Arsenal and the rut of consistency

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As the Gunners battle down the home stretch, a familiar fight brings familiar worries.

Arsenal has finished 3rd or 4th in the Premier League for 10 straight seasons. As the 2015/16 season hits the home stretch, the Gunners are fighting tooth and nail just to click the turnstile to 11 straight. They have not finished worse than 4th in the Premier League since 1996. The endless argument of consistency vs. success wages on at the Emirates, with no end in sight.

Arsene Wenger is an Arsenal legend. Nearing the conclusion of his 20th season in charge of Arsenal, the 66-year-old Frenchman does not have a single true failure on his managerial resume, yet he’s been dubbed a “specialist in failure” by Jose Mourinho.

Consistency is a Catch-22 that Arsenal and Wenger are both struggling to deal with. They are consistently consistent, a predictable machine, and it’s tearing them apart.

But to dissect the true issue with Arsenal, one must dive deeper than that. While the finishing position for the Gunners has been ultimately predictable each season, the route to the final destination has been dotted with moments of panic and uneasiness at the worst of times.

Fans have called for the dismissal of Arsene Wenger, but theres plenty of risk involved (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Fans have called for the dismissal of Arsene Wenger, but theres plenty of risk involved (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Take this year’s results. The club has put together an impressive record against the top teams domestically, with four wins, five draws, and two losses against the table’s current top seven, and an unblemished record against the others in the top four. The problem moments have come against teams Arsenal should beat – the teams Manchester City and Leicester City are beating up on. Of Arsenal’s six losses this season, four have come against teams in 8th (Southampton), 10th (Chelsea), 14th (West Brom) and 15th (Swansea).

And therein lies the failure Arsene Wenger has come to specialize in. Not all-out disaster, but compartmentalized catastrophes. Arsenal continues to be uncomfortable in the most comfortable moments. Last season, they finished in third, four points behind Manchester City. Where did those four points go? Two losses to Swansea City (finished 15th) and one to Stoke (finished 9th) were the culprits. The year before that, they fell to Aston Villa (finished 15th) on opening day, ultimately finishing three points back of Chelsea in third place. Going back even further to 2012/13, they lost to Norwich City (11th) in October and had disappointing draws against Southampton (14th), Aston Villa (15th), Fulham (12th) and Stoke City (13th) en route to 4th place finish, two back of Chelsea.

The Gunners have never shied away from the big moments, the big games, or the important pieces. It’s part of the reason they’ve managed a Champions League place for so many consecutive years. Just this season, they’ve bagged six points against Leicester City when few others have managed to decipher the Foxes. They’ve had goals in the 77th minute and 76th minute to pull level in the North London derbies and earn valuable points against arch-rivals Tottenham.

But even on a smaller scale, the slip-ups are inevitable. The Mirror posted an article lamenting the inability of the club to finish the chances Mesut Ozil has produced this season, the argument hinging on his assist-to-chance-creation ratio this season. But upon closer inspection, it isn’t all that horrible. Ozil has created 277 chances since the start of the 2013 season, of which just 32 have been put away for goals, a rate of 11.5%. That’s not very good, but when compared with the rest of the league, it’s not all that awful either. West Ham’s Dimitri Payet this season has a chance-conversion rate of 10%, while Willian‘s is at a paltry 7%, likely a major factor in Chelsea’s massive struggle this campaign. The Mirror makes a valid point that the finishing at the Emirates is not championship quality, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. But this does:

Expected goals spread out across an entire season calculates the probability of a team to win, lose, or draw based on the differential in chances created by Arsenal vs. their opponents. When boiled down, it means Arsenal is struggling at times not only in front of net but on the other end of the pitch too, allowing opponents to score on chances that are deemed poorer. Ultimately, this proves that the Gunners are disappointing across the board, a microcosm of their experiences the past few seasons.

Arsene Wenger's consistency has slowly transformed him into a polarizing figure (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Arsene Wenger’s consistency has slowly transformed him into a polarizing figure (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Injuries have also been a culprit for their moments of demise the last few seasons, and it’s an excuse they’ll beat to death, but where is the line? Arsenal’s been one of the best teams in the Premier League for years, so calling them “failures” is more complicated. They have been championship quality at times but not when spread out across the larger sample size of a single season. It’s easy to understand why the Arsenal front office is hesitant to risk the consistency that’s brought 19 straight Champions League berths and possibly a 20th to come. The allure of an elusive title is more than enticing, but having seen Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool in recent seasons, the peril also stares the Gunners in the face.

That risk is what likely keeps Arsene Wenger his job. Consistency has saved the Frenchman from failure. Consistency has also been the root of his disappointment. How much longer can the Gunners stand being good but not great? The lines between success and failure have been blurred at the Emirates, and questions remain about what’s best for the club going forward.

Indonesia football disaster: More than 100 dead after riot, stampede

Indonesia soccer riot
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Over 100 people are dead following a riot at a Liga1 match between Arema and Persebaya Surabaya in Indonesia.

Home side Arema lost 3-2 to Persebaya, its first home derby loss in over two decades. The intensity of the rivalry had already led to away fans being banned from attending the derby in Malang, East Java.

