Oh London, the more you change, you still remain the same

My 9 hour flight from Seattle to London was saved by one thing: It’s Up For Grabs Now, the Arsenal Podcast. Typically, I can while away the hours watching some sort of interesting film or documentary but this time the people in charge of entertainment decided instead to fill the log with Vince Vaughn and Robin Williams.

Fortunately, I thwarted their plan to make me go stir crazy by bringing along an iPod with 17 episodes of the ups and downs that have transpired since Alan Davies, Tayo, Ian and friends first sat down in front of a microphone and a mixing board with a can of lager.

I made it through most of the back catalog and for those of you who haven’t had a chance to listen, you should. It’s an irreverent take on Arsenal’s season from several supporters who genuinely love Arsenal. Before you take the piss out of me for what looks like an oxymoron, listen to the show.

The rest of the trip has been really nice I have to say. I have never been harassed by the customs folks, except that one time I said I was here for an Arsenal match and the guy asked me 100 questions. Check in at the hotel was a breeze and honestly, my only complaint is that this hotel doesn’t have real ale on tap. I could always go one block down the street to the Cornwallis if I was really desperate!

The Cornwallis seems like it’s pretty much the only thing that hasn’t changed. I went to the Virgin Mobile store to top up my phone and they have been replaced by someone else, who wants £20 for their cheapest phone (fuck THAT.) I need to find a Virgin store and top this bad boy up so that I can call people who want to get a hold of me. In the mean-time, the blog or twitter are the best ways to reach me.

Anyway, there’s plenty of time for ale when I make a Friday night jaunt out to some of the local boozers. Here in a little bit I’m going to head to Pickpocket Circus for a pint, right now, there’s some Arsenal stuff to get to.

Wenger gave his presser and contrary to what I’ve been reading in the papers he was actually quite sanguine about the Ramsey tackle. Arsene talked about basically ignoring the others and how Arsenal need to keep promoting the values and type of football that we have been playing and espousing for the last 5 years.

Moreover, his take on tackling is a rational and sane one; we all like a good tackle, it’s an art form. As Alan Davies pointed out in his last podcast, Sol Campbell has been the best center back in the EPL for the last 20 years and he has never broken a leg. Because he doesn’t leave his feet and wildly attack his opponent at the half way line the way Ryan Shawcross, Martin Taylor and so many others do in the EPL. It’s not a hot-headed reaction, it’s not a call for the EPL to ban contact as many have said, and it’s not a condemnation of the character of these footballers (though with Shawcross having broken two legs in two years and being this year’s most yellow-carded center back, some have rightly questioned the guy). It’s a call for a little bit of skill to be re-introduced to defending, rather than just battering your opponent.

Another oft targeted player for Arsenal this season has been Theo Walcott. I remember hearing it from my Spurs supporting friend that he thought Walcott was worse than Aaron Lennon, two years ago, and now it seems like every tWaddle in England thinks it’s right to spout the same thing. That’s how this stupidity spreads: some Spud says something anti-Arsenal and suddenly it’s taken as the word of God.

Walcott’s young and right now he’s had a horrible few months coming back from a season of injuries. He did score a hat-trick against Croatia what seems like ages ago and I remember some of us back then wishing he hadn’t because it was just going to heap pressure on him. Nothing pressurizes a player like the weight of English expectation. I almost wish they would win a World Cup just so we could hear the end of it for 4 years.

But here’s the thing, Walcott is missing something right now, granted, but some of the plays he’s made in his career are just instinctive: Bendtner doesn’t have that, but Eduardo, Theo, and van Persie do. I’m telling you, watch the old footage, the kid is special, let’s all remember how some of us booed Eboue and called for Song to be sacked last year. Theo needs some time and thankfully Arsene’s going to give it.

Which brings me to Aaron Ramsey… I actually had the forethought to bring my digital video camera and I’m glad I did. It’s a small one and I’m going to see if I can get it into the Arsenal v. Burnley match because tomorrow is going to be a really special day. REDaction is an Arsenal supporter’s club and they are planning to unfurl a special Aaron Ramsey tribute banner at tomorrow’s match. The whole stadium will be singing “there’s only one Aaron Ramsey” tomorrow and I really hope to get it on video so that all of you can share in the celebration of this really special talent and wish for his speedy recovery.

The injury update from today is that Denilson, Eduardo, and most importantly, Diaby have all been passed fit for tomorrow’s match. Diaby is a huge boost to this team, his work, skill, and size in the midfield have been a revelation at times this season. I’m looking forward to a midfield of Diaby, Song, and Cesc tomorrow.

At the back, the conspiracy theorists will have a talking point as Sol Campbell has been ruled out with a groin problem. Wenger thinks he’ll be OK for Tuesday but with Gallas out now with yet another injury, Wenger has no choice but to rely on Silvestre and Vermaelen to do the work.

Right, I’m getting thirsty, so this is going to have to be your lot. Feel free to fill us in on what I missed in the comments, I’m counting on you kickers!

if you’re in town and you want to meet up with me I’m headed to the St. James Tavern in Piccadilly. I should be there within the hour (say, 6pm GMT). It’s a horrible place, in a really un-quaint part of town, but what can I say, nostalgia takes me back. Fingers crossed it’s still open!

