Ahead of Manchester United vs. Arsenal this weekend, we caught up with Paul DeBruler from The Short Fuse to get a Gooner’s perspective on the upcoming game and how their season is going.
TBB: We'll start with the big one: do you feel like this is going to be the season Arsenal end their Premier League title drought?
PDB: Short answer: Maybe?
Longer answer: I'm the kind of fan who isn't obsessed with winning trophies. The thing about winning trophies is, it's really hard! And only 1/20th of Premier League teams win the league in any given year! I've always, in all the sports I follow, been one who wants my favorite teams to be perpetually in good position to win a championship, by acquiring the best players and playing to the best of their structural and talent-level ability. If those things happen, championships can also happen, but if they don't, you're Southampton and you never have a shot at anything.
So, as long as Arsenal maintain their streak of so far 19 (and heading towards 20) years of never finishing below fourth in the league - a feat that not one other Premier League team can claim — I'm about 95% satisfied. Do I want them to win the league? Of course I do. But I'm not going to get spitting mad if it doesn't happen, because a championship is not a birthright.
TBB: How do you feel about the transfer business Arsenal did in the summer? Both in terms of the players brought in and the timing of the deals?
PDB: I think Arsene had a comprehensively great transfer season. Coming off the summer of 2015, when he needed at least three outfield players and bought only one Petr Cech, it would be hard to have a worse transfer season, but he kinda knocked it out of the park this summer.
One of the things Arsenal have desperately needed in recent years is a top-class central defensive midfielder. So he went and got Granit Xhaka. They also needed a new centre-back, both as injury cover and as an eventual replacement for Per Mertesacker, so he bought Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding. Holding's one for the future — you could say he's in a Holding patt[PDB GETS DRAGGED OFF STAGE BY A COMICALLY LARGE CANE]
I'm sorry, where was I? Anyway, Holding is being groomed for the next-Per role, and Mustafi's already paid dividends. Arsene also picked up forward Lucas Perez for squad depth and forward Takuma Asano for...reasons, so all in all I'd give the summer transfer window an A-, a 9 out of 10, or whatever other "great but not record-breakingly great" measure you'd want to apply.
As for the timing of the deals? I probably care less about that than most, so all I can say is...it seemed fine. I mean, Xhaka was signed before the window even opened, so.
TBB: Are you happy with the way Arsenal are playing so far this season?
PDB: So far, so good. But it's only November. If they're playing this well in April, I'll be much happier.
TBB: Do you think Olivier Giroud should be seeing more game time or is Alexis Sanchez a better fit up front?
PDB: I don't know if "better fit" is the right term, but Alexis Sanchez gives Arsenal a whole 'nother level of tactical options because he's indefatigable, he's fast, and he's capable of doing stuff like this. Giroud is a very, very good player, but he's very much a "traditional" centre-forward; he's good with his back to goal, and he's got the size to body up on a lot of defenders and wear them down before turning and firing. They're both insanely good, and Arsenal are spoiled for choice in that regard.
That said, Alexis Sanchez never ever stops playing — I mean, it exhausts me just watching how much energy he has — and it eventually wears on him; he almost literally never rests. As an example, he's famous for dropping and doing pushups while coaches deliver team talks in training rather than just standing there and resting like the rest of the squad. He's currently carrying a thigh injury suffered on international duty last weekend, and he's good for at least one decent-sized injury layoff a year more or less. I believe Arsene should manage his time a little better and force him to sit a game every now and again, but even if he does, I have full confidence that Giroud is not a dropoff. It's just a different look.
TBB: Honest answer: Iwobi or Rashford?
PDB: This is where I profess ignorance; I don't pay a whole lot of detailed attention to other teams on a week in week out basis, so I can't intelligently answer this question. I can, however, say that what I love about Iwobi is that he's great on the ball and has some pretty fantastic passing vision, and he's never really looked like a young player - he's very solid and doesn't show a lot of nerves even in high-pressure situations.
I opened the question up to the rest of TSF, though, and the consensus was Iwobi, primarily because he is being played in a position where he can thrive and has been an integral part of Arsenal's best performances the past few months. They're both great prospects, and will both turn out to be good players, so there's really not a wrong answer there - if Jose starts using Rashford the way he should, Rashford could be something special. But as an Arsenal fan, I gotta stick with my man Alex.
TBB: Would you like to see Arsene Wenger stay in charge beyond this season?
I have been an Arsenal fan since before Arsene, and I have often said I love Arsene Wenger more than I love at least one of my parents. So when I say "no", it's a really hard thing to do — I've defended him against the #WengerOut brigade for years, until last season, when I just couldn't any more. I mean, he's done more for Arsenal, and for the game in general, than any Arsenal manager since Herbert Chapman, and he's a straight-up legend.
It's incorrect to say the game has passed him by, but I will say that since the changes he instituted in the ‘90s and early ‘00s have spread throughout the league and become standard operating procedure for every team, and Arsene hasn't adjusted or evolved past it as he once did. He's very stubborn, and he believes that his way will work, because he believes his way is the correct way; it may well be, but once other people figure it out, the correct way becomes incorrect, and that, more recently, has been the story of Arsenal -- a team with a ceiling and a manager who won't make the adjustments required to break through it because he believes that what he's doing is objectively good enough.
Combine that with some of his more irritating blind spots — his insistence on playing Francis Coquelin when he bought Granit Xhaka, his bafflingly predictable substitutions, and his utter lack of pragmatism sometimes — and you get a legendary manager who has done great things who I believe should move on after this season.
I will take no joy when it happens, and there may be waterworks, but I believe it's time.
TBB: Who's a more vital player for Arsenal, Sanchez or Özil?
PDB: Özil, unquestionably. Sanchez is great, but Özil does things every game that will blow your mind. I don't make this comparison lightly, but he's basically turning into Dennis Bergkamp; he'll change the game before you even know he's doing it, and by then it's too late. He's beaten you. Either with a goal of his own, or by creating one for someone else.
TBB: Would you take a draw on Saturday or is it win at all costs?
PDB: I don't know if "at all costs" is exactly how I'd put it, but leaving two points on the table at Spurs a couple weekends ago wasn't ideal, and if Arsenal want to sustain their title challenge, I'd think maximum points this weekend would be required.
TBB: Line-up and score prediction?
PDB: Cech; Coquelin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Xhaka; Walcott, Özil, Iwobi; Alexis
I think this line-up gives Arsenal enough to win, even with a few guys playing out of position; it'll be nervy but I'll mirror your 2-1 but call it for the visitors
If you’d like to hear more from Paul, give him a follow on Twitter: @misterpdb