Weekend Preview: Outworked by Burnley and The Arsenal Hulliday Party

Greetings, well wishes, salutations and a hearty Welcome Back to you all. Quite a bit has gone down since I last wrote, and the Arsenal outlook in this tempestuous season has shifted yet again in the interim. I think we'd all do with a bit of consistency, but what fun would that be, eh?

After last weekend threw us right back into the thick of the title race, a slate of midweek games has seen Arsenal make that title challenge much more difficult for us. It's the same old story of course, it's this Arsenal team's modus operandi: put yourselves in dire circumstances, unexpectedly pull yourselves out, rinse and repeat. Since we've not been entirely eliminated from contention by the sport media just yet, I would almost expect us to blow it again this week against Hull, just to make things that much more difficult and crush any lingering spirit in the fans.

After a glorious and all-important win put us 6 points off of first-place Chelsea with a match in hand against Bolton, I think we were all flying rather high, considering our next two matches were against premier league minnows Burnley and Hull, so we're were looking at a good chance to keep pace or possibly make up points against Chavs and United.

Apparently no one told Burnley the plan. After a blistering start which saw us score within the first 15 minutes for the first time this season (despite twice scoring 6 in a game) on a beautiful finish from Cesc Fabregas, and a near-miss from Arshavin that ricocheted off the far post, we seemed to just lay back. It wasn't long afterward that Burnley were given a clear penalty when Vermaelen clearly made contact with Bikey in the box, and Alexander converted over the catastrophic Almunia.

Fabregas and Arshavin remained seemingly the only players with any engine in the side as most everyone else seemed to fall asleep. Diaby, back from injury, was active if unimpressive (although not nearly as bad as he has been), Nasri disappeared for stretches and Theo Walcott continued to show us why he's now more Francis Jeffers than Thierry Henry. Alex Song put in his usual fine shift, but was kept plenty busy as the back four were all over the place. Gallas and Vermaelen again dangerously spent too much time going forward and not enough time minding their defensive responsibilities, while Silvestre's turn at left fullback was again as unbalanced as Anne Heche on a vicodin and red wine bender. Sagna failed to impress but did work hard and run all over the pitch, often being let down by a lack of support from Theo, and later Eduardo.

Shortly before the end of the first half, Cesc came off, and not one of us watching was clear on the reason why; some speculated it was part of a new "tough love" strategy from Wenger, others claimed it was because he assumed we could win the match without him, and I even heard some mention it was a feigned injury so that he could be kept from playing for Catalunya in a friendly. While this is a ridiculous sentiment, can someone please let me know why Spain has so many countries within itself popping up? I know Catalunya is historically a region very different from Castille and Catalans don't speak Castillian Spanish, but this has been one country for hundreds of years, and they seem to have done okay for themselves. Don't fix what isn't broken, as they say. Although I have to admit, I'd be very pleased if the south decided to secede from the Union tomorrow. We should have cut everything south of Virginia off long ago. Maybe we could generate some kind of Lex Luthor event where the midwest, south and Massachussets just sort of fall into the ocean while preserving the northeast, Illinois, and the west coast. And maybe some kind of biblical flood that wipes out the population of Alaska minus the animals and the 10 sane people in the state.

And back to the football. As it turns out, Cesc injured his hamstring, which is always an iffy thing, so well done to Arsene for getting him off before it got worse. As it stands, it doesn't appear to be that bad, but Cesc will miss Saturday's clash with Hull, sadly. Sad as well was the performance turned in by the young Welshman Aaron Ramsey coming on for the gimpy Cesc. He is a young man yet, turning just 19 on Boxing Day, so inconsistency is a consistency with him, but it's still frustrating given the amount of talent Rambo possesses.

Fair play to Burnley, who outhustled our team throughout most of the first and the entire second half. They were unlucky to have a goal ruled offside that would have been the winner, of which Almunia made a dog's breakfast. It looked like he got scared to touch the ball and backed off it like it was radioactive. These gaffes are becoming far too frequent and we've been lucky to escape without suffering more for them than we have in recent weeks. It's time to drop the Spaniard before he can do more significant damage to our chances at trophies. He seems like a decent bloke, but I'm not looking to attend a dinner party at the 'keeper's home. Peter Schmeichel was one of the biggest pricktards that European football has ever seen, but he was a fantastic goalkeeper and will be remembered for that. I just get the feeling that Arsene has this team so mollycoddled that all talk of mental toughness feels like lip-service and all talk of physical toughness, outside of a handful of players, is laughable.

