Sunday, August 28, 2011

Managing Expectations

I'll admit it, I'm a relative newcomer to Arsenal and European football more generally. It's been a mere five seasons that I have been following the Arsenal and as a result, I have no mental rolodex of statistics and games to draw from when comparing this season to those gone by. However, what I lack in long term team awareness, I gain in a greater perspective of the current realities surrounding the club. 

The first season I began really watching and studying the Arsenal team on a game in, game out basis was 2007-2008. I think you'll all recall fondly the way the boys flew out of the gates and gave us all hope for that elusive League Title. Obviously we didn't quite get there that year, but it made me appreciative of being in the running for silverware. I just couldn't understand how the fans of the mid-table teams did it. I watched in a curiously puzzled way as supporters from teams like Everton and Aston Villa, whose only hope for success is to make a decent Domestic Cup run, got behind their team regardless of how many players they lost or the lack of funds available. Well, it's been six years now that Arsenal have gone without a trophy, and I'm starting to think that this is the tier that Arsenal now belong to. 

No realistic or logical fan of the club can truthfully believe Arsenal are capable of winning anything outside of the FA or Carling Cup. All the hyperbole put forth in the blogo-twit-sphere (did I just coin that?) relative to new faces being added to the squad will not give Arsene and the boys a chance at this year's title (or next year's for that matter). There is just no chance for Arsenal to add the quantity and quality of players that would allow them to overtake the likes of Manure, Citeh or Chelsea. If you think me wrong on this point, fair enough, you're a delusional lunatic, but fair enough. I suggest anyone who does disagree with me on this should follow @timpayton from the Arsenal Supporters Trust or @SwissRamble for the stark reality of Arsenal's current wage and transfer limitations based in no small part from their severely undervalued commercial sponsorship deals. But I digress...

Earlier this summer, Wenger tried to show some resistance to losing his two best players:

"Imagine the worst situation - we lose Fabregas and Nasri. You cannot convince people you are ambitious after that. You can't then pretend you are a big club because a big club holds on to its best players and gives a message to all the other big clubs that they can't come in and take our players."

Perhaps this was a plea to the board to back him up, perhaps he has lost the plot like so many claim or perhaps he was just as blindly hopeful as we all were that Arsenal would find a way to hold onto one of these two influential playmakers. Well guess what..we did lose them both. And their combined loss, along with our recent league form dating back to that disastrous cup final, leads any realistic fan to the conclusion that Arsenal have lost its place as a big club at the European and Domestic tables. And I guess what I'm trying to say is "that's ok." I think fans, while heartbroken, could at least understand and appreciate Arsenal's current plight if the manager, the owner or the board members would come out and just be honest. If Ivan Gazidis came out and said something like, "Hey, we're not going to be able to beat United this year and we sure as shit aren't going to beat Madrid or Barcelona in Europe." Could you really blame him? Especially if he followed that up with an honest assessment like, "You know what, we just can't keep pace with the likes of Chelsea and City in terms of wages. They're able to pay 2x what we have on offer, but we'll do everything we can to put a competitive team on the field. We'll do everything in our control to provide the fans with Champions League football (as the club has for 16 years running) and perhaps get a cup final snuck in there every once in a while." Could you honestly get angry at that?

Anyone who thinks this point of view is a defeatist attitude or giving Arsene the easy way out, I suggest you take a quick look across the pond. Take a look at how the financial realities of Major League Baseball force virtually every other team in the league to sell their best players to the Yankees, Red Sox and few other big market clubs in order to survive. Teams like the Oakland A's have become a feeder club, while in a perpetual state of rebuilding as they rely on young talent to even have a chance at post season honors. For any Gooner that hasn't already read it, perhaps a quick lesson in modern sport economics is in order from Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Or better yet, just wait another month and go check out the movie. Brad Pitt stars in it and we all know he's a helluva lot prettier than Arsenal's recent form.
Editor's Note:  Above picture may or may
not be from Moneyball movie.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A look through the squad as it stands...

So here she is...the current list of players that are listed as members of Arsenal's first team.

