Alas, poor Hleb! I knew him, Horatio.

to sleep; perchance to dream.

After their pathetic near loss to, erm, Microeurpoenea I’ve decided that I can no longer support the French national team and have instead decided to follow…. Belgium, the “rode duivels.” Yes, that’s right, I’m a rode duivel now, bitches. I can’t wait to get all kitted out in his magesty’s national team shirt and celebrate my Wallonian heritage. Of course the Czech’s beat the piss out of Belgium 3-1 but so what? Who doesn’t beat the Belgians? Besides it’s a match of such insignificance that ESPN didn’t even bother putting the lineups in their “match report.” For all I know, Belgium and the Czechs just said “screw it, let’s just say you won 3-1 and go argue which country makes better beer!”

Anyway, that stuff is all ancient history, Dick Advocaat is now our coach and with Thomas Vermaelen and Marouane Fellaini in the side we’re sure to win the World Cup, three times in a row.  Get on the bandwagon now, people.

Anyway, that’s your international report from me… Well, ok, I’ll mention that other international match that really mattered to a lot of folks yesterday; the USA lost to Mexico 2-1. Meh, the USA never wins in the mountains of Mexico and Sven Goran-Erickson had Mexico so sufficiently farked up in their World Cup qualifiers that they are STILL in 4th place in CONCACAF. Maybe someone who watched the match would like to describe how awesome Carlos Vela was? Oh and for you USA Gooners, there’s some talk about getting the World Cup here in America and really I don’t care, but maybe you do and want to join in all the festivities?  I dunno, but here’s a link to a long blog about it.

Anyway enough of that stuff, this is an Arsenal blog!

And from an Arsenal perspective the internationals went pretty much OK. I haven’t heard of any serious injuries — Djourou’s knee injury hasn’t been confirmed by the site — and Eduardo proved his fitness for Croatia by scoring a ho hum goal. It’s some pretty pathetic defending from Belarus and the goalkeeping is beyond pathetic, he might as well have not even been there, but it’s the kind of goal that Arsenal need to score a few of this year and if Eddy’s on the end of passes like that you can be sure he will put them away. After all he’s scored 12 goals in his last 14 matches for Croatia.

Croatia were playing Belarus, so there was a double-whammy of an Arsenal connection there what with Alex Hleb suiting for Belarus and, of course, speaking to the press about Arsenal before the match. It’s really not a bad story, Hleb praised Wenger for making him a stronger, better player, talked about how while it was his dream to play for Barcelona, the dream was kind of shattered having to sit on the bench for a whole year and watch as others really made the team tick. It’s actually kind of a sad story in a way, because I suppose if it was my boyhood dream to play for a club and they came in form me I’d be tempted to leave, despite the rational part of my brain looking at their midfield and wondering where I’d get a game? I guess we all make mistakes.

Now, if he would only say he’s sorry for saying that Cesc should play in Barcelona with him, all would be forgiven.

Anyway, there’s not much news today as everyone is flying back to their club for the big opener on Saturday. Well, not everyone was flying back to their clubs, some folks, like David Bentley were drunkenly crashing their Porche 911 into telephone poles, but pretty nearly everyone was flying back to their clubs. The opening match is just two days away and I am pretty excited. I’m thinking about heading down to Doyle’s for the game (kickoff at 9:30am PST) this weekend and if others would like to join me we could make it a party!

According to John Terry, Chelsea and Man U are going to fight to the death over the title this year and the prospect of one or both of those teams suffering massive casualties is cause to celebrate, isn’t it? Let’s chat about it in the comments!

2009/2010 Season Preview: if you let it settle, cream rises

Good morning, the transfer market is pretty much dead, and apart from Djourou being sent home for a possible injury, there’s very little Arsenal news.  There was some talk about Gazidis being in Germany to sign American born Subotic (what’s up with that? both Hangeland and Subotic are Americans) but that was rejected outright by his agent. So, since there’s no news and I had this season preview sitting around I figured, eh, what the hell, have at it.

