Category Archives: Arsenal

Everyone needs a hand

Dear 2014, do you still care about the league cup?

I love to say ‘Graziano Pelle’. Such words call to mind Mediterranean cheese or the prayers one might offer while genuflecting at the foot of Pele’s statue. The magic—olfactory or otherwise—native to his name is matched only by the supernatural high jinks conjured by his club. To what unique form of devil worship does Southampton owe such imperious form?

Weren’t they robbed of all their key players? Didn’t they sell the greatest manager of all time to Tottenham? Wasn’t Scheiderlin supposed to sulk his way into a rut?

Well done to them. They wanted it more than us, fielded the right team, and rightfully took full advantage of a naïve back line, and a rusty midfield. Indeed, I think most disappointing is not the result itself (more on this in a moment) but rather that players we’d expect to lead the way on a night like this decided that, instead of participating in a football match, they would get out their Ouija boards and call on the spirit of Alexander Hleb.

“Oh, Hleb,” they intoned, while opposition players bustled around them, “teach us your decision-making!” “Shall we dribble into blind alleys and feed the hungry shoes of an opposition defender?” The planchette inclined ever more to “Yes.” Yes, yes, yes!

You can forgive Rosicky, perhaps. After all, he once played with Hleb, and tonight he seemed intent on offering a testimonial to his erstwhile Belarusian counterpart. I wish Rosicky’s display could be put down solely to a lack of playing time, but for years now his effort has resembled a frantic waiter whose tables have all been seated at once. Can he ever again complain at a lack of playing time?

I should be fairer in my criticism: Wilshere was no better, and he has fewer excuses. And Sanchez, too, rarely picked out a teammate, despite picking out the top corner of the Southampton goal. It was a strange team and a strange night: Coquelin was our most experienced player on the back line! Chambers was discombobulated throughout! Bellerin our man of the match! Podolski was mentioned! Diaby is alive!

Speaking of Diaby, I thought he had a decent game. He was the 1 in the middle of the 4-1-4-1 tonight, and for much of the earlier portions of the game, everything went through him, and he looked both exciting and understandably raw. Will he be the surprise of the season? Is he the incarnation of Patrick Vieira? Does Dan Smith work in a call centre? More importantly, can we speak of Diaby without fighting? I suspect not.

The bigger question is whether you care about the league cup. Did you think it a ‘blessing in disguise’ that we were dumped out of it?

Arsenal seem to be in the unenviable position of not having a realistic chance of winning the most prestigious of competitions, while also being too proud to take seriously the competitions we have the most chance of winning. This has been our problem for some time, largely because we usually just qualify for the most elite competitions, all the while tacitly accepting we’re in them to make up the numbers (including financially). For several years, we have been at a crossroads with respect to expectations.

In other words, the league cup is a lightning rod for our ambivalence. It has, traditionally, spoken to our hopes for the future while at the same time reminded us that such an idealized future is the cause of present penury. That is, the league cup ambitions now have a musty feel, the mandate of an older order. We’re richer now. We can exit the league cup with a dignity derived from loftier ambitions, which weren’t available to us before.

And yet, we’re not quite there. We are caught between two epochs. And the degree to which that’s true is the degree to which you watched our defeat and felt both frustration and relief.

Ramsey-pose-2

Footballistically Speaking: Give Them a Chance

On the 13th of September 2008 in the 84th minute of a match against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park a player named Jack Wilshere stepped onto the pitch and into the Arsenal record books. Aged just 16 years and 256 days Jack became Arsenal’s youngest ever League debutante taking the title away from former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. After his debut Arsène Wenger would slyly remark “I bring them out slowly, these English players, he’s another one who will soon play for [England].”

Now the starting center midfielder for the English National side Jack would have to wait nearly two years before he would get that call up to the England squad. It was a match against Hungary and aged 18 years and 222 days he is the 10th youngest player to ever receive an England cap.

Before Jack Wilshere, Arsène Wenger handed a chance to another young Englishman who is now a mainstay in the England setup – a 17 year old Theo Walcott. At 17 years and 75 days, Walcott would be the youngest player to receive a full international start for England. But first, for Arsenal in Walcott’s League debut against Aston Villa he set up the tying goal with a delicious cross which found the feet of Gilberto who slammed home into the roof of the net.

