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Know Your Opponent: The Short Fuse fields our hard-hitting questions on Arsenal

We did a Q&A with the nice folks over at The Short Fuse ahead of today’s match.

West Ham United v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

With so much on the line for both teams ahead of today’s match in North London, we sought out some answers from our ‘friends’ over at The Short Fuse. They do excellent work over there so be sure to check them out!

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. #WengerIn or #WengerOut? I know there has been plenty of debate over what should be considered a successful Arsenal season. Almost every other team in England would wish for Arsenal’s level of success. Where does TSF stand?

Without getting too far into the backstory, I was #WengerIn for years, until about February of 2016, when I took a good hard look at my stance, and realized that, for as strongly and passionately as I'd defended Wenger up to that point (I've been an Arsenal fan since before he was manager, and I've watched his whole career unfold), I just couldn't defend it any more. It's not just the claims that he never spends any money, because those are incorrect; Arsenal spent £110ish million last summer alone, most of that on two players.

For me, then, it was more of a sense that Arsenal have reached a very hard ceiling in the last three or four seasons. Those seasons have all played out more or less exactly the same - start very strong, be or be in touch with the league leaders until about early January, then, like a bike tire with a leak in it, slowly deflate until the championship is out of reach. Add to that our annual exit from the Champions League in what a lot of people call the "Round of Arsenal", this year by a humiliating 10-2 aggregate score, and I realized that Arsenal under Wenger will always be this.

He will not, at this stage of his career, evolve his thinking about team construction, tactics, and strategy past what he's done up to this point, because honestly, what he's done worked wonders. Until it didn't. And it's that inflexibility that finally got me to the point where I couldn't defend him any more.

This makes me very sad, by the way, and it was not fun coming to that conclusion. I don't automatically think things will be better under Wenger, but I see no reason not to maybe take a step back in the short term in order to make things better in the long term.

I don't think TSF has taken an official editorial position as of yet, but I know among the staff we're all pretty much Wenger Out right now. Not angrily - the day he does leave will probably feel for us like a death in the family - but we all kinda want to draw a line under this era and see what new management can do with the legend Arsene created.

You get to keep three players going into next season as your core group, who and why?

  • A healthy Santi Cazorla, because all of the problems with Arsenal's midfield stem from the lack of a healthy Santi Cazorla.
  • Mesut Özil. People deride him because of the lack of obvious production, but Özil is the key to making Arsenal work in attack, and his lack of form since February is a large part of why Arsenal are in their worst form under Arsene Wenger's management.
  • Hector Bellerin. I have always valued good defense as highly or higher than any other part of a team (my first Arsenal teams as a fan featured the legendary Adams/Bould/Keown/Winterburn back line), and Hector Bellerin is an amazingly good defender who fits the modern mold of also being able and willing to attack.

At this time last year, Arsenal had 51 points and sitting in 3rd. This year, 52 points and in 6th. Where do you think the biggest frustration with fans lies?

Honestly, I think you nailed it with your question. Over Arsene Wenger's career, Arsenal have averaged 75 points a season, and in the last five seasons, they've finished with 71, 79, 79, 73, and 70 points. So really, Arsenal are who they are - they'll occasionally have a season like the 2003/04 undefeated season, where they finished with 90 points, but by and large, they're going to need other teams to drop points in order to mount a realistic title challenge most seasons.

Alexis Sanchez. What a man. What’s his ceiling and where is his future?

What is his ceiling? Honestly, I have no idea. He's an unreal physical specimen with an absolutely unparalleled drive to succeed. That drive, sadly, is why I don't see him staying at Arsenal after this season. His mentality - which I like - is that losing is completely unacceptable, and he shows that by doing such things as storming off the pitch after losses and not shaking hands, and stuff like that which doesn't matter in the long term but really pisses people off in the moment.

The problem is, his teammates don't really love his attitude either - I would argue that his teammates would do better to adopt that attitude than rebel against it, but whatever. Anyway, I'm about 99% sure he'll be gone this summer, and as for where, as long as it's not Chelsea I'm OK with wherever he ends up.

Is Mesut Ozil being judged unfairly?

Oh wow, is he. There is an understandable bias in soccer fandom towards the end product, if you're an attacking player. Fans expect attacking players to score, and when they don't, it becomes an issue. But spend an entire game watching Mesut play, and if he's in good form (which he clearly is not at the moment, although he played better against Manchester City over the weekend), it's breathtaking to watch.

He is, technically, the last link between midfield and scoring, and to that end, he does an amazing amount of work. He moves the ball well, he creates space for himself well, and when he doesn't have the ball, his threat is such that other teams adjust their defending to account for the possibility he might get the ball, which creates a ton of space for other Arsenal players to operate in. And Özil does it all with such economy that people actually think he's lazy or unmotivated, and in one memorable insult, "nicking a living" at Arsenal and not doing much.

Do not listen to those people, for they are stupid.

As you know, we’re going through some pretty woeful times adjusting to London Stadium. How long did it take Arsenal to adjust to their move?

Depends on what you mean by "adjust". From a playing perspective? Not at all. From a fan perspective? A little bit, just because of the size of the new stadium, but going to the games is functionally the same because the new place is a half mile from the old.

Financially, though, it took a while. Arsenal paid for their own stadium, and to do so, they front-loaded a lot of their endorsement deals in 2004/05 and into 2006 for less money than the market would dictate, because they needed the cash in order to pay for the construction.

So, from the time the project started in 2003ish until it opened, Arsenal were at a pretty serious financial disadvantage relative to the other top four sides. Despite my wanting him to leave now, the fact that Wenger managed to keep Arsenal in the top four during those years is a testament to how good he is.

Any chance for a Hammer victory tomorrow? Where can we exploit your squad? I understand the third string keeper, Emiliano Martinez, may be getting the nod?

Normally, I'd say no, but Arsenal have earned four points from their last 24, so anything can happen. You are correct that we're down to Martinez in goal, and Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain face late fitness tests, so it might be a fairly threadbare Arsenal squad. On the plus side (for us), Francis Coquelin is probably out, so that's a thing.

Who is in your starting XI tomorrow and give us your prediction as to how this plays out.

Given all the uncertainty I just mentioned, it's hard to say with 100% certainty, but this is our best guess:

Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny; Walcott, Ozil, Welbeck; Alexis

How will it play out? Honestly, if Arsenal play like actual Arsenal, and not like Early Spring Arsenal, this should be a 3-0 win for the home side. But Arsenal are so bad right now, and the atmosphere around the club and the fans is so toxic, that a West Ham draw or win would honestly not surprise me in the least.

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