Number Position Name Number Position Name
1 G Manuel Almunia 4 M Cesc Fábregas
21 G Lukasz Fabianski 35 M Emmanuel Frimpong
24 G Vito Mannone 46 M Henri Lansbury
13 G Wojciech Szczęsny 8 M Samir Nasri
20 D Johan Djourou 16 M Aaron Ramsey
28 D Kieran Gibbs 7 M Tomas Rosicky
?? D Carl Jenkinson 17 M Alex Song
6 D Laurent Koscielny 19 M Jack Wilshere
3 D Bacary Sagna 33 F Benik Afobe
18 D Sebastien Squillaci 52 F Nicklas Bendtner
30 D Armand Traore 29 F Marouane Chamakh
5 D Thomas Vermaelen 42 F Ryo Miyaichi
2 M Abou Diaby 10 F Robin Van Persie
23 M Andrei Arshavin 11 F Carlos Vela
40 M Craig Eastmond ?? F Gervinho
27 M Emmanuel Eboué 14 F Theo Walcott

A quick glance down the list (I promise the never ending Twitter transfer gossip will still be there when you look back) and you'll notice quite a few names we can safely assume won't be with the team throughout the long season ahead. Let's do that, shall we...let's see just how impressive Wenger's "already big" squad really is.

For starters, let's take off the players that seemingly have Wenger's stamp of approval to move on: Almunia, Eboue and Bendner. There, didn't that feel good to part ways with our beloved 99th minute hero...sorry, that was petty. Now, let's go ahead and give you rumor-mongers something to latch onto and assume that Henri Lansbury and Armand Traore will be moving along as well. Our list that began with 28 outfield players and 4 goalies has already shrunk to 24/3 and we're just getting started.

It genuinely saddens me *sheds token tear into Fabregas shirt* to come to the realization that Cesc will be playing with that spiky-haired wanker down in Barcelona next season. So let's just rip the bandaid off and remove the captain from the list. While you're all griping about how unfair Barca's tapping up of our player has been, I'll take the liberty of removing Craig Eastmond too.

Come here Çexy Çescy

That now leaves the mighty Arse with a paltry 22 outfielders and still 3 goalies...but gets better. As with any season at the Emirates, you have to factor in the odd injury that will linger from August right on through the holidays (while never escalating beyond a "few weeks out") and of course, the random visa struggle. We can fill those quotas with non other than Messrs Walcott, Diaby and Miyaichi...thanks gentlemen!

As we now sit almost a fortnight away from a new season, one in which there are countless reasons why Arsenal need a strong start, our squad has a massive 19 players and 3 goalies that can be called upon?!?! Within those 19 -- 2 are coming off significant injuries (TV & Frimpong), 3 have never played in the Premier League (Jenkinson, Afobe & Gervinho) and 1 more that doesn't really want to be here (Nasri).

Now, I'm no footballing genius or anything, but I do know that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself if left unchecked. And so as I look back over our new list of 19/3 that we have to start the season, I can't help but notice that we've done NOTHING to shore up our defensive frailties. Further, what happens when this paper thin squad is further hit by the injuries? Don't worry about it I say [dripping with sarcasm], Arsene can call upon his veritable who's who of internationals from the bench -- Vela, Chamakh & Rosicky.

And that about sums up my rant for the night. I apologize for all the negativity, I promise I'll put a few pints of the black down before the Newcastle game and come up with another post about why it's so obviously Arsenal's year to end the trophy drought. Until then...there's always Twitter!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cranberry Winter Caps

My college coach was fond of telling us players that the way we played on the field was a reflection of our character off it. Thinking back on that old adage now, it sounds a lot like Maximus Decimus Meridius telling his troops that 'what they do in life echoes in eternity'...but I digress.

Are you not entertained?
As yet another Arsenal season dribbled to a close, I found myself reflecting back on Coach J's wisdom. Every time I watched - Bendtner lazily prance into the box for that inch perfect cross or Eboue writhe in pain from the phantom kick or Denilson calmly observe an opponent dash in front of him to provide the finishing touch on a counter - I thought about that wise old codger. Clearly Arsenal has a team sheet loaded with individual talent, but it seems a willingness to claw and scratch their way through the difficult patches is what has cost this team dearly.

This is a tired argument, I know, but I was painfully reminded of Arsenal’s lethargic tendencies as I watched Barcelona in the Champion's League Final. Pep's pips comfortably took apart the ‘best’ team England had to offer as they proved themselves the best in the world by a country mile. For many Arsenal supporters, the takeaway from Barca's thrashing of ManU had to be their work rate. On the rare occasion one of their players turned the ball over, they collectively scrambled to get it back like a bunch of meth-addled tweakers. Més que un club indeed! This trait is clearly instilled in La Masia and something their stars don’t quickly forget. It's an attitude so prevalent throughout the club that when they inevitably poach supplement with a player from outside, say David Villa, he is inspired to work just as hard as their youngsters to validate his presence in the first team. When Pep Guardiola stands on the touchline, he knows that if the overwhelming talent his players possess struggles to produce the desired result, their collective work rate will. I think we can all forget about Arsenal somehow amassing 7 of the starting 11 from the reigning World & European Cup winning sides and they're probably not gonna stumble upon the best player in the world sometime soon either. So that brings us back to character...and how the ol' Professor better determine damn quickly which members of his current squad has it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Groundhog Day

Let me just start this post out on a positive note...I like the color Red. There, I can now plunge face first down the seemingly bottom-less pit of despair that is Arsenal's form during the run in. The now annual tradition of Wenger and the boys stringing us along like a bunch of hopeless lemmings continues. All the flailing Arsenal sides of recent memory were perfectly summed up in the first paragraph of Richard Jolly's match report.