Walcott would have to wait until February 2007 before he scored his first Arsenal goal which would come in the League Cup final. It’s the kind of goal which sends chills down the spine. Walcott sprints back to retrieve John Terry’s clearance deep in midfield, passes to Diaby, who beats his marker with a simple dribble. Then Diaby spots Walcott running between the Chelsea lines, plays in an easy little pass which Walcott takes with one touch, shapes his body, and curls past Cech.

From the very start of his career at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger proved he had an eye for young talent and the courage to use it. In 1997, Wenger’s debut season, he spent £500,000 on a 17 year old French striker name Nicolas Anelka. Anelka would score his first Arsenal goal in November of that year in a 3-2 win over title rivals Manchester United. And Anelka would go on to help Arsenal lift both the Premier League and FA Cup trophies in just his second season at the club.

Wenger’s reputation as a manager who is willing to give young players a chance was instrumental in landing a young Welsh player named Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey, as if you didn’t know, is the player who would go on to score the winning goal in Arsenal’s most recent FA Cup triumph. He is one of the brightest stars in Arsenal’s firmament.

Ramsey grew up a Manchester United fan and so when United’s legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson came to see young Ramsey (who was at Southampton¹ at the time) the Welshman quickly seemed to agree to a move to Man U. Man U were so convinced that they had their man that they announced the signing on their web site. But Arsene Wenger also coveted Ramsey and Wenger had a trump card: Wenger was willing to offer Ramsey the chance to not just sign for a club, but to play first team football.

Arsène flew Ramsey and his family to Switzerland and after a face-to-face talk with the young Welshman, with Wenger promising to give him a chance, the two agreed to a deal. Arsenal signed Ramsey for less than £5m and true to his word, Wenger played Ramsey 22 times for Arsenal in his first season.

Ramsey-chance

Years later, speaking to a gathering of Malaysian businessmen on Arsenal’s 2011 Asian Tour, Arsène Wenger described his philosophy:

It’s my job to know when something is there. First you need the talent, but also you need to meet someone who believes in you and gives you a chance. You can imagine though, that plenty of people have talent in life but they do not meet someone who gives them a chance. Can you name one Formula One driver from an African country, apart from South Africa? And can you really imagine that there is not one guy in Africa with the talent to be a Formula One driver? Why are they not there? Because no one has given them a chance. So in life it’s important to meet someone who will give you a chance, and when I can do this in football, I do it. I like to be the guy who believes in people, and stands up for them.

Anyone can spot talent, Chelsea do it all the time, but to spot talent and to be brave enough to give talent a chance? That takes real courage.

Qq

¹Ramsey was at Cardiff. True story: I had multiple places where I caught myself using the wrong ages for each of these players, transposing (for example) Jack’s England debut age for Walcott, and yet I missed this, the most basic of details about Ramsey. I believe the old saying is that you can’t see the forest through the Cardiff, Southampton. Or something like that.

Man U

The perfect weekend to end the summer

Just one more day.

The summer is hanging on here in Washington and I’m hanging over. As a result I need just one more day to get into the swing of things in terms of blogging.

Just one more day.

I may not have my thoughts fully organized but I won’t let that stop me from writing. I assume you watched the football this weekend? The temptation to laugh at the failings of others is too great. We must give in.

In Spurs we have the local rival who has the team full of players that many coveted for years. Personally, I went to bat for Capoue and I guarantee a quick look through any of the so called “WOB” blogs would reveal a great lust for many of their players before they signed for Spurs. Le Grove’s Peter famously craved Soldado before he signed for the Famous Cocks:

saldado“Pace”, the word I have grown to hate with fire of a thousand suns. You know who has “pace?” Shaun Wright-Phillips. You know who else has pace? The hare. Pace, or what they really mean is speed since pace actually means to go slowly as in “pace yourself” and “the pace car is out because there was an accident”, is a great attribute to have but only if you also have skill and footballing ability. Otherwise you get Soldado, who actually doesn’t strike me as very fast.

Soldado aside, Spurs entire lineup is a who’s who of players Arsenal fans told me we should buy over the last few years: my French friend told me Lloris is the best keeper in the world (he’s not, it’s Courtiose); I ran the numbers over Capoue and Lamela and both came up aces in my book (i’m not immune to being wrong); Dembele and Chadli made grown men sweat in their nether regions when they saw them play; and Vertonghen is supposedly better than Vermaelen, or so we heard for years.

