Great Zombie Arsenal

One day Ballack is throwing dirt on our coffins and the next day Scolari is resurrecting us, which is it, are we dead yet or not? Somewhere in-between.

I have maintained all season that more than any other year, there has been massive compression of talent in the Premiership. So, more than any other year, any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday Saturday. I know that my friend T-Town Alex (among others) disagrees and sees Chelsea as the clear favorites but already they have struggled at home, winning only 3 of 7 home games and spectacularly losing to Liverpool for the first time since man walked with dinosaurs.

Don’t get me wrong, Chelsea is a dangerous team and when they smell blood they pounce — winning several times 5-0. I think they might even be the second strongest team in the EPL, right behind a healthy Liverpool. Also, I certainly don’t need to chronicle the difficulty that Arsenal have had so far this season to any of you, you’ve heard it all before and even mentioning those team names evokes winces of pain among the faithful. Chelsea may be struggling and Arsenal may look resurgent but let’s not kid ourselves, even a struggling Chelsea is 10x the threat of Kiev. Imagine for a second that William Gallas gifts the ball to Anelka as he did to Bangoura on Tuesday: that will be a goal against Chelsea.

Arsenal will need to be in top form to pull out a draw and will need some luck to get the win. I think that they can do it, especially if Adebayor, Nasri, and Sagna are all healthy and they all show up to play.

If the matches of the past are any indication it should be a spectacular match too — full of piss and vinegar and probably a few yellow cards and possibly a red. The good news is that Fox Soccer Channel is showing the game so I can watch it from the comfort of my home. I hate going to important games at Doyle’s because there’s a combination of fantasy sports people rooting for individual players, hangers-on who just root against Arsenal (or Chelsea) and of course, there will be Chelsea supporters — some old school, some new school, but nearly all of them unbearable.

Nope, I’ll be at home, with a nice breakfast, a cup of coffee, and my family, which is a great way to watch an Arsenal match.

Gallass

Yes, I saw that Gallas’ book came out or something and all the newspapers are a-blubber about Gallas v. Chelsea. You know, I’m not going to get into the whole Gallas thing again, the quotes in the press make him sound like a little kid crying with stuff like “they didn’t even let me get my clothes.” I don’t know if it’s true, I don’t care, Chelsea are a classless organization who have racists in the grounds crew, who defend their players throwing coins at fans, and who are currently on a downward money spiral and firing every coach and scout outside of the first team. And obviously, some of that classlessness and greed rubbed off on William Gallas. But so what? He won’t be a Goonah much longer (maybe he never really was) so unless he reveals something truly shocking — like Chelsea put on a show of classlessness and are actually a decent organization that adopts puppies and feeds hungry orphans — there’s nothing to report here.

Platini the Cheat

And speaking of blubbering to the press, Platini is desperately trying to remain relevant and is still calling for “financial fair play.” Put aside for a moment the fact that English clubs operate on a more purely business model than any continental clubs — who receive funds from cities and townships for stadiums and past player transfers, who have newspapers do the tapping up for them, and have favorable tax rates legislated for the players so that they can attract big names. Put all that aside because all you need to look at is how quickly Chelsea are unraveling to see the detrimental effects of a single owner piling debt onto a team can and does have. Michel, my belle, that business model is not sustainable, it eats itself.

Currently Chelsea are cutting costs at the periphery but killing off your international scouting is a death knell. In the old days Chelsea would wait for Arsenal to bid on a player (Essien, SWP, Drogba, etc,) and then swoop in with triple the offer. But as Roman’s fortune dwindles and his interests start to wane, that won’t be a viable option anymore. He’s already said that Chelsea need to sell to buy this January and with his net worth tumbling from $23b to a “mere” $3b, it’s safe to say that the well is drying up. With the club losing millions nearly every week on overpaid salaries, a too small stadium, and the fact that they are out of one competition and hanging by a Cluj to the Champions League, Abramovich cannot possibly continue to throw millions at them.

Further, at the cost of nearly a Billion US dollars, Chelsea has only back-to-back Premiership titles and one FA cup to show for it. Despite their billions in player salaries and transfers, they won exactly the same number of trophies that Arsenal did last year (0) and they haven’t won a single Champions League trophy, which is what Platini wants to protect, right?

