Category Archives: Arsenal

14th

To 14th street and beyond

Last night Arsenal fans didn’t just paint 14th street red, we exploded onto the scene with the exuberance of a teenager with his first paintball gun. Splotches of red, gold, blue, and yellow, bursting out of every pub, skipping along the streets of Manhattan, drinking joyfully, and singing every song from the Arsenal hymnal. It was all almost too much but at the same time not enough.

I nearly missed my flight Friday morning and only the insistence of my sister, who was giving me a ride to the airport at 5:30 in the morning (bless her), calling me multiple times to wake me up made sure I caught the plane on time. Despite hurrying to get to the plane, I slept fitfully on the flight. The sleep of someone doped to the gills on Valium and yet anxious both about the flight and the event ahead.

skyline

A dizzying cab ride, with the iconic skyline featuring prominently against the backdrop of what must be the world’s biggest cemetery, landed me at the house of my gracious hosts Brian and his fiance Regina. I had almost no time to drop my bags and change shirts before we were off to help set up for the silent auction at the Winslow on 14th Street. It was early, I thought. But in reality it wasn’t early enough. Officially, the celebrations were to start at 7 but by 5pm the streets were already full of Arsenal fans.

The show at the Winslow was a silent auction of 40 pieces of work with proceeds going to Street Soccer USA. The walls were plastered with beautiful prints in various styles from the anime style of 11Cannons to the wonderfully succinct multi-tonal work of Art of Sport. The full list of artists who donated pieces is available on their Facebook page. 

As that event built steam I wandered off down the street to O’Hanlans where Arseblog was signing copies of his book Together. I had hoped to get a chance to meet the boss in person for the first time but as soon as I looked into O’Hanlans I saw an impenetrable wall of people with the same idea. Now wasn’t the right time so I turned away and went back up toward the Winslow which is actually right next to the famous Arsenal pub The Blind Pig. I thought about checking out the Blind Pig but again the same story. It was a madhouse, there was a huge line of fans waiting to do some kind of Arsenal sponsored official event. Maybe a photo booth?

I settled at the Winslow which, compared to The Blind Pig and O’Hanlans, was only slightly insanely overrun with Arsenal fans. In and around the Winslow I met a number of other Arsenal fans and asked each what they had done since they got into town. Time and again I got the same story: they had gone to an event and the crowds were unbelievable.

Many of the fans I talked to had tried to get to the event at Grand Central Station (I think the FA Cup was there along with some of the Arsenal players) only to be turned away as the demand outstripped the capacity. I’m not getting down on the club here or the organizers of any of these events, rather, I’m celebrating the fact Arsenal is so well supported here in the States that the events had crowds over capacity. Hundreds of thousands of people have come from all over the world and converged on Manhattan for the Arsenal. As the song goes, we truly do all follow the Arsenal, over land and sea.

As the auction wound up I got a text from Chris Toronyi telling me to get down to O’Hanlans, the crowds had thinned out enough that I could finally meet Andrew from Arseblog. We pushed our way through the drunks gathered at the door and all the way to the back. Being the gracious guy that he is, as soon as Andrew saw me he came out from behind his table and shook my hand. That’s right folks, I have touched the hand that fingers Arseblog. Wait, I mean, I have fingered the hand of blogs… you know what I mean.

We had a few words but there was always someone there wanting a moment with him. So we decided to catch up later when things weren’t so crazy. I said my goodbyes and headed back to the Winslow. At this point, the auction was closed and the pub was a flurry of activity. Getting pieces to the winners and cashing them out.

frenzy

As the happy winners filtered out of the Winslow, the hardcore fans stayed behind and started singing. All of the old tunes were belted out about players like Vieira and Ray Parlor. This is a rarity for me. Even at Arsenal games in London I never hear the Ray Parlor song. And then the coup de grace, my absolute favorite Arsenal song, We All Live In A Perry Groves World. I switched the camera on and recorded the crowd singing.

As our night wore down Brian and Regina took me to a Ukrainian diner where I finished the night off with some Pinot, a bowl of the best borscht I have ever savored, and some lovely conversation. It was the perfect way to cap off an Arsenal event: with friends, decompressing and laughing about the day.