"At times, it can feel like there is checklist of Arsenal's failings, real or imagined. Game by game, they are ticked off: the susceptibility to set-pieces; the habit of conceding late goals; the need for a dominant central defender; the profligacy in attack; the lack of leadership; the psychological frailty."

Rather than delve into all too familiar arguments for how Wenger or Arsenal need to alter the squad to challenge for honors next year, I'll keep this post limited to my one hope for the final four games of the season. I hope they lose. I hope they lose all of them. I hope the same tired, stagnant group of players and formation is trotted out there and they continue to look as hopelessly toothless on offense and pathetically weak at the back.

Before you accuse me of blasphemy or outright self-pity for how Arsenal's season has turned all pear-shaped, just allow me this small piece of backward logic. As the old adage goes, it's easy to perform when the pressure is all on the other guy. Now that the pressure for the title is off the Gunners' collective shoulders, it would seem easier for them to revert back to the free flowing, high scoring football we all enjoy when they're at their best. But that would do nothing, but provide false hope to the followers, players and perhaps most detrimentally, the management. If they were to snap out of this pathetic vein of form and close the gap on the leaders, it would perhaps only dull the management's desire for the reinforcements this club so obviously requires.

I'm prepared to sacrifice an immediate drop in confidence for a longer term gain in talent. Lose the rather meaningless grip on 3rd place and have to qualify for the Champs league at the start of next season...a small price to pay in my mind to ensure the harsh reality of mediocrity stares at Arsene and the boys throughout a long closed season.

Cry me a river...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Exciting end to a tough week

Back in the saddle...those little carple tunnel niggles have finally healed after a long summer of writing about the World Cup and I chose this holiday edition of a Gunners' victory to make my first blog post of the 2010-2011 season. Yesterday's game was an exciting one, but also served as a microcosm of the Arsenal season to date -- dominate the run of play, convert too few of their opportunities, suffer a few ill-timed lapses in concentration defensivly and thus allow the opposition to remain a threat for the full 90 minutes. I'll tell you Gooner fans one thing, if this squad is going to win the league this year, it won't be until we're midway through May.

As far as individual performances go yesterday, Arshavin finally found the back of the net. From my perspective, the goal was long overdue. He has been showing flashes of his best for the past few weeks and when an Aston Villa giveaway left him one on one, the little Russian knew how to take advantage. Great to see him step up and fill the void left by Cesc's absence. Now, if we could get Rosicky off the schnide, I think we can all feel better about the depth of options available for selection in the attacking third.

In defense, I was hoping for a runout for Johan Djourou, but instead there was the token pairing of Squillaci & Koscielny. The all too familiar problem of set pieces reared its ugly head, affording Aston Villa its second goal. We got the three points, so I don't really care, but I would love to hear Wenger's thoughts on why he doesn't give Djourou a shot in the first team. Arsenal so obviously need help in the air, they lost virtually every contested header yesterday. The big Swiss International has been impressive of late and we haven't kept a clean sheet since slick Willy was in the White House, so why not give him a shot?  Did anyone else notice that the first header we won in the match came in the 92nd minute, once Djourou was introduced to seal up the win? Just some food for thought as we all wonder when big TV will return from the phantom achilles injury.

On a slightly different note, can we get the boss to spend some practice time on celebrations? I mean, this picture looks like Samir & Andrei are just stepping off the set of Sweet Valley High -- the Limp Wristed Years.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Looks like it's safe to wear oranje to the World Cup again...

Good news coming out of Jo-burgh today, FIFA have dropped the charges against those evil marketing masterminds Barbara Castelein and Mirte Nieuwpoort. In case you don't know, these were the two Dutch women that were actually arrested and questioned in retaliation for wearing the orange mini-dresses sponsored by Bavaria. 