If anything, the Chelsea model is definitive proof that the model fails on its own merits and needs no regulation. Just watch as they unravel this year, Platini and save the rubbish regulations scrubbing the scourge of racism from football.

The fact that Zenit-St. Petersburg openly will not employ black footballers, has a huge contingent of the world’s most racist supporters, and yet is still allowed to play in Europe is an affront to the notion of “fairness.” Any head of any organization that would allow that scum to play in any tournament they sponsor has no right to lecture others on the notion of fair play.

F*ck off Michel.

Gazidis Starts Shopping and I Make a Case for Appiah

turbaconducken

The traditional Turbaconducken -- a bacon wrapped Turkey stuffed with bacon wrapped chicken and bacon wrapped duck.

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans! Hey, do you know what the Brits call Thanksgiving?*

Anyway, while Americans are gorging themselves on what should have been our national bird the rest of the world is hard at work, playing in the UEFA Cup, complaining about their teammates, angling for a move away from Arsenal, you know, a typical day at the office.

Plucked from his Thanksgiving table and flown across the Atlantic to enjoy Square Pie in dreary London, Arsene Wenger gave Ivan Gazidis his stamp of approval during a face-to-face meeting. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until January before Gazidis will be officially taking over many of the duties left undone by David Dein’s departure in 2007 and Edelman’s departure earlier this year. This January is such a crucial time for the club and everyone knows it. Quality reinforcements are needed and Gazidis will certainly need to hit the ground running as Wenger targets players and Gazidis is instructed to go get them. His experience handling all MLS player contracts will help in this regard.

In addition to his financial and business acumen, he sounds like the right personality for the job as well: born in South Africa, raised down the street from Highbury, and educated at Oxford Gazidis’ very first quotes speak volumes about how the man sees his place at this venerated old club:

The great thing about Arsenal is that it has been run to sustain itself. It is not dependent on an outside investor to pump money in year after year. That position is inherently a little bit unstable because it depends on one individual. Arsenal has positioned itself not to be dependent on one individual. It’s essential if Arsenal is going to be respected. This is not going to be an American coming with no understanding of Arsenal looking to make it in to a Disneyfied version of Arsenal.

Excellent start Ivan, now go sign us some talent!

Given the on-field struggles so far this season and the very acrimonious self-destruction of Gallas it’s only natural that there are already rumors flying about that Arsenal is looking to move some players. Newcastle is reportedly interested but not hopeful that they can sign Djourou and Song on loan. No, Joe, you f*cking c*nt arse cocksandwich prick, you can’t have Djourou, but maybe you could have Alex for a Song? Seriously, this is a plan with no drawbacks, Arsene and Ivan, let Song go. Then we can all stop pretending that he’s is anywhere near Arsenal quality.

There’s also a rumor that Bendtner might be going to Spartak Moscow for £5m. Seriously, this is a plan with no drawbacks, Arsene and Ivan, let Song Bendtner go. Then we can all stop pretending that he’s is anywhere near Arsenal quality.

While his play might not be Arsenal quality, Bendtner has reached a personal zenith at Arsenal saying

But I don’t think anyone at Arsenal is going to be able to compete with me on that front. I have reached the top of the outstanding boots. The only way they can beat me now is to play in diamond-encrusted boots. And I don’t think that’s going to happen for a few years.

+1 to Bendtner for having a sense of humor. Have fun in Siberia, I’m sure your pink boots will be extra outstanding in the snow.

And finally, William Gallas, the man whom Gael Clichy said “Shattered” the Arsenal team with his dumb comments, is being linked with a move to AC Milan. I suspect that a move of some sort is in the works with Gallas, he’s lost all credibility with his teammates and more importantly with Clichy. I don’t know how a central defender could stay with a club after losing the support of his partners at the back — trust there is absolutely vital and might be a clue as to why Arsenal have struggled in defense this season.

Gazidis and Arsene have their work cut out for them but I trust that they can take care of the on-field problems with just a few key signings.

Stephen Appiah

Why not? I’ve been beating this drum now since T-Town Alex convinced me to take another look at the player but I’ve been beating it from a talent perspective only. What about the financial implications? I know that Wenger supposedly has a sort of salary cap in place — that they basically have a pay scale at Arsenal with William Gallas at the top, Cesc not far behind and every other player on the team earning slightly less than the top two. Egalitarian, Wenger called it.