Going in to this I knew that there would be more supporters than the Red Bulls Arena could support. I thought of it as a sort of Arsenal-Woodstock; with people coming out from all over the place just to be here for the event. There were Chicago Gooners, The Squid Boy Like flew in from England, people sporting their Austin Gooners tees and so many other people from all over the world gathered just for a chance to maybe get an autograph off a player or for a brief conversation with any of the thousands of other Arsenal fans here. Just to be here.

Thinking back on the day, the one thing that struck me is that the thirst for Arsenal in the States is nearly unquenchable. I’m thinking that maybe one game in the USA isn’t enough. That Arsenal should do this tour bigger next time, paint more than just one street red, let’s paint the whole continet red! Come to Seattle, go to the midwest, go to Canada, and maybe even Mexico, then finish off in NYC. It was so beautiful to see the outpouring of support but instead of slaking my thirst, I want more.

That Arsenal painted 14th street red is no doubt. Arsenal, I think, could paint America red if it wanted.

Qq

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Arsenal in NYC: we are gathering

The FA Cup has been packed neatly in bubble wrap.The players have been corralled using the charms of various Apple devices and herded on to waiting jet liners. Arseblog has packed a suitcase full of books and boarded a jet. The artists from We All Follow The Arsenal are on the last leg of their journey. And countless others are boarding planes, trains, and automobiles in order to arrive in New York City in time for the festivities. If 14th Street is set to be red tomorrow, it has already begun to turn pink.

“Soccer is still far enough below the radar in the United States for Robbie Keane to lead a relatively normal life in his adopted city of Los Angeles” read the hilarious lede from a BBC article about how football has taken off in the USA. It’s a quote meant as a counter point to the argument in their article. As if to say “maybe football has grown significantly more popular in recent years but Robbie Keane still isn’t swarmed for signatures when he goes out.” As if Robbie Keane would even be recognized as a professional footballer anywhere in the world.

But the facts belie their argument. The World Cup broke records for television viewership. And we don’t just watch on TV, this isn’t Italy. The Sounders sold 67,000+ tickets for their first game after the World Cup. And while Seattle may be a bit unusual, in that we have higher attendance here than all but the most popular professional soccer clubs in Europe, it still shows the power of football in the USA. We may be one soccer mad corner of the USA but you can believe me when I tell you that I have been to many places in this country and seen many crowded faces watching games.

There may be new faces in the crowds but for many American Arsenal fans we have been waiting for this moment for too long. We have had to sit back and watch the happy faces of our rival fans as Chelsea and Man U make a seeming annual pilgrimage to the USA. I even went to one of the very first exhibition games here, Celtic v. Man U in 2003. There was signing, cheering, and even some sectarian violence among the 67,000 fans who were in the stands that day.

I kind of felt dirty watching that Man U game that summer. I felt like I was giving the arch enemy my money. I have since eschewed attending any other team’s games in the USA. For example, Tottenham are coming to Seattle and I can’t imagine a reason why I would attend that, except as a Sounders fan, rooting for the green.

Despite the occasional 60,000 seat sell out, the truth is that football has been slow to take off in the USA. In 2003 we still watched most games on one of two channels, grubby little backwater channels like Setanta which you could only get with an expensive satellite package. And Setanta was a god-send. Prior to that we watched match of the day style clips, occasional live matches, and sometimes even had to pay-per-view big games. Moreover, in 2003 there was no YouTube and there were no pirate streams. We got what the lords of television gave us and were thankful for it.

And fast forward to today. I can watch every game in the Premier League, most of the FA Cup matches, almost all of the League Cup matches, and any Champions League match on my television, on my computer, or on my tablet. Not only that but ESPN has a site dedicated to our sport and data outlets like WhoScored, Squawka, and the 442 app, feed us information about every aspect of the game at near instant speed. And as the coverage has grown, we have grown.

But over the last few years, Arsenal fans have also grown restless. Begging for Arsenal to come here, to our country, to let us show Arsenal how much we love her.

And this weekend we finally have the chance. For many fans, this will be the one and only time in our life that we will be able to see Arsenal play live. To see Arsenal play against the living statue,Theirry Henry.

And so we are gathering.

