Fan Focus: Gabbing With The Gunners

Laurence Griffiths

A little later than planned, we have some cracking insight from Paul DeBruler from Arsenal blog The Short Fuse.

It feels like the "wheels are coming off" Arsenal's season after such an impressive start. Do you think this is the case or is just a matter of the media slapping a narrative on you after the Liverpool hammering?

Paul DeBruler: I don't feel like that's the case at all. I definitely think that's what the media (and a non-zero part of the, shall we say, less critical-thinking inclined Arsenal fanbase) believe is happening, but look at the facts on the ground - Arsenal are in second place, haven't been lower than that since early September, and have played exactly two bad league games since the new year.

Recency bias is a thing, and it's hitting Arsenal hard narratively because in previous years right around now is when Arsenal's wheels would come off. This, however, is a vastly different Arsenal team, particularly at the back where they've eliminated the tendency to switch off (Liverpool and City results aside), so I'm not nearly as worried as I was last year about a "collapse" (I have to put that in irony quotes because collapsing to fourth place is a problem most teams in the Premier League would love to have).

Your Champions League hopes took a battering on Wednesday. After chasing the ball for so long, do you think tiredness will be a factor this weekend or will Wenger shuffle his pack?

PDB: If Arsenal aren't tired after all that running, they're superhuman. I think you'll see Giroud back in for Yaya Sanogo, who played well in tough circumstances, and obviously you'll see Szczesny back in goal, but otherwise I think it'll be a similar lineup to most games, largely because Arsene Wenger, for all his amazing qualities as a demigod and, secondarily, as a football manager, is not a huge fan of squad rotation and doesn't have a lot of options to rotate even if he was.

On Wednesday, Mesut Ozil appeared to have taken tips from our League Cup penalty shoot out against Manchester United! He's become a bit of a media scapegoat of late. How do you rate his season so far?

PDB: I think he's been as good as we can expect any player coming from Europe to be. The easy analysis is "started good, is shit now", but it's not quite that simple.

Ozil's game isn't about "get the ball, hare down the field, score goal that features on Match Of The Day", so a popular knock on him is that he doesn't do anything when he doesn't have the ball. This is demonstrably untrue - watch him run, watch him pull defenders out of position to create space for other players, and you'll come away with renewed respect for the man.

His main problem right now is that what he does best - Bergkamp-esque passes through 5 pairs of feet to a player who doesn't even know he wants the ball yet but then collects the ball without breaking stride - isn't able to happen because of injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott.

Their substitutes, Nacho Monreal and one of Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta - do not make cutting, incisive forward runs the way Walcott/Ramsey do, so Ozil has nobody to pass forward to. Mesut's taken a lot of stick, particularly after his stinker of a game on Wednesday (he did have a bad game, but a lot of that stick was unfair, because he was asked to defend after the sending off, and he's not a defender), but he'll be fine and next year he'll be dominant.

With the Giroud situation seeing him drop to the bench, are Arsenal now suffering for not buying another striker?

PDB: I think the Giroud benching was a one-game deal, to be honest. Wenger said that any discipline for his, erm, incident would be "internal", and also said that his resting on Wednesday was not related to that, so I have a feeling, as I mentioned, he'll be in the starting XI on Saturday.

That said, Arsenal have no real backup for him so I think another striker would have been a nice buy, but I'm also not one in the "WENGER MUST SPEND ALL TEH MONEEEZ" camp as a lot of Arsenal fans seem to be lately. I've been watching Wenger since his debut, and while he's not above criticism (his bloody-mindedness about rotation and not having a Plan B when things aren't going well being chief among my quibbles with him), he rarely gets it blatantly wrong when it comes to squad selection and development, so "In Arsene I Trust" is what I go with.

Sunderland meanwhile are in generally decent form, despite the recent defeat to Hull. What have you made of us since Poyet took over?

PDB: I was pretty excited for Sunderland - despite a long-standing hatred for Chelsea that dates back to the Dennis Wise days, I have always liked Gus Poyet and I was happy to see him take the reins at a club the size of Sunderland. Sunderland's one of those teams I've always liked - they play positively, they don't resort to thuggery, and they're entertaining to watch.

Anyone in our side that you fear?

PDB: It's not so much a specific person as a style. If Sunderland understand that they can close down Arsenal's passing game by denying the passer that extra second on the ball, Sunderland will do what many teams have done and frustrate a point out of Arsenal.

If Sunderland can stay tight defensively - not by throwing 10 behind the ball, but by denying Arsenal space on the wings - Sunderland will do well. Individually, despite all the stick he used to get when he was at United, I have always rated John O'Shea.

Do you think Arsenal will win the league, will we stay up and since it's next week, do you reckon we can win the League Cup?

PDB: I think Arsenal can win the league; I don't know that they will, just because Chelsea's depth is ridiculous and Arsenal's isn't, and City can't be written off either. I think Arsenal's preferred XI is one of the best in the league, but once that has to reshuffle and change because of injury, that's when Arsenal drop a bit.

I do think Sunderland will stay up.

Outside of Arsenal and an amazingly good Liverpool (seriously, who saw THAT coming?), Sunderland have a relatively good set of fixtures coming up that should enable them to pile up some points and put some space between themselves and relegation. I don't mean this to sound patronizing, but winning the League Cup in a way depends on how badly Manchester City want to win it. I think Sunderland can frustrate City, but whether that frustration can lead to a Sunderland goal on the counter, I'm not sure. I will definitely be rooting for you guys, though.

And to more pressing matters, a score prediction please?

PDB: I am notoriously bad at these things, but I'll give it a go. Since it's at home, I'm going to go with a 3-1 to Arsenal that's a lot closer than that scoreline would indicate, with two goals coming late.

Check out more from Paul over at the excellent Arsenal blog, The Short Fuse!

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