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Behind Enemy Lines with The Short Fuse

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Before Liverpool travel to the Emirates on Monday night, The Liverpool Offside caught up with its distant cousin of the Arsenal persuasion, The Short Fuse, to talk about what to expect when you're expecting.

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Q1) - In a league where all the heavy hitters are universally loathed by the neutrals, what is it that makes Arsenal so inherently likable? I mean, it pains me to admit it, but, for me, at least, they're like your more successful, disgustingly handsome older cousin. You want to dislike him, but he's just got a certain charm that has you reluctantly wishing him well. Is it their playing the game the 'right way,' the (until recently) lack of silverware, the amusingly constant calls for Wenger's head, or Oliver Giroud's perfectly chiseled face?

It's a combination of a lot of things, but for me personally, it's how - and I hate to use this word, but I'm from Portland, so indulge me - organic Arsenal's development has been. While they are certainly one of the richer teams in England, they don't have a bottomless pile of oil money to draw from; they're probably the top of the "second tier" of English football, at least in an economic sense.  They built a stadium with their own money, knowing full well their league position may suffer as a result. But the best part was that it didn't - in Arsene Wenger's 18 years in charge, Arsenal have never finished below fourth. No other manager in England - not Ferguson, not Mourinho, not anyone - can make that claim. That alone has earned Wenger my undying respect, and as far as I'm concerned, he can manage Arsenal until he and he alone decides he doesn't want to.

Wenger's consistent record of almost-great while still being good is, of course, a double-edged sword for some people; those people are idiots. Arsenal are one of the most consistently successful teams in Premier League history (if not in First Division history - ask your parents, kids!), and if you believe (as you should) that salary spend, not transfer spend, correlates strongly to expected league position, Arsenal are about where they should be. They've spent more recently, on Sanchez and Özil, but Arsene Wenger, a Ph. D. holder in economics, is never going to spend just for the sake of it.

And that is a main driver behind, as you put it, the "amusingly constant calls for Wenger's head". Wenger is many things, but he's not a populist - he doesn't really give a damn what people say, famously does not even really know what the Internet is all about, and will always keep his own counsel as far as what Arsenal should and should not do. Which I love.

I could write a book about the dreaminess of Olivier Giroud, but all I will say here is he's probably one of the most wrongly maligned players in Arsenal's team right now, behind...well, we'll get to that later.

Q2) - As somebody that was irrational enough to place money on Arsenal to win the league this year, already I'm not expecting a return with the first two games behind us. What exactly went wrong against West Ham and, despite victory, Crystal Palace, and why are the Gunners seemingly incapable of maintaining top form for an entire campaign?

Arsenal have a recent history of, for whatever reason, not playing well in big games. Champions League knockout round games, league games against the top two teams, the occasional battle for fourth place against a relegation fodder - for some reason, Arsenal don't have that ruthlessness they need to conquer big occasions. And opening day seemed to continue that narrative - all summer, Arsenal were talked about as actual title contenders by some, and as at least a consistent title-challenging threat by others, and then they stepped out against West Ham and...ugh.

I wish I had a good answer, but I really don't; it's infuriating to watch, because Arsenal are a much better team than they've shown in the last two weeks. They only lost, what, twice between January and May last season, with largely the same squad they have now? They are a very good team, when they want to be, and I'm not sure why they don't want to be every single week.

Last week's win was great, but I want to see more convincing play before I think they're back to that form.

Q3) - A lot was made of Alexis Sanchez choosing Arsenal over Liverpool last summer, despite less money being thrown at him, and it ultimately proved costly for the Merseyside outfit. Is it fair to say that the Chilean has already taken on the mantle of Arsenal's main man, how far do you think he can take you this season, and, most importantly, what is with his affinity for short shorts?

Alexis Sanchez has been a revelation. I think we all knew he was good, but what we didn't know is how relentless he is; he literally never stops. He runs a ton - he apparently always trains at full match speed, and Arsene has said that he has no idea how Sanchez never tires. I get worn out just watching him. He's definitely one of Arsenal's main men, and a large part of the offense, both in its productivity and its directness, goes straight through him. You can see the difference if you watch the West Ham game and last week's game - Arsenal are radically different without him.

Q4) - How (and why) exactly did you break Mesut Ozil so spectacularly?

TRIGGER WARNING!!!! OH MAN YOU WENT AND DONE IT NOW!!!!!!

Arsenal did not break Mesut Özil. Arsenal have taken Mesut Özil to another level of amazingness, and it's soccer fans who think he's bad that are broken. Wait! Don't get mad yet! Bear with me and I'll explain.

There is a bad cliche in the jazz world: the beauty of jazz is not in the notes, it's in the space between the notes. And that, in a nutshell, is Mesut Özil. Most soccer fans, particularly those of a more recent vintage, watch soccer the same way: they watch the ball, and they watch where the ball goes and occasionally where it's coming from. And there's nothing wrong with that! We all do it!

But.

If that's all you do, you miss 99% of what Özil does. And you also misunderstand his role in the Arsenal attack. He's not there to score goals - he's going to score a few, no doubt, but that's not his main job. His main job is to create them, and he does that better than anyone in the league right now.

There is no one better at creating space, there are very few better at finding space where there appears to be none, and his passing this season so far has approached, and I do not use this comp lightly, Dennis Bergkamp levels of amazingness. Seriously, on Monday, spend a few minutes doing nothing but watching Özil; you will come away with a whole new appreciation for how fantastic of a player he is.

Q5) - Petr Cech has been pegged as the Premier League signing of the summer, and though he hasn't been at his best yet, what are your realistic expectations for the upcoming season? Would you be happy with a fourth place finish, how do you go about finally making waves again in the Champions League, and just what does poor Arsene Wenger have to do to get the Gooners on side?

Petr Cech was a surprise signing for a lot of us. Arsenal's goalkeeping duo of Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina was...fine. Not great, but they were serviceable. But when the best goalkeeper in the last 5ish years in England becomes available, you grab him. If nothing else, having to not spell Wojciech Szczesny again for a while (he's on loan at Roma) is great for me. But, to your question: I think Cech will help solidify a back line that, while much improved last season, still has the occasional brain-fart moment; I've heard people say Cech is worth 10-12 points, and while I want to believe that, the sabermetrician in me says there's no way to prove that, so I'll just say I think Cech will help out a lot and leave it at that.

I would not be thrilled with a fourth place finish; I don't know that Arsenal have the consistency to be champions, but I do think second place is an achievable goal this season. That said, I'm not a #WENGEROUT brigade member, so if Arsenal do finish fourth, it's not the end of my world; 19 seasons at fourth or better and 17 straight Champions League appearances is nothing to sneeze at, as they say. Would I like another league title, or a Champions League trophy? Sure, but the lack of them doesn't mean what Arsenal is doing is bad.


Q6) - And finally, how do you see Monday's game playing out?

I think the game Monday will be pretty tight. For me, being at home will make the difference, and while I'm notoriously bad at predictions, I will make one here - Arsenal win 2-1 in a game that will be a lot harder than it needs to be.