Reports say the majority of the fans were trampled to death after police fired tear gas as some fans fired bottles and other items at players and officials.

FIFA does not allow the use of tear gas at football matches. According to Sky Sports:

Hooliganism is rife in football-obsessed Indonesia where fanaticism often ends in violence, highlighted by the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta supporter who was killed by a mob of hardcore fans from rival club Persib Bandung.

More on this story as it develops.

Man City vs Man United live! Score, how to watch, stream link, lineups

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Manchester City vs Manchester United: Erling Haaland is set for his Manchester derby debut when the two-time defending champions host the rapidly improving Red Devils at Etihad Stadium on Sunday (watch live, 9 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE MAN CITY vs MAN UNITED

Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm with an absurd 11 goals scored in his first seven games after (ostensibly) choosing Man City over Man United before leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Six weeks ago, Manchester United had not a single point from their first two games, including a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of tiny Brentford, but Erik ten Hag has since switched tactical course en route to four straight wins, including a 3-1 victory over PL leaders Arsenal last time out, to set up this hugely intriguing showdown on Sunday.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Man City vs Man United

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


Phil Foden goal video: City strikes first with splendid team goal


How to watch Manchester City vs Manchester United live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 9 am ET, Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Despite a pair of disappointing draws (Newcastle and Aston Villa), it’s been an unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season for Man City, who still lead the PL in possession (66.4 percent per game) while also becoming an unstoppable offensive force from last season (14 goals in their first seven games) to this season (23). That’s not to say it’s been easy as Manchester City go through a tactical shift of their own to better appeal to the big Norwegian’s poaching abilities. Though they have been forced to grind out results a few times already this season, it’s highlighted a newfound spontaneity for a side that’s been as regimented as any in the world. Will that freedom be what ultimately lands Pep Guardiola his first Champions League trophy since 2011, and perhaps a third straight PL title (and a fifth in six years) to boot?

As for Manchester United, the Ten Hag era has been a wild roller-coaster ride already, short as it’s been. The back-to-back defeats were one thing, but the abject performances were the real cause for discontent. While picking up the four straight victories, the Dutchman has also settled on a midfield setup with Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen operating in (effectively) a double pivot with Bruno Fernandes the most advanced of the three. It has brought defensive stability, of course, but more importantly the change has revealed a deadly counter-attacking side. Each of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Fernandes have scored twice during the winning run, with new boy Antony also getting in on the fun on his debut. With space in behind (and the proper service from deep), Ten Hag might just have his first winning formula (albeit quite unlike him).


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE)

Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Harry Maguire (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (thigh), Brandon Williams (undisclosed), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE), Donny van de Beek (knock), Martin Dubravka (knock)

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WATCH: Lionel Messi spins gorgeous free kick goal past Nice’s Schmeichel

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Lionel Messi got the better of Kasper Schmeichel with an outstanding free kick as Paris Saint-Germain outlasted Nice 2-1 on Saturday at the Parc des Princes.

The world’s greatest scorer was fouled to set up a free kick just inside the arc. Nice, of course, got into a wall and former Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel arranged it to his liking.

As he does so many times, however, Messi spun a free kick just over the wall. The ball, which came so close to taking a slight turn off a leaping wall member (actually, did it?), tumbled down and right into the side netting to give PSG a 1-0 lead before the match was a half-hour old.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi scores relentless Groningen goal ]

Gaetan Laborde tied the match before halftime, and Nice’s revamped roster looked set to hold tight for a point (The club’s signed familiar Premier League names Schmeichel, Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsey, and Mario Lemina).

Even that wouldn’t be enough, though, as Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to replace young Hugo Ekitike to finish a Nordi Mukiele assist for a 2-1 win.

PSG has eight wins and a draw this season, good for a two-point lead on second-place Marseille. Messi has five goals and a joint-league-best seven assists, tied with Neymar. Mbappe and Neymar are tied for the league goals lead with eight.

Lionel Messi free kick goal video

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi defies xG with relentless goal (video)

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USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi’s goal while trying to will Groningen back into an eventual 4-1 loss to AZ Alkmaar on Saturday will not be one of the expected variety.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Augsburg, ran onto an audacious long pass from 20-year-old defender Neraysho Kasanwirjo but had plenty of work to do with AZ leading 2-0.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez scores audacious overhead goal ]

Pepi sees one defender fall in a race to the ball, then bodies up AZ’s Sam Beukema a little outside the six-yard box.

Hand-to-hand combat sees both players hit the turf, and Pepi probably could won a penalty.

But the World Cup hopeful spins while on the pitch and snaps a shot past charging AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst to make it 2-1.

Video after the jump.

Ricardo Pepi
fotmob.com

Ricardo Pepi goal video: Fantastic start to Groningen loan

Pepi now has a goal or an assist in his first three Eredivisie outings, not unlike his fantastic start to life in a USMNT shirt.

His goal contributions have taken a dive since his first two USMNT matches — World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Jamaica — and he only has one assist from the following 10 outings in a U.S. shirt.

Still, Pepi is clearly one of Gregg Berhalter’s favorite options for the upcoming World Cup, and his performances will be measured against Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira, and others.

In a tournament where every moment matters, his work for this scrappy finish will be well-noted by the USMNT staff.