(Sigh) I love London…

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go

  • Passport
  • Vouchers
  • English money
  • American money
  • England cell phone
  • American cell phone
  • Camera
  • Charger
  • 220 -> 110 adapter
  • 7 pairs of underwear

I could go on but I’ll spare you the gory details. The point is that by 3pm (GMT) Friday I’ll be in London England and that’s the next time you’ll hear from me. In fact, my Friday blog might even be a little late for most Americans because I land at noon (4am PST), go through customs (English customs are much nicer than American) take the train in, get settled, do my research (basically just watch Wenger’s press conference!), and write the blog. In fact, it’ll probably be more like 10am kickoff for my American readers.

From there on out things will go by pretty quickly; Saturday’s blog will be a recap of Friday night in London, Sunday a recap of the Burnley game, Monday a free blog, Tuesday the Porto match preview, and Wednesday will be a quick recap of the Porto match before I fly back to the States.

As for Saturday, several of us are meeting up before the Burnley match and if you want to get in on that action drop me a line using the Contact Me form. Hell, if you’re living in London and you go see Arsenal matches you’ll probably just bump into me in one of the usual places, but you know, some people like to make sure.

I did include a couple of tips for the traveler in my list above; you kinda need two cell phones and you need some foreign currency before you leave. When I was there two years ago I bought a cheap phone and I just get a new chip or “top up” when I get there. It’s cheaper and easier than unlocking your USA phone (or comparable) IF your phone and company will let you.

As for currency exchange, I get some money through Bank of America before I leave. They have the best rates and it’s really simple, I just order some cash online and they deliver it to my local branch. You can use your credit cards over there, though you need to tell the company that you’re going to be in England or they will put a lock on your card after the first transaction, but you have to be careful because each transaction will have a fee from your bank, from their bank, and pretty much everyone else will try to get a hand in on the transaction.  So, while it’s true that you can get a really favorable exchange rate by just using your card over there, the fees can offset that rate pretty quickly. Basically, I use the card just for any big purchases I make or to get more cash.

Anyway, that stuff is boring!

In just a little over two days, I’ll be in the Emirates stadium where supporters are going to unveil a huge banner in honor of Aaron Ramsey. There won’t be a dry eye in the house, I suspect.

Right, signing off now. See you on the other side of the pond.

Burnley Target Arsenal Ankles

Sometimes a story comes along that’s so incredible, so mind numbingly insane that it demands instant comment and today’s quote from Burnley’s boss Brian Laws about how they are going to kick Arsenal off the pitch on Saturday is one of those stories.

Saturday was already going to be a very emotionally charged event. Arsenal’s players have recently come out saying that they are going try to win the league for Aaron after his season was cut short by Ryan Shawcross’ vicious assault. Eboue was the most recent player to publicly state that Arsenal are going to try to beat Burnley for Aaron.

Couple that locker room emotion with the fan tribute to Aaron that is set to be unveiled and Saturday at the Emirates and that stadium could be a real powder keg. It would take a someone absolutely disconnected from reality to be so oblivious to how emotional Arsenal and her supporters are at this moment that they would make a public pronouncement that they are not only going to kick Arsenal in their next match, but that they are going to mistime tackles. That is exactly what Brian “Thicker Than Pig Shit” Laws and his defender Leon Cort did today.

Cort gets stuck in first by saying that Burnley are not going to pull any punches and we should expect plenty of mistimed tackles.

We are going to go there and still throw tackles in because it is a physical game and we are fighting for our lives. I don’t believe anyone goes there to kick them. People know that when they play against Arsenal they have to get in their faces and stop them from playing. Maybe Arsene’s done it for a psychological advantage. Quite a lot of his players are small and move the ball a lot quicker so there are going to be a lot of mis-timed tackles.

What’s fascinating (and what Laws repeats later) is that Cort is admitting that not only are Burnley going to throw a bunch of nasty challenges around, they are going to go in late. Moreover, since Burnley is incapable of playing football this is the only tactic they are capable of employing. And then… he says that it’s not deliberate?

Brian TTPS Laws repeats this odd line of reasoning

We can’t play their system so we have to level it up somehow and that is by working harder than them… People talk about ‘getting in their faces’ and if that is what it takes then that is what we will have to do… I don’t believe any team targets Arsenal. I think he (Wenger) has been hard done-by in losing three players to broken legs in a relatively short space of time. I think he is more angry about that than anything else but I don’t think he can accuse anyone of doing it deliberately.

So, just to re-cap: Burnley have admitted that they are going to kick Arsenal, that they are going to be going in late to challenges, that this is the only way they can play, and that somehow this is not a deliberate targeting of Arsenal.

Ladies and Gentlemen, irony just assploded.

I’m really looking forward to Wenger’s reaction to this crap in his presser. Last week I wrote an article describing which teams I thought would deploy the kick Arsenal tactic and I deliberately left Burnley off the list because in my experience they play open, attacking football, and while they have been strong they have been fair. It seems since Owen Coyle left that they have decided to abandon that tactic are are publicly admitting that they are going to employ agrarian tactics on Saturday in order to “get something from the match.”

The thing is, much like the Stoke match, they will find that kicking Arsenal will not get them anything from the match. Arsenal are just all around too damn good now to be intimidated by a pack of dirty cheats. So, Burnley might as well play open, attacking football, because if they come to kick Arsenal off the pitch they won’t get any more points on the table and another young Arsenal player could be left with a limb hanging.

Hopefully the FA has seen this latest comment and is instructing the referee to make sure that any harsh tackles are dealt with harshly. Otherwise, an already emotional day could turn from hope to tragedy very quickly.