players in much-needed positions. Doubling down on that positivity, Mustafi is a German international and Xhaka is one of the most cultured center mids in world football. Meanwhile, I also believe that Lucas will get Arsenal at least 15 goals this season. He might not be the kind of player who is going to blow up the bunkered defenses Arsenal face but once Arsenal have the lead, or on every corner, you can count on him to give opposition defenders brown trousers. With Walcott, Alexis, Iwobi, and Giroud, Perez adds depth to Arsenal’s attack.

On the other hand… we had to spend that £100m, that was the minimum that we needed to spend to rebuild the team after Arteta’s legs left and after Wenger benched Mertesacker* and simultaneously discovered that Gabriel isn’t up to the task of being Arsenal’s full time starting center half. Most of the money spent this summer was just filling massive holes and if we look at the squad logically, right now, we have to see some familiar problems.

  1. Who will replace Cazorla when he gets injured this year?
  2. Who will replace Özil when he gets injured this year?
  3. Who will replace Xhaka when he gets injured this year?
  4. Who will replace Koscielny when he gets injured this year?
  5. Who will replace Giroud when he gets injured/goes through one of his famous dry spells?

The answer to questions 1 to 3 is, of course, Elneny, Ramsey, and Coquelin. But that answer begs another question, are they actually good enough? And yet another question, how do they all play together?

I think they are actually good enough. It’s the second question that starts up the depressing side of my Arsenal Bipolar Disorder.

Even assuming Ramsey stays fit for more than a few games at a time we saw that trio start against Liverpool and it was a disaster. Don’t even try to sugar coat it. Elneny and Ramsey abandoned their defensive duties and Liverpool cut poor Coquelin to shreds. The whole midfield dynamic in that match was appaling: no one could collect the ball under pressure from Liverpool, no one could get the ball forward, spaces were simply abandoned, triangles were straight lines with two sides, and even before Liverpool scored their fourth it felt like Arsenal were in for another one of those 8-2 losses. It’s no surprise that when Arsene brought in Xhaka and Cazorla the game opened up and we nearly pulled off an amazing comeback.

I can already hear the responses… “It’s early in the season, Tim. Wenger didn’t have much time to work with these guys. It’s just one game. This is totally unfair.”

Wait a minute, though. Wenger has had Elneny in training every day for the last six months. He’s had Coquelin for two years. And Ramsey has been an Arsenal player since he was 18 years old. These aren’t new players. The Arsenal system isn’t insanely complex. And the Liverpool press is not insanely complex either. This isn’t Pep Guardiola level football, folks. Moreover, these are all 25-year-old professional footballers. Did they go away this summer and forget how to play football?

After the match, Wenger said something that I found literally incredible.

The second one is that physically we are not capable of maintaining the level, because not all the players have the same level of preparation. Maybe we lacked a bit of experience but if you look well at the goals, I don’t think it was necessarily the inexperienced players that cost us the goals today.


The Liverpool goals were scored in the 18 minutes after half-time. That “same level of preparation” stuff followed a comment about not getting all the players back in time from Euros. But it wasn’t Ramsey and Alexis who struggled to put in a shift closing down the Liverpool midfield, it was Elneny and Coquelin.

But that whole comment is pretty poor from the manager. He knows that it was a lack of organization throughout the squad that cost those three goals. So, I actually, don’t blame the players. I think Wenger is to blame for the poor preparation, lack of organization, and for the poor fitness of Elneny and whomever else he is deciding to say lacked the fitness to play for 63 minutes**.

The positive side of me says that Ramsey, Elneny, and Coquelin are fine players. They are more than capable backups in the Arsenal system. The question then isn’t “can they” but rather “can Wenger get them ready to play together if need be?”

It’s like this. Every day. Every single time I think about Arsenal I get bipolar thoughts. It’s enough to drive a man to read Peirce.


*After the 1-0 loss to Chelsea on January 24th, in which Mertesacker was handed a red card he made just six Premier League appearances and was on the bench as an unused sub seven times. That’s Arsenal’s captain being dropped.
**Ramsey??? Because if that’s who that comment is targeted toward, holy crap.


  1. I have a serious question about Wenger:

    He seems to have a reputation in world football as a great coach – as in a great developer of players. They say he loves to take training sessions himself, and that he won’t let anyone else do it.

    But in player interviews, the impression that I get is much more “hands-off.”

    For example, the most recent Xhaka interview, he says “He’s not a coach who speaks to you every day. Wenger has spoken to me two or three times.”

    My point is, I’m skeptical at this idea that Wenger is some sort of coaching genius, since the team seems so disorganized. I’m also becoming quite skeptical that he a great developer, since it seems like so many great talents stall rather than blossom, at least recently (Wilshere, Ox, and Walcott spring to mind).

    Doesn’t seem like a whole lot of value-added for the salary that Arsenal pays him.

    1. I don’t think Walcott was ever a “great talent,” but your point still stands.

      On the article, the potentially problematic nature of the Coquelin-Elneny-Ramsey combo highlights why I STILL think it’s crazy that we let Wilshere go without a break clause in his contract: we’re one “creative” player light. (I don’t count Ramsey as a true creative player anymore (I did when he was younger, but…), because his game lacks subtlety and because, while he’s certainly talented enough to do better, his first touch and short passing are sometimes inexplicably sloppy.) If Ozil and Santi both get injured together, we’re in trouble, and if Xhaka does too, we’re in even worse trouble. And this is despite the fact that I rate our midfield backups, as you do. Of course, it probably is unlikely that all three of them will get injured together for any length of time, but then again, this is Arsenal. Last year if any team in the league had a squad that shouldn’t have been caught short of creativity, it was ours (and City’s), but Jack and Rosicky picked up epically long injuries before the season even started, and we paid for that in Dec-Feb.
      One possible half-solution is to play Iwobi in the center in that situation (as a 10, or even an 8 with Ramsey slightly ahead of him), or else to trust the Jeff and be ok with his novice mistakes as he grows into the role (hopefully). I also think that, while he was poor on the day against Liverpool, Elneny will be better defensively in the future (he’s still relatively new to the league, after all).