1-1 was the final result, and with as uninspiring a performance as we put in, we were lucky to get the point. With wins from Chelsea, United, Tottenham and Villa, the pressure is well and truly on us from above and below. Saturday's showdown with Hull will provide yet another litmus test for this team, but much will depend on the other fixtures on the docket, so let's have a look at those:

Portsmouth v Liverpool
Pompey are among the worst sides in England right now, and Liverpool, after a disappointing loss to Arsenal, bounced right back with a result over Wigan. It should be an easy call, but Liverpool is looking to bankrupt bookies this season.
Prediction: Portsmouth 1-2 Liverpool

Aston Villa v Stoke City
Villa are the in-form team of the moment, and will certainly view Stoke City as a tune-up before clashing with Arsenal on the 27th. This would play to the advantage of the underdogs in most cases, but this is Stoke we're talking about, and Villa seem focused right now.
Prediction: Villa 2-0 Stoke

Blackburn v Tottenham
Tottenham broke a string of bad results (including a home loss to Wolves) by dispatching City in midweek. They'll travel up north looking to get a result over Rovers, and as poor as Blackburn has been, they're liable to just turn over and get boned. Which is how Harry Redknapp likes it, apparently.
Prediction: Rovers 1-3 Spuds

Fulham v Man Utd
Fulham have impressed, and even won this fixture last season when Scholes was dismissed for impersonating a goalkeeper and Rooney was dismissed for being a complete cunt. Can't see that happening this time around, although Scholes is still a dirty bastard and Rooney is still an insufferable prick.
Prediction: Fulham 0-1 Man Utd

Man City v Sunderland
City finally take a loss (to Sp*rs, no less), but Middle Eastlands faithful shouldn't fret, as they'll be back to their drawing ways soon enough. Like now.
Prediction: City 1-1 Sunderland

Wolves v Burnley
Arsene should be less concerned with the team Mick McCarthy plays on his way back to the Championship than with the team he still has available to select from. Burnley are less convincing away than at home, but should be full of confidence after outplaying Arsenal on Wed.
Prediction: Wolves 1-1 Burnley

Everton v Birmingham
Toughest call of the bunch. Everton have been the definition of inconsistent this season, losing matches they ought to win handily and getting results where they have no business doing so. Birmingham's home form has kept them in contention for Europe, let alone staying up, but they've been let down away.
Prediction: Scouser Blue 2-2 Birmingham

West Ham v Chelsea
Easiest call of the bunch, I'm afraid. West Ham have looked like a team that knows it's doom is sealed and are playing with the least amount of spirit and confidence of anyone in the league. Chelsea are top of the table for a reason.
Prediction: West Ham 0-4 Chelsea

Wigan v Bolton
Ugh... both of these teams suck. Bolton play defensively, especially away, and Wigan don't score enough to make this interesting.
Prediction: Wigan 0-0 Bolton

Finally we come to Arsenal v Hull. We're back at the Grove for a change, although that will come as small consolation for a team with half the squad (including most of the top players) out injured and most of the attackers on the worst form of their lives. Eduardo, if called upon, needs to stand and be counted. His injury problems have clearly made him gunshy (evidenced by his backing off a winnable ball in the box against Burnley because the 'keeper was advancing), and he must get his head right or his form will continue to suffer. Ramsey, if selected, must show up and not allow himself to be outworked or taken out of play. Someone apart from Arshavin will need to make himself a goal threat, and I'm hoping Nasri will be that man. The back four will need to pay attention to their defensive responsibilities and every man on the pitch will need to work his socks off. I'm just hoping Almunia and Theo are passed over by the manager this time until they can remember what is was that got them to this level.

As for Hull, they're still in the thick of the relegation fight, and apparently the players are as sick of Phil Brown as the rest of football is:

Hopefully that's in our favor as well, but it won't mean a thing if the Gunners show up with the lack of effort and urgency that they did against Burnley. Perhaps another "hair dryer" session from Arsene would work, but most likely not. It's up to the players, really. But none of that detracts from the fact that Phil Brown is an orange-skinned, headset-wearing, Fatass-Allardyce-worshipping cuntmuppet who deserves to be trampled to death by small children (because it would take so much longer, you see) after watching the mighty Arsenal thump his side 5-0. That's not a prediction, mind you, it's just what he deserves.

Hopefully you'll all be able to make it to Nevada's this Saturday for the Arsenal Hulliday party. We'll be providing pizza, I'll hopefully have a bunch of Christmas crackers (not the kind you eat), and Ashley has promised some baked goods (including the now-famous chocolate-bacon cookies), but any contributions would be more than welcome. Also, if anyone is feeling in the holiday spirit and wants to chip in with a few bucks, that would be great since this is all out of Kurt's/my pocket. If not, that's cool; I know we have some poor students in our numbers and we've all got xmas shopping. But more than anything, we'd like to have a nice turnout so we can celebrate the Arsenal and the supporters club that we've grown into from just a few isolated pockets of fans in Nevadas from the beginning of last season. Kickoff is at 12;30, but we'll certainly be getting things going prior to that.

Also, I'm sure Kurt would want me to mention that an Arsenal shirt would make an excellent gift/stocking stuffer for any fans or people you're trying to brainwash. There are details available on the official site.

UPDATE: Arsenal have drawn F.C. Porto in the first knock-out round of the Champions League. It could have been a sight worse, that's for sure, and while Porto are former champions (2004) and are no pushovers, I'll take that draw.

That's all for today Gunner addicts. Again, I hope to see you all on Saturday, but for those of you who are abroad, on holiday, or in other parts of the country, have a pleasant holiday season and COME ON YOU REDS!!!

Until next time, you stay jolly, Gooner family.

- B, a Gooner.