That said, it was this egalitarianism that prevented Arsenal from keeping Flamini. Flamini argued that since he was a free agent, and since he pays 43% in income tax to play in England, and since it would cost £10-20m to replace him, Arsenal should just pay him the transfer fee spread out over the remainder of his contract. At the time, I agreed with Flamini. It just makes sense. Damn the salary cap Wenger, say that you’re paying him a transfer bonus or whatever but keep this guy at the club.

And now, the rumor is that Stephen Appiah is making similar demands; asking for an outrageous salary due to the fact that he’s a free agent, he’s good, and whatever club signs him won’t have to pay a transfer fee. It’s a logical argument, really. Why shouldn’t Appiah make £4m+ per year? At 27 he’s pretty much at the top of his game and while there might be some fitness questions you have to think that a club could recoup whatever salary Appiah asked for in the transfer market. Think about it: you pick up Appiah, pay his outrageous salary and play him. If he’s good enough, you keep him on, if not you sell him. You sell him! You make money off his transfer. Even if it’s a £2m transfer, you still made £2m in profit. Subtract that from his retarded salary and it seems like a good deal to me.

Of course, all this hinges on Appiah playing well and not asking for a truly outrageous salary. If he played really poorly you might be saddled with a huge salary and an under-performing player and no one who wants him. And if he asked for some kind of truly insane salary (like £8m a year) you’ll never be able to unload him, because there’s only a few clubs in the world who can pay that.

So, that’s my case. There are a lot of known unknowns but I think Appiah could turn out to be a good on-field deal and a good bit of business to boot.

Arsenal had to have thought of this, right?

Ok, I’m going to have some breakfast, lay about, then pip into Doyle’s to watch a predictable and injured Tottenham lose to some other team in a competition I couldn’t care less about. It’s my birthright as an American.

*Thursday.

1-nil to the Aveline! The Good, Bad, and Ugly

I don’t want to fail him, because he has given me everything in football — Cesc on Wenger and the captaincy.

The Good

Looks like Aveline’s new away romper worked! Arsenal got their first win in two weeks and a well deserved one to boot. The good here is that I got the romper a bit too big so she’ll be able to wear it for every match the rest of this season (I hope! She’s a really tall baby and already the 12 month romper is only slightly too big).

But seriously, a win is the perfect way to kick off Cesc’s reign as Arsenal captain and individually I thought he was just outstanding. He didn’t take over the holding midfield spot like I had hoped but he did play box to box and seemed to have tons of energy. Maybe it was the week off or maybe it was the fact that he had been given the armband (which he wore upside down for the first half) but whatever the reason he was certainly more energetic than I had seen him in a long time. In the first half the whole team was more energetic, in fact, at the 50th minute, Setanta put up an amazing stat: Arsenal had completed over 300 passes to Kiev’s 110 or so. That’s a ton of movement, folks, and Arsenal kept that going for nearly the full 90 minutes.

I say nearly because as the second half kicked off, Arsenal came out very flat and Dynamo looked like they were going to steal a goal through hard work and enterprise. But then Cesc picked up the game, started going back into the defense and put in a great tackle to turn the tide around. It was exactly the kind of subtle change that a good captain senses and pulls the team up from.

The cream on the top of Cesc’s performance was the fact that he laid on the pass that Bendtner lucked in for the goal. The young man started his tenure off with an inspiring win and got himself an assist against a team that had publicly stated they were going to play a defensive, counter attacking match that exploits Arsenal’s weakness of late.

The other good that needs mentioning here is that Arsenal used 5 (6, if you count Bendtner) youth team members in that match. Ramsey showed sparks of why the boss thinks he will be a future partner for Cesc. Vela showed the type of class, speed and touch that I haven’t seen from any of the starting strikers this season (save Adebayor when he shows up). And Jack Wilshere was just magnificent if you consider that he’s the youngest player to ever represent the club in Europe. I actually have grave concerns about the club’s ability to sign him when he turns 17. As slight as he is he could start for a number of teams right now, both lower-tier Premier League teams and Championship teams, which means he could be tempted to leave Arsenal by an offer of first team football: AT THE AGE OF 17.

