The cries for Arsene Wenger's head have been on a steady upward tick over the past few years, and they seem to be increasing exponentially these days. What are your thoughts as to whether or not he should continue, and what do you actually see happening at the end of the season?
I think he should continue if he wants to, although I'm not sure that he will renew his contract beyond 2014. I think he'll be around through the end of his current deal for certain. The arguments against Wenger, aside from pure results in a vacuum, seem to be either 1) that he "clearly" cannot motivate his players to play "with desire" anymore, an argument that I sort of reject on its face as unknowable from simply watching games on television, and 2) that he's unwilling to spend money on good players, which argument is complicated by the murky nature of Arsenal's board and financial picture.
I suppose it's not inconceivable that if, say, Arsenal had a disastrous spring and were to finish outside like, the top 8, that the Board could give Wenger the ax; however, I'd say this is extremely unlikely to happen.
Arsenal have had a few close calls in regards to Champions League qualification over the years, but from an outside perspective this looks like their toughest challenge yet. How firm is your belief that Arsenal can manage to qualify this season, and if they do miss out how big of a deal would you consider that to be?
I think this is maybe the most tricky year yet, simply because Liverpool and Everton, along with Tottenham, look pretty good right now. Every year about this time, though, that Arsenal have always looked out of the race, they go on a pretty terrific run and pull ahead. It often does come right down to the wire (2006, last year), though. But to answer your first question, I believe that the team is good enough to qualify if they can simply stop making silly mistakes when defending and stay healthy. Being good enough and actually doing it seem to be things that don't always line up in Arsenal's world lately, though, which basically leads me into all kinds of rhetorical feedback loops about what the words "good" and "enough" mean, before my eyes sort of glaze over and I need a sandwich.
If Arsenal miss out, it won't be awesome, but the club will be fine. The new shirt sponsorship deal, along with more television money in the league, along with their cash reserves, mean that there will still be money to spend, no problem. The other fear that is commonly raised under this scenario is that Arsenal will no longer be able to attract talented players, which is a pretty silly worry (unless one is saying that Arsenal already don't attract talented players, which is another argument). Liverpool and Tottenham and Newcastle do just fine bringing in talented players, for instance.
It'll also be the first time in 17 years that the club hasn't finished in the top four in the league, which like, I'll take 17 good years and one "bad" year from a team that I support.
This has been a pretty big season for Theo Walcott. He's had an interesting few years, and it's easy to forget that he's only 23. How much better do you think he can be over the next few seasons?
I think that Theo is nearing his peak at this point, myself. His biggest weakness for me, before, was erratic finishing; that, he has improved immensely. His other weaknesses, which are mainly that he can't do much against deep-lying sides, isn't big enough to offer legitimate hold-up play, and isn't the greatest crosser in the world, probably won't go away at this point. He is very, very fast, still, and that should stick around for a while. I think there's still room to improve some of his movement and some of his decision-making, so he can get a little better, but his level this year is already pretty acceptable to me.
Arsenal's big names are pretty well known. Tell us about a player or two that might fly a bit under the radar but are worth paying attention to.
The name of a guy people have already seen a lot of, but that doesn't get a lot of credit, for me, is Kieran Gibbs. As left backs go, he is a pretty good one--maybe not great-great yet, but good--and his ability going forward to support Lukas Podolski often spells the difference between good Poldi and "where is" Poldi. Luckily for us, his new competition at left back, Nacho Monreal, is also super solid. I think the two of them can push each other to be much better than they already are.
As far as players actually under the radar, one name comes to mind, and that is Serge Gnabry. He hasn't had much of a chance with the senior team yet, but I'd expect to start seeing him more in the next couple of years, as long as his growth continues. He's a nifty attacking midfielder who can play out wide as well. Thomas Eisfeld is another attacking midfielder to keep an eye on; he's straight from Dortmund, and if one knows what Mario Götze is like, one can pretty much imagine what Eisfeld aspires to.
I know you watch Villa on a semi-regular basis. How do you see this one playing out?
I kind of think that it's going to come down to whether or not Arsenal can contain the quick counterattacking that Villa will look to do. If Arsenal's defenders don't lose their minds when trying to contain Benteke and Weimann on the counter (which is a bit of a random roll of the dice with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Koscielny these days), and if Villa's pressing doesn't disrupt the work of Mikel Arteta in the midfield, I think Arsenal should be able to find their way to scoring. Arsenal haven't looked very good against the counter this year, though, so that could prove costly. In the end, I think Arsenal will win 2-1.