Trading exclusively in initialisms, I spoke with pdb (and fbj0) from TSF in the second part of our -- big booming voice now -- Big Derby Weekend Q&A. Click here for Part 1 (warning: here be Arsenal fans).
Q1. What's the general feeling among the faithful about Arsenal's league season? Happy about dominating half a season again? Disappointed about results in the other half of the season?
A: I think the general feeling is that it's been a "frustratingly good" season - the first half of the season saw Arsenal have to do without Giroud, Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott, Wilshere, and new signing Mathieu Debuchy for several months. Given that the first three are the best players Arsenal have, and the next two are in the top tier of Arsenal players, that would put a kink in any team's plans to do well. As they cobbled together teams and formations with spare parts, Arsenal struggled to be anything resembling a cohesive team until January, when players started coming back out of the training room. If Arsenal had had a fully healthy squad from day one, I think the title race would be a whole lot closer than it is now.
Q2. With Arsenal exiting the Champions League in similarly disappointing fashion as Chelsea, what do you think happened to English teams this year in Europe? Is this a one off or do we need systemic changes in scheduling, emphasis, etc? (For example: a winter break?)
A: I have long been a proponent of the winter break, even without considering the CL. As to your CL question, I don't really know the answer - the easy answer is to say that everyone thinks the Premier League is a better league than it is and to use CL results as a stick with which to beat that point home, but I'm honestly not sure that's fair; I also don't know how English teams do better in the Champions League, unfortunately.
Q3. With the issue of youth and homegrown players becoming an ever bigger deal, who are some of the brightest prospects in the Arsenal system? Why do you think Arsenal's youth teams have struggled a bit in the first few seasons of the new U18/U21 Premier Leagues?
A: (For this answer, we turn to TSF's resident
youth enthusiast U18/21 correspondent, fbj0)
The brightest prospects in Arsenal's youth set up are Daniel Crowley, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem, and recent signee, Krystian Bielik. Alex Iwobi has come on strong of late and probably merits inclusion on that list too.
The answer to your second question is significantly colored by my answer to the first. Arsenal have a glut of individually talented offensive youngsters but the only defensively oriented prospect with any legitimate hope of breaking into the first team anytime soon is a 17 year old defensive midfielder we just bought in January for a significant sum. There's only so much you can achieve in terms of results when your youth sides are defending like worse versions of the stereotypes that plague the senior side's reputation.
But the problems lie much deeper than that. Despite Arsenal's reputation for developing young talent (and then selling said talent for a tidy profit), no one in recent history other than Jack Wilshere has made the breakthrough from the Academy into the first team in recent years. The stagnation was enough to lead to the departure of long-time youth development head, and club legend, Liam Brady. Andries Jonker, formerly of the Dutch youth set-up, Barcelona, and Bayern, was brought in last summer to replace him. Hard for an outsider to gauge how the club has failed to nurture its talent, but clearly they have, and it has cost them.
Q4. Who is your signing of the season not named Alexis Sanchez?
A: I had supremely high hopes for Danny Welbeck - In Arsenal's setup, I had him pegged as a potential 20 goal scorer, which...oops. Other than that, I think most fans were pretty curious about Mathieu Debuchy, because Arsenal have been sub-par defensively for a good while now, but he's been hurt most of the season. He played in the Cup semi-final, which were his first minutes since being Stoked in January, so at this point I'm curious about him as a 2015-16 signing.
Q5. What do you think will happen first, Arsenal win the Premier League or Arsene Wenger leaves the club?
A: I think at this point, Arsenal winning the league. Arsene Wenger has shown no signs of slowing, and has given no indication that he's anywhere near wanting to leave; he's accomplished and achieved so much that he will leave whenever he wants to leave and not a moment sooner. His contract is up after 2016-17, and Arsenal are in better shape to mount a serious title challenge now than they have been since moving to/paying for the Emirates, so I have a feeling the next couple years are going to be a lot of fun.
Q6. Who would win a best-of-seven game of rock, paper, scissors between Wenger and Mourinho and why?
A: Wenger, because he doesn't fall for anybody's mind games and is a master at getting under people's skin. He'll go up two nil, say something backhandedly nice about Mourinho, who will then get mad and storm off, leaving Wenger to win by default.
Q7. Any prediction for Sunday? And should Arsenal win, do you think the title race would be back on?
A: This is a tough one. I think Arsenal, being at home, are set up to win, but that said Chelsea haven't lost in a good long while, so as much as I want to predict a 4-1 to Arsenal, I'm going into Lazy Pundit Mode and calling it a super tense 2-2 draw. I think if Arsenal do win, the title race will warm up a bit - I'm not seeing Chelsea dropping many more points than any they drop on Sunday, so maybe I'm just being overly optimistic but I'd like to find out if there'd be a renewed title race, because that means Arsenal will have done their job.