By the way, if you watched Djourou and cringed whenever he got the ball on an overlap, don’t hold it against him, he’s a central defender and Wenger had him slotted out wide. It’s not in him to go forward, frankly, but he did a good job considering how far out of position he was played.

The Bad

Let me preface this by saying that I had the misfortune of watching the video of the first 100 goals by Dennis Bergkamp on Sunday and it’s fresh in my mind. Yes, it’s a highlight reel. No, I didn’t see all the misses, missteps, poor touches, fouls, and frustrations of the man but I did see all 100 of his first 100 goals and each one that came from the run of play was spectacular. Bergkamp was graceful, economical, and always knew what he wanted to do with the ball when he got it.

It is a bit unfair to compare anyone else to Bergkamp, because, as the song goes there’s “Only One Dennis Bergkamp” but I think it’s insightful to know that good players are graceful, economical, and know what they want to do with the ball before they receive it. Which is exactly, 100%, the opposite of what Bendtner and van Persie provide.

Robin van Persie, in particular, has lost a ton of confidence this season. In previous years I’ve seen him strike the ball on the first touch ala Bergkamp, but for some reason this year he seems to want to take one touch, two touch, three touch, dribble, touch, dribble, touch — when he should just SHOOT THE DAMN BALL! It’s almost as if the one guy who used to be our bold striker has succumbed to the Arsenal way of dribbling the ball into the goal. Robin, SHOOT.

And Bendtner, well, I think Bendtner is not good enough. If Cesc had played that same ball in to Bergkamp that Bendtner scored, Bergkamp would have shot that on the volley, when he was wide open. Instead Bendtner kneed the ball to himself, allowed the defender time to catch up, and frankly got very lucky with the near side shot. Bendtner would do well on a team like Birmingham, but he’s not Arsenal quality.

I don’t know if Gallas’ performance was “good” or “bad” but I’m sticking it here because I think he had a bit of a rough match. I mean, it’s good an all that he was able to overcome being stripped of the captaincy and that he came out and played hard and was unlucky to have a goal taken away for an offside. But when he gifted the Dynamo striker the ball in a moment of Clichy-like madness, he was saved only by the profligacy of that player. Further, when van Persie finally did have a shot on goal (after 20 minutes of dribbling around inside their box), he was the one who cleared it off the line for Kiev. It was a Senderos type performance and I don’t want to get down on him, because he is having a bad week, but there can’t be too many more of these types of performances before the boss puts Kolo Toure back in. A Kolo Toure who is now rumored to be looking for a move to Citeh due to his lack of first team appearances.

Arsene… uhhh… seriously… With Gallas being linked to AC Millan and Kolo linked to a move out as well that’s a defensive crisis of epic proportions: Havard Nordveit, ain’t going to cut it. I hate the phrase “get out the checkbook” (especially since it’s always in British and has a god-damned “que” in it) but I think that the phrase is appropriate here.

The Ugly

What the hell was Aliyev doing out there? First, there was the disgusting, shameful, and in my opinion straight red card for rolling around on the ground, trying to get the ref or Arsenal to stop play after he was dispossesed in his half, only to literally pop up and start sprinting when his team recovered the ball. Here’s the video, courtesy of the Arsenalist.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWosqI-HdOY]

That’s shocking stuff, really. A caution is letting him off easy, that is just plain cheating and a player who is willing to cheat like that has no business playing the game.

Later, Aliyev was sent off… for shoving the ref. Not much to say here except that he really disgraced the game yesterday.

Conclusion

So, Arsenal get into the knockout stages of the Champions League, get Cesc off to a winning start as captain, sign some dude from the MLS to handle transfers, and there’s good news about the big three injured players ahead of Sunday’s game against Chelsea.

Now, all we need is for Chelsea to lose today, get knocked out of the Champions League, pick up some crucial injuries and roll over and let us tickle their tummy on Sunday. Then we’ll be right back where we want to be and I can say it’s a good week.

Late blog tomorrow owing to the fact that it’s Thursday in England or what we ‘Mericans like to call “Thanksgiving” and I’m sleeping in.

Oh, and just for Packy — “one nil to the Arsenal…”