Ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Arsenal FC, I sat down with Paul DeBruler of The Short Fuse (SBNation's Arsenal blog) for a joint question and answer session about our teams. Actually, we just emailed questions back and forth. I was sitting. I assume he was, too.
Bavarian Football Works: Arsenal bought Mesut Özil for €50M last summer. After setting the Premier League alight for the first month, he's cooled and even gone cold. What's the reason for this?
Paul DeBruler: There are a couple reasons. First, I know it sounds totally cliche, but it does take time to "settle into the English game". England is a very close-marking league that does not allow creative players the time on the ball they're used to getting in other leagues (particularly in Spain), and it takes a while to adjust one's game to that. At first that adjustment is on the defenders, but once a few games happen word about a player's tendencies gets out and the adjustment's back on the player.
Second, Özil's game is all about finding a moving player with the perfect ball, and with both Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey out, Arsenal have lost a ton of that mobility. Nacho Monreal doesn't make runs, unless you count lateral runs, and Olivier Giroud, for all his qualities, isn't the most, shall we say, imaginative player when it comes to creating space, so quite a bit of what Özil provides isn't as obvious right now. He's still an amazing pickup, though, and even when he struggles you just know there's something special in there waiting to come out.
BFW: Jack Wilshere was once touted as the next coming of [insert desired famous footballer name here] for English football. Now, he seems a little more enigmatic. What's going on with Wilshere and should Bayern Munich be scared of him?
PD: The problem with Jack Wilshere isn't necessarily with Jack Wilshere. The problem is that he's English. The state of the English national team game is, to put it charitably, dire (there's been a clamoring for 697-year-old John Terry to be recalled, for instance). So whenever an English player with any talent appears on the horizon, the English football media, never the most level-headed of people to begin with, start touting the player as England's Next Great Hope, and they turn their stupid magnifying glass on the player. Remember when you were a kid and you had a magnifying glass and you pointed that magnifying glass at, say, a leaf? Or an ant? That's what happens here too.
Wilshere was never a world-beating player; he's good, and he'll be a valuable contributor, but he's not at the elite level and probably never will be. Should Bayern be scared of him? "Scared" may be the wrong word, but they do need to be wary of him, because he's capable of great things.
BFW: As long ago as December, Arsenal seemed to have a sizable lead on the BPL title race. Now, they sit in second place. What's happened to this team recently?
PD: Again, there's a couple reasons. They have struggled with injuries, but so has almost every team - Arsenal's injuries, though, have resulted in them having to use a midfield pivot of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, which to be charitable pivots about as much as a rusted-out car door hinge. Neither of those two does the reverse side of the pivot, which exposes acres of space behind them that teams easily exploit. The other factor is that this is one of the closest, most competitive Premier League races in years - the top 6 teams are separated by a mere 12 points, and any slip by any team can have a huge effect on how the table looks from week to week.
As with all things, Arsenal have never been as good as they looked early or as average as they've looked lately - they've had a few wobbles, most recently their inexplicable 5-1 mauling at the hands of Liverpool last week, but overall in July if you'd said to me that Arsenal would be a point off the top in February, I'd take it gladly.
BFW BONUS QUESTION: On a scale of 1-10, rate how sexy Arsenal fans think Lukas Podolski is.
PD: Lukas Podolski is sexy, sure, but when your team contains Olivier Giroud, well, Podolski's basically wallpaper.
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