Will Olivier Giroud Break the #9 Curse?

It’s not exactly the Curse of the Billy Goat, or even the now-broken Curse of the Bambino, but there is a widely-held belief amongst Arsenal supporters that there is a current Curse of the #9 Shirt. For confirmation of the curse, look no farther than Arsenal’s current (for now) #9, Park Chu-Young. Frankly, there have been more Bigfoot sightings during the 2011-12 season than there were Park sightings in Arsenal’s first team. Before him was the promising, yet some say cursed, Eduardo, who suffered through an injury-plagued Arsenal career and never reached his potential with the club. If you go back in time you can read names such as Davor Suker, Francis Jeffers, Jose Antonio Reyes, and even a post-Bergkamp Paul Merson, but this is not an article about looking back, but rather one about the future.

Will Giroud wear the #9 shirt for Arsenal?

I don’t think it too much of a stretch to think that should the widely-reported but as-of-yet-unconfirmed signing of Olivier Giroud be confirmed by the club, he has a good chance of taking over the #9 shirt from Park, who seems likely to be on the way out. Even if Park stays, Giroud, the current France International #9, is much more likely to take the number 9 off Park’s back than he is to keep his current #17 at Montpellier by taking it from Alex Song (basically no way that’s happening). There is a third option, that Giroud could take a currently unassigned number, but I bet when he pulls on the Arsenal shirt it will have that possibly-cursed 9 on the back.

Giroud will be successful for Arsenal, where other strikers coming from the French Ligue 1 have not (see e.g. Chamakh, Marouane, & Park, Chu-Young) because his production in Ligue 1 far surpasses those of other recent strikers Wenger has brought from the French league to Arsenal. In this last season for Montpillier, Giroud was the joint-leading scorer in Ligue 1, putting away 21 goals in 36 appearances. That’s over one goal for every two appearances. By contrast, in his last season in Ligue 1 (2009-10), playing for Bordeaux, Chamakh scored only 10 goals in 38 appearances, and in the season before joining Arsenal (2010-11), Park scored only 12 goals in 33 appearances for Ligue 1 side Monaco. Giroud’s 21 goals in 2011-12 is only one shy of the combined totals of Chamakh and Park in their last seasons in Ligue 1. Accordingly, I expect his production for Arsenal to be similarly more impressive than have been those of Chamakh and Park. If he does dawn the #9 shirt for Arsenal, Giroud looks to have a great chance to break the curse and produce for Arsene Wenger in 2012-13.

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Arsenal Faces Make or Break Month

2/11/2012 - Thierry Henry celebrates his later winner against Sunderland (Michael Regan / Getty Images)

It’s a horrible cliché to say that that any one stretch of matches is the most important of the season, especially when there are so many games remaining, but the way the schedule is laid out, I honestly believe that the next month will decide Arsenal’s fate this season.

Let’s take a look at what lies ahead. In the next 30 days, Arsenal have the following fixtures:

February 15 – Away to AC Milan (Champions League Round of 16)

February 18 – Away to Sunderland (FA Cup 5th round)

February 26 – Spurs at Home

March 3 – Away to Liverpool

March 6 – AC Milan at Home (Champions League Round of 16)

March 12 – Newcastle at Home

When the next 30 days have concluded, Arsenal could be still alive in two trophy competitions, and putting a little distance between themselves and the other contenders for 4th place in the Premier League, OR they could be out of everything except the Premier League, and could be looking up at as many as 6 clubs in the table, or, of course, they could be (as is more likely) somewhere in between. Every one of Arsenal’s next 6 matches is of great importance, as even their Premier League schedule includes two of Arsenal’s three main rivals for the 4th spot, oh and some other team from North London too.

Henry will soon be gone, back to New York, but Gervinho will be back (and hopefully without any mental or physical hangover from the ACN), as will Chamakh (of course, whether or not the return of the latter matters at all is a completely separate issue). Even though Mertesacker just picked up an injury at the weekend, it’s good to see Sagna back in the squad, and once Gibbs returns Arsenal will be able to field a squad that includes two center backs and two actual full backs for the first time in over a month. Though the return of Wilshere before season’s end may still be a pipe dream, the squad is nonetheless getting healthier overall, with Jenkinson and Diaby scheduled to return soon. Injuries seem to always be a story for Arsenal, but if Arsenal are to keep their run of Champions League appearances in tact, they have to be able to put injuries aside and get results with the players on the pitch.

It’s no excuses time for this Arsenal club. I don’t expect them to win all of their next 6 matches, but I do not think it unrealistic to expect them to move on in one of either the FA Cup or the Champions League, and to also keep hold of their current 4th position in the table. Let’s be honest, Sp*rs have a hell of a team this season, and are in great form, but Arsenal have them at The Emirates, and it’s not too much to ask for them to scrape a draw. In my view, the most important games will be away to Liverpool and Newcastle at home. Both are very winnable games, and honestly if Arsenal expect to finish the season in the top 4, they have to get 6 or 7 points out of their next three Premier League fixtures. All that’s left now is for Arsenal to go out and get the results they need. They face stiff competition, but if Arsenal want to continue to compete on a level with other top European clubs, and want to hang on to their best players, they have to go out there and win games over crucial stretches like the next month. No excuses.