    2. I too wondered about the Xhaka comment regarding amount of times speaking to Wenger. Perhaps he’s only counting proper conversations, not being shouted at on a training field?

      As for looking disorganised, hasn’t Wenger always talked about giving the players freedom to express themselves? When it works its great and when it doesn’t its bad but for me that’s one of the things I love about Arsenal.

      Finally on player development, all three of those players have had careers defined by injuries so their development is likely to have been stunted somewhat.

  2. Tim, you have this awful habit of depressing me for all the right reasons. Stop, please. We 35 games left to go and if you’re going to be all Mr. Spock on us it’s going to make for a long season dude.

  3. Liverpool’s gegenpress may not be complex, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to stop. It’s worth reiterating the idea behind gegenpress, that is to win the ball back in transition, while still high up the pitch and your opponent has lost shape.

    By pressing the ball and denying the centre of the pitch, you either force the ball wide where the byline forms an extra defender or force a risky pass through the middle where you can intercept.

    Teams have been able to beat Liverpool by matching them for work rate and counterpressing, which we did reasonably effectively in the first half. That we weren’t able to maintain this is probably what Arsene was driving at when he said we weren’t physically ready.

    Secondly, you can break the gegenpress with talented dribblers, with ‘eye of the needle’ passers and players who are constantly moving into positions to receive those passes.

    When you think of the players who can dribble, thread the needle, or are clever in their positioning and diligent in showing for ball, how often would you think Ramsey, Elneny and Coquelin?

    Missing Cazorla, Ozil, Xhaka and marooning Alexis up from was significant here. And as competent as Ram/El/Coq may be, there simply are no replacements in the squad for the specialist skill sets of those four.

    Thirdly, how often have those three played as a trio? I’m pretty sure never. Tactically they were all over the place, Coquelin and Elneny miles apart, not deep enough and not dovetailing as a pair, Ramsey somewhere off trying to be a second striker instead of coming to get the ball.

    They were unprepared, both to play as a unit and to counteract Liverpool’s tactics and I think it clearly showed.

    You know improvisational freeform jazz is great, but first you have to master your instrument and understand the fundamentals of music. Talent helps too.

  4. With our team, with our setup, Ramsey plays on the right, or he doesn’t play at all.

    It’s not a glamour position, but he can get forward, put a shift in and score from there.

    If Santi and Ozil are both injured, I think we are better off with Iwobi and Elbeny.

    Not a popular position. I’ll take my abuse off the air.

  5. For a second I thought you said it’s bad enough to drive you to read Piers. As in Morgan. Phew.

    I see you always qualifying your statement that Per was dropped. It’s not in any way controversial. It’s clear he wasn’t making the first team ahead of Gabriel. For whatever reason.

    Gabriel is weird. I don’t know what it is. He’s got all the tools to be a Keown type defender, but he just doesn’t seem to know how to use them. He’s the Gervinho of defenders. So far at least.. I still think there’s a decent to good defender in there, but Mustafi could be a great signing if he can bring the positioning and passing of Per with Gabriel’s foot speed and feisty nature.

    Hmmm.. Ramsey. Could be about him. There have been a fair few comments from Wenger about Ramsey needing to do more for the team. Words to that effect without being so blunt of course. But Ramsey doesn’t seem to listen. I think the plan for him is to play next to Xhaka and hope it brings out the 13-14 season Ramsey again. But if he’s not going to be disciplined then I guess he’ll be Ozil’s backup, and Cazorla does well in either role.

    1. I don’t like getting on players backs but the Ramsey situation does confuse me sometimes.

      Like both yourself and Tim say, it does seem like his penchant for bombing forward at the expense of his defensive duties or team shape is something that Arsene has commented critically on before. Sometimes it’s difficult to know if Arsene is singling him out specifically but on at least one occasion in the recent past he seemed about as publicly critical of Ramsey as he ever gets towards any player. It does seem like it’s a part of Ramsey’s game that Arsene feels needs work.

      What confuses me is, if that’s the case, why Arsene seems to just accept it as something he can point out to Ramsey but ultimately do little about? Ramsey doesn’t seem to face any repercussions for his positional indiscipline and he has never come out with any statements regarding how he has to learn to temper his forward forays for the good of the team.

      I can understand not wanting to coach too much of Ramsey’s natural instincts out of him, and I don’t believe Arsene is a weak coach, but why is it allowed to be a fairly consistent issue, at least amongst fans?

  6. The Gabriel issue is a real poser. He reminds me more of the Ox than Gervinho. His talent is very obvious, but his error rate is really holding him back. I really hope he can deliver this season. The language excuse is wearing thin. I think patience is running out and he will need to compete with Mustafi.

  7. The game this weekend will give us a clearer picture of what direction we are going to head in this season. Southampton beat us twice last season, and I know the 4-0 score was helped by shabby refereeing, but how we stand up to pressure this Saturday will be telling, IMH

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