Preamble

Of course no one can predict what will happen during a season, for example how could anyone have known that Thierry Henry’s goal scoring replacement, Eduardo, would have his leg broken by “Tiny Taylor” and ruin our season?

Moreover, Arsene too can be a bit unpredictable. I thought for sure he wasn’t going to buy Arshavin, I thought Arshavin was too unfit to have enough impact, and I counted Aston Villa’s threat too high last season and it had me publicly worried about a 5th or even 6th place finish.  But Wenger did sign Arshavin and after a few weeks of training, Arshavin had a major impact on this club. Maybe not single-handedly saving 4th place as some have suggested but certainly making up for an Emmanuel Adebayor who was clearly disinterested in this club’s endeavors.

That experience taught me that while the season is unpredictable and Wenger is unpredictable, in both good and bad ways, we can trust that Wenger knows what he’s doing and that he’ll have the team give their best.

Which is all we can really ask.

Well, that and some squad reinforcements, right?

The League

I’ve seen some pretty wild predictions for Arsenal’s league position at the end of this year, 5th place (cunts), 6th place (huge cunts), 10th place (Tottenhams), and they all seem to be based on one philosophy: teams must buy to stay in the top four.

The facts are that buying doesn’t guarantee anything. Sunderland has been a top spender for years now and where are they? Oh yeah, celebrating 0-0 draws as though it were the Champions League. Chelsea has spent a billion U.S. Dollars over the last 5 years and they have not won the league since 2005.

But irregardless the facts, people think that the only way to improve a squad is through buying. So, let’s start there and look at our competition and see which of them has bought the more important pieces.

Man U: Lost Ronalda and Tevez and have not effectively replaced their combined 23 league goals with anyone. Looked very shaky in defense without Vidic. Weakened

Liverpool: Lost Alonso and replaced him with an injured Aquilani. Alonso was crucial to that team both in defense and offense. Yes, the have bought a left back, for £13m more than he was worth last year. Still have not found a strike partner for Torres. Weakened

Chelsea: Gained Jerkoff and another coach. Some of the key player’s legs are a year older and I don’t think that last season’s 3rd place Serie A coach is going to last the whole season but still they have strengthened and I think that Alex is set to take a more prominent role at center half. I must admit, even though it pains me like a fissure in my ass: Strengthened

Aston Villa: Lost their captain and midfield general, trying to replace him with 19 year old Fabian Delph and bringing in a second winger in Downing is suicide. Also lost Laursen who was the glue in their defense. Severely Weakened.

Everton: Have pretty much stayed pat, though they bought Jo, who was already on loan to them. The injury to Phil Jagielka is going to hurt them at the start of the season but Moyes is a smart cookie and will grind out results. Stayed Pat

Man City: If I ever open a gay bar I’m going to paint it periwinkle and gold and call it “Man City.” Seriously, Tevez, Adebayor, Santa Cruz, Toure and Barry have all joined the cause, which on paper means that they are Strengthened

Arsenal: I know it’s popular to take the piss out of Wenger for his “Like a new signing” stuff but really, Arsenal have added Arshavin and Eduardo (sorry but I’m still waiting for Rosicky) to an already pretty packed attack. And yes, we lost Toure but we’ve replaced him with Vermaelen who is, according to all accounts, a much better header of the ball. Moreover, by all accounts Toure and Adebayor were a distraction both on and off the pitch for Arsenal. 40 offsides for Ade and Toure handing in a transfer request in January did not help this team. In the midfield, Alex Song and Denilson both have an entire year of playing at the highest level, if there were ever a time for them to be ready it is this season. Put it this way, if Song and Denilson were English their experience last year would be worth at least an extra £10m each in the transfer market. So, by playing those guys last year, by buying Arshavin and Vermaelen, and by getting Eduardo back to 100% my accounting has this team Very Much Strengthened

That’s my account of the top, erm, 7 and though I am loathe to predict a final outcome lest I jinx the Arsenal, I think it will be Arsenal and Chelsea fighting for the top two spots and then Man U, Liverpool, and Man City fighting for the last two spots, with Liverpool most likely to make “the drop” to UEFA Cup football.