Blackburn Rovers 4-3 Arsenal – Match Reflection

September 17, 2011 (Tim Hales / AP)

It’s safe to say that the honeymoon period is over for Arsène Wenger’s new signings, almost before it even began. Sure the Gunners only put one on the board against newly-promoted Swansea last week, but they kept a clean sheet and all 3 points. Perhaps the long North London defensive nightmare was coming to an end! Granted, it wasn’t always pretty against Swansea, and it’s not like our new boy Per Mertesacker got full marks from all who watched, but it was nice to not concede for once!

Whatever optimistic warm and fuzzy feelings that Arsenal supporters may have been harboring since Arsène’s signing day splash have surely dissipated now, after this. Arsenal practically had to cross picket lines to get into Ewood Park on Saturday, as disgruntled Blackburn supporters had staged a march outside the grounds to call for the head of manager Steve Kean. Setting aside the possible merits of calling for a manager’s sacking this early in the season (ridiculous if you ask me), Blackburn were surely a team near crisis, if not in it, as they set bottom of the table after 4 games in the Premier League. In fact, Steve Kean may have been the only manager in the EPL who was under more fire coming into the match than was Wenger. Surely this was a day tailor-made for Arsenal to show it’s quality with nearly the full squad available. Unfortunately, if there is one thing we as Arsenal supporters know from the last year, it is that the most favorable circumstances are often the ones to yield the greatest disappointments.

Now, while the ultimate result was discouraging, that does not mean the the game was devoid of positives. We may have seen the beginning of a fruitful partnership between Gervinho and Sagna on the right side, who linked up well in the first half. Gervinho got his first competitive goal (10′) for the club with a cool finish on the end of a beautiful through-pass by Alex Song. Gervinho again looked dangerous on the ball in the attacking third, bringing a much-needed ability to take on defenders one-on-one. With Cesc & Nasri gone, Arsenal haven’t seen much in the way of breaking down defenders on the ball, so it was nice to see that Gervinho has that ability. While I like Gervinho’s aggressiveness in always going towards the goal, he seems to suffer a bit from tunnel vision when attacking. The instance that comes to mind is of course when he shot instead of making an easy pass to RvP in the box for what would have been a sure goal, but I get the feeling that once he has it in his mind to attack, he does not even look for anyone else.

On the other side, André Santos was eager to push forward and attack in his first appearance for the Gunners. His attacking style differs from Sagna’s, in that Santos seems to favor cutting inside and attacking towards the box, rather than looking to receive the ball out on the wing and cross into the box, as Sagna is oft to do.

Alex Song was a sight for sore eyes in the first half. His physicality was welcome against Blackburn, and his passing set up both first half goals. In addition to assisting on Gervinho’s goal, it was Song’s beautiful ball to Ramsey that started the attack which Arteta finished clinically (34′). Going into half time I had Song as my leader in the clubhouse for man-of-the-match honors, but we all know how that ended so I don’t need to talk about it, right?

Even though we conceded right through the middle of our back line, it was against the run of play in the first half, so I felt good going into the break. Unfortunately, old defensive deficiencies resurfaced in the second half, ultimately leading to a complete collapse and leaving Arsenal on only 4 points after 5 games. Set pieces were a nightmare all day, with Blackburn looking capable of scoring each time they took a free kick in the Arsenal half. Koscielny, who had a nightmare of a day overall, looked especially lost on set pieces, often losing his mark. It was his misjudged header that allowed the pass to (an offside) Yakubu for his second goal, and who can forget the own goal. The back line never looked together, seeming incapable of holding a line, often putting each other in bad positions, and failing to pick up Blackburn players making attacking runs. I don’t want to belabor the point, suffice to say that the back line was not good enough. They were not helped by Sagna having to go off, as Djourou is not a right back and it showed, but the largest problem was still through the middle. Though Mertesacker is a much talked-about 6’6”, it was the 6’4” Samba who was the dominant player in the air. Samba’s strength and power was the difference, and he could have easily netted two headers off set pieces that ended up wide of the mark.

To say Arsenal were unlucky at Blackburn would be true, as a single own goal is uncommon and Yakubu’s second goal was clearly offside, but the truer statement would be that Arsenal weren’t good enough to deserve any better luck than they got. After Koscielny’s own goal (68′) made it 4-2 in favor of the home side, Arsenal looked shell-shocked and played uninspired football for the next fifteen minutes, which they could not afford to do. Chamakh got off the schnide by scoring his first Premier League goal since last November (85′) on a wicked cross from van Persie, and honestly looked the best I have seen him in quite some time, but Paul Robinson was better than was the Gunners’ last flourish and Blackburn hung on to the game and the three points that may have saved their manager’s job for now.

It was a bad result, to put it lightly, but I am not among those who are going to call for Arsène’s head, as it is still early and I think he rightfully enjoys a pretty long rope due to his track record. This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge he has faced as the manager of Arsenal, but I believe he and the team will respond. That being said, this is the Premier League and everyone will be lining up to kick us while we’re down, so the bounce-back needs to be swift or else even the dreams of a 4th place finish will evaporate as quickly as a second half lead. Let’s get well against Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday.

On to the awards:

Man of the Match – Paul Robinson (Yakubu lost points for being offside)

Brian Wilson Best Beard Award – Gaël Givet

Worst Neck Tattoo On A Debut – André Santos

Hard Luck Chuck Award – Wojciech Szczęsny (2 own goals is the definition of hard luck)