And yet, they lost to West Brom this weekend, putting in an insipid performance where they only managed 7 shots total. Arsenal had a game this week where they only managed 5 shots but that was against Borussia Dortmund’s gegenpressing which came on the heels of a hotly contested 2-2 draw against Champions Man City and not a weekend stroll against minnows Westbromwichprofidiousalbion.

This is the Spurs team with their shiny new manager and shiny new players who are supposed to overtake Arsenal for fourth place (which isn’t a trophy, even though everyone covets it) and yet they can’t even put in a performance against a tiny team from the midlands. HA!

Across the turnip field Manchester United lost 5-3 to Leicester City making Arsenal’s 1-1 draw there seem a lot less like the huge failure it was painted to be at the time. This is a lesson not just for you, my readers, but for me as well.

The laughable part of this whole thing is that this is a Manchester United team who have spent £200m net (NET!) on players in the last two years, who have van Persie and Rooney, and who have bought the player that everyone in the Premier League wanted (Falcao) and yet they managed to go from 3-1 up to 5-3 down. And how did they concede four goals?

Man U

Playing football the Arsenal way! They were bullied off the ball, physically intimidated, conceded a soft header, and gave away a silly penalty before they were hit multiple times on the counter attack with all of their defenders in the opposition half. It was glorious to watch, probably how they have felt watching us lose to little teams like Newcastle in the past. Van Gaal put it thusly ”We have too many players who want to seek for the goal.”

Oh, and watching Rayne Wooney complain to Mark Clattenburg about awarding the penalty was priceless. You could almost hear him say “MARK, wait, this is unfair, WE are the ones who GET soft penalties, not GIVE them!”

Arsenal’s other main title rivals also dropped points. Liverpool, who were clearly tired from Europe, lost 3-1 to West Ham, Everton lost 3-2 to Cry Pals, and even Chelsea dropped two points from a winning position to concede a 1-1 draw against 10 man Man City.

As much fun as I had watching Man U lose to the turnipseeds it was just as fun watching Cesc Fabregas, a player who has criticized several managers for not playing beautiful football, having to play defensive midfielder in a big game for Jose Mourinho. Cesc has completed his transformation, he is exactly what the Emperor wanted him to become: a Sith lord, master of the Dark Side.

Meanwhile, Arsenal won. And sure, Arsenal won against a team who, literally, shit the bed. And sure Arsenal got three goals in 180 seconds and played the remainder of the match in a stupor. But hey, you take em when you can get em!

Welbeck was imperious against the Aston Villa defense. For the first 30 minutes of the game I kept thinking “come on, this is Philippe Senderos we are talking about here, at some point he’s going to be exposed, badly.”  Sure enough, he was and it was by Mesut Özil who has a surprising bit of speed about him when he wants to use it.

As Özil surged in on goal, played in perfectly by Welbeck, I couldn’t help but hold my breath for a moment: Özil has had a bit of a struggle being clinical with his finishing in these one-v-one situations. But he picked out the corner of the goal and did what he does best, passed the ball into the net.

And then Özil picked out Welbeck with a dandy of a pass. He had to not only cross the ball, he had to lift it over the challenge of Senderos, and curl the ball into the path of the onrushing Welbeck. Welbeck’s emphatic shot surprised me and I let out a yawp, which scared my daughter. “Daddy, don’t scare me!” She said. I’d scared myself when he scored!

And then Gibbs added the icing on the cake. He went for goal, missed, and that Villa defender robbed Ox of a goal. Oh yeah, Ox was going to pound that into the back of the net too.

It was a great weekend. The sunsets here and in England looked long and rosy. Summer is ending and the football season is about to start in earnest.

Still, I need one more weekend of camping and nature. I need one more weekend watching the dew steam off the trees in the early morning light. Then I’ll be ready.

Qq

P.S.

I have a Footballistically Speaking for tomorrow and then a Rogues Gallery on Wednesday. I can’t watch the game tomorrow so I won’t write about it, maybe one of my crew will pen something? I can’t say as this is the first time I’ve asked!

One last thing, if, on the off chance, you have been to any games or if you have any match photos (of you at the pub, etc) or anything at all creative about the Arsenal and the matchday experience where you live and you want to share it we are running a monthly column here called Match Day Photo of the Month. The column is curated by renown photographer and writer Jonathan Blaustein. We want to see what you see. Be creative!

Send photos to matchdayphotoofthemonth@gmail.com. OK? DO IT.