In actual game related news, the final round of group games kicks off in about an hour here and it's shaping up to be an interesting four days leading up to the knock-out phase. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that France is going home early, joining petulant striker extraordinaire Nicolas Anelka, who was sent home after calling his coach "a son of a whore." Don't know what the big deal is, Raymond Domenech has shown no sign of a backbone throughout all of the qualifying leadup and the subsequent World Cup games, so who can blame Anelka for thinking their would be any retribution to telling your coach to go F*#@ himself. Never in my entire life of watching competitive sports have I seen a team as dysfunctional as this France squad. I'm pretty sure if they all just showed up drunk or high to the game against Bafana Bafana, nobody would be surprised. 

So I guess that means, I'm expecting a gentlemen's agreement between Mexico and Uruguay, to ensure that they both play for the tie in the other game in Group A. For those that are quick at math, this means that they would both advance, Uruguay in first and Mexico second (I know another bold prediction). 

As for the Group B action, I gotta think crazy Maradona and his squad of hobbits will scrounge at least a point against the Greeks in order to take top spot. Beyond that, I'm gonna go ahead and proclaim that the South Koreans advance by beating Nigeria. For one, that makes this analysis much quicker and for another, I like the fact that these guys run their absolute bollocks off. Collectively, I haven't seen a team work harder than these guys both on the ball and off it. They're like a bunch of fire ants out there...big ups to Coach J.

I'll leave all you Gunner fans today with this little nugget from USA superfan Ryan (and occasional Arsenal supporter by association). Fox Soccer's Ives Galarcep has proclaimed it a virtual lock that Wenger will be looking to bring in a US Soccer star during this summer's transfer period. Who the hell is Ives Galarcep you ask? Well, I have no idea...for all I know he could be my buddy's little brother. What I do know he thinks it likely that either Michael Bradley, Tim Howard or Landon Donovan could be tapped up by the boss to come to Ashburton Grove. Personally, I would really enjoy seeing Bradley get a shot with us. I think he could do a job as a ready made stand in for Alex Song and it would go a long way to advancing US players' profiles internationally. Any thoughts from the peanut gallery on this one would be appreciated.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And round one goes to the Jabulani

Through the first round of the group fixtures, most of the pundits have been fixated on the vuvuzelas, the ball, the general lack of goals and the rather conservative approach most teams have employed. And while I can't really argue against any of these rather obvious points (Portugal and Ivory Coast should be ashamed), I think they bely the real story of this year's World Cup...there has been an unprecedented level of SNEAKINESS going on during these first few games!

For one, who the hell knew that North Korea had it in em to make the vaunted Brazilians work so hard for a miserly two goals. I know this is Dunga's Brazil and all, but who saw that coming??? I mean, the one guy on the North Korean side who is playing in Russia during the club season doesn't have a fridge or a TV! I get the TV part, what with the whole government censorship and oppression of an entire nation, but what does this guy eat? I'm guessing a steady diet of freshly slaughtered pig intestine, washed down with some raw eggs straight off the farm. Tangent maybe, but those guys were impressive.

Staying in that sneakiest of qualifying regions, both South Korea and Japan sprung upset victories. Some probably picked the South Koreans to beat the Greeks (me for one), but I'd be shocked if many saw the Japanese pulling all three points from their match against Cameroon. The Japanese were completely bereft of goal scoring in the matches leading up to the Cup and they weren't all that solid at the back. So what happens, they hold one of the most prolific strikers of his generation (Samuel Eto) and the rest of the Cameroonians to no goals. Huge kudos to both teams for three big points. 

And how about the Germans saying a big F U to all the people out there that thought they were too young without several of their key players, including their captain? So they just went down to their farm system and plucked this guy of Turkish decent named Mesut Ozil, who just happens to be the best player in the tournament so far. No big deal really...we all saw that coming too. 

And finally, never one to miss a beat, FIFA went ahead and made sure that we have never seen 40 girls in orange mini skirts garner this much international attention in the aftermath of the Netherlands v Denmark game. I can hear the conversations now...

Disgruntled security guard A:  "um sir, there are 40 scantily clad young ladies in section 40H and they are all dressed the same."
Moronic FIFA rep: "it must be that fiendishly clever marketing organization Bavaria Beer back at it again!!! Make sure these women are arrested and interrogated to the fullest extent possible."

I mean, what the hell??? How are you gonna arrest women at a DUTCH soccer match for wearing orange??? It's their national freaking color and their team is known as L'Oranje!?!?!? Again, very clever FIFA, you're clearly operating at a higher level than the rest of us.

Maybe next week I'll actually talk about the games a bit more, unless the sneakiness continues, but for now just enjoy the action!!!