I MUST BREAK YOU

Arsenal approaching “most successful transfer window” status

I couldn’t sleep well last night and instead of doing the right thing and reading a book I turned on twitter. It’s a different world, twitter, at midnight than it is at 8am mostly because the British folks I follow are all waking up and pouring through the morning papers. By the time I normally join them at 8am my time they have settled the controversy and moved on to something fresh.

Most of my British friends were reacting to the news that Arsenal are having both Vermaelen and Monreal targeted (along with Cazorla) by various clubs. And with Arsenal’s defense looking rather threadbare at the moment I can understand the reaction.

I’m fairly certain that Louis van Gaal has put the bug in Vermaelen’s ear and offered the former Arsenal captain a starting role at Man U. My suspicion is that van Gaal wants to play 3 center backs, the formation du jour, and if you play with 3 CB then you really need 5-6 CB in your team to provide cover. The press have been fairly insistent that Vermaelen is on van Gaal’s radar and I can see why. Short of putting in a transfer request (which he may do next) Vermaelen upped the ante on his transfer machinations by spending time with Robin van Persie on vacation (Daily Mail, auto video, horrible reporting).

That said, I doubt that Arsene is going to start the season with two first choice center backs. That would be extremely illogical even for Wenger who loves a gamble at times. I’ve been pouring through Wenger’s quotes over the last few years and one thing I can guarantee you is that he is well aware of the toll that the World Cup takes on his team and team preparation. Mertesacker didn’t play a ton of minutes in Brazil but he has been playing and practicing almost non-stop for over a year now and even the break that Wenger is affording his World Cup winning stars isn’t going to be enough to recharge a player who will need to start another 50+ games this season. The same goes for his partner, Laurent Koscielny.

So, Arsenal have two center backs who are potentially dead tired and just one backup center back who is the former captain, is potentially disgruntled, and looks to be engineering a move to save his career. That’s the worst situation I’ve seen in the heart of the Arsenal defense since Arsenal bought Silvestre and completely understandable that folks would be nervous.

Arsenal have to be well aware of what it would look like to sell Vermaelen to Man U. The board have, no doubt, been hanging on every proclamation by the professional cranks like Piers Morgan all summer. Would Vermaelen be a huge loss, though? Especially if he was replaced with a decent option? That is a tough question.

I have a Vermaelen shirt, which is to say that I loved him in his first season at Arsenal. I remember when he first came to us and he was this raw player who had a steely look about him. But even in his first season there were signs that something just wasn’t quite right about him and his positioning.

Zonal Marking made a rather extensive post about Vermaelen’s problems with communication and with positioning in his very first season. And even boosters like me only had to hope that he would get better the more he played with Arsenal.

Sadly, it never happened. He was injured for a long time and it took several different surgeries to get him back into the first team. Then he was made captain of the club and the same errors kept creeping into his game. In fact, Vermaelen led Arsenal in errors leading to goals in each of his last two playing seasons at the club before he was dropped for Koscielny. I want to be clear, Vermaelen isn’t a crap defender, but rather his style didn’t work well at Arsenal and I suspect it will work very well in a three man back line where he can be more aggressive because he’ll have two other center backs sweeping up behind him.

I don’t think the facts about his career at Arsenal are in dispute. I think what’s in dispute is whether Arsenal can find a replacement at or above his level who is willing to be third or fourth string at Arsenal. That’s a tough sell. Players of Vermaelen’s quality don’t want to make a move to a team so that they can sit on the bench. For that reason alone (and not because it would be “taking the pride out of it, Gazidis”) I’m inclined to hang on to Vermaelen and tell him that he’s just not for sale even if that means biting the bullet on his free transfer next summer.

But just as important as hanging on to Vermaelen, I hope Arsene has identified a young player to come in and take over next summer. Well, maybe not “take over” but rather start to bed in and be prepared to take over as Mertesacker’s role diminishes. I suspect that with the World Cup taking its toll on our Big World Champion German, the young, fresh player might get some playing time right from the start.

It’s been a great summer for transfers at Arsenal so far. We’ve brought in Sanchez and Debuchy and a decent goal keeper (Ospina) is on his way. Arsenal have also been linked with a host of defensive midfielders for two years now so Wenger clearly has his eye on Arteta’s replacement. With Arsenal already approaching £50m net spend, adding a player who can play CDM (and CB in a pinch) whilst keeping Vermaelen would make this easily the most successful transfer window in recent memory.

Qq