There are a few sticky months for Arsenal, most notably August and then again for three weeks in January and February but those are just mental blocks really. Every team plays every other team twice, it doesn’t really matter if you play all the best teams three weeks in a row. In fact, it could help Arsenal, we tended to do well against the top clubs and if we have to stay focused for a whole month, maybe we’ll get the best from the boys.

The sticking point about January is that the three games coincide with the African Cup of Nations, of course. But from a certain perspective, it’s not all that bad. Sure, we lose Song and Eboue but Song’s replacements in midfield are Denilson, Diaby, and Nasri. And Eboue is a replacement for Sagna at right back, and whoever is playing right wing when we need more defense in midfield. Further, if Chelsea are our most direct competition, which I think they are, then they lose Obi Wan Mikel and Essien to the ACN, which is a much bigger loss than Song and Eboue, let’s be honest. So, while January is crucial, and the ACN is going to be bad for us, Chelsea and City are going to be struggling worse than Arsenal on that front, by a long shot.

Either way, the key to the season is getting off to a good start here in August against three of those supposed top 7 clubs, Everton, City, and Man U. Then Arsenal need to goobble up “lesser” clubs for the next few months and they’ll have a real shot at this thing.

The one thing that is worrying is depth in the center back position. No one wants to think about losing three players but there will be periods this year (during the ACN for example) when our defense might get a bit threadbare, especially if we sell Senderos and don’t bring anyone in as a replacement. Gallas, Vermaelen and to a lesser extent Djourou are our starting center halfs. After that there’s Senderos (if we keep him) and then Song and then uhh, what’s his name, that old guy… Pat Rice? No… Mikael “Gerry” Silvestre. If all the reports about Wenger looking at Hangeland (Wenger confirmed) and Subotic are to be believed then I think he sees this problem and is looking for a solution. If not, well, maybe Wenger will look to buy in January.

Seriously.

Still, I think this team has the depth and experience to challenge all the way. It’s not a popular opinion, the popular opinion is that Arsenal need 7-40 new signings and to spend $1bn on salaries and transfers or the earth will split open and swallow Arsene Wenger and all of us will become Man U supporters.*

Oh, and who do I think will make the drop? Hull, who couldn’t buy a virus right now, Birmingham, who are a pack of ankle-breaking cunts, and Pompey, who are in utter disarray. Birmingham is the emotional choice for me and could easily be swapped with Wolves who I think are less prepared for the EPL than Birmingham. If there’s one thing EPL refs love, it’s shit kickers and Birmingham have lots of practice. But still, I love to target a team for the drop and after what Birmingham did to Eduardo, they will always be a target team for me.

The Champions League

Wenger’s other target is the Champions League. It’s the trophy that many think he’s purpose built this Arsenal team to achieve.  Arsenal have a stern test straight away in Celtic at Celtic Park and a lot has been made of the atmosphere at Celtic Park, but I’m confident that these boys can handle it. After all, they went to Fener last year and beat the pants off them in front of 50,000 of their rabid fans.

After that first test, it’s pretty much up to the lottery to decide the road. Personally, I’d love to see Arsenal get a favorable draw but even then, you should eventually play a good team so why not get it out of the way?

As I’ve already mentioned, Arsenal have a lot of options all over the pitch (with the exception of maybe center back) and that will be a real benefit in the Champions League.  If we get behind in a match, Wenger could pull one of the defensive midfielders and put on an attacking mid in Nasri or perhaps Rosicky. If the strikers aren’t playing well, we have options there as well and I could see Theo playing a big role as a super-sub in all competitions, but especially in the Champions League, on the second leg, late in the game when we need some fresh pace.

Options, Arsenal have them up front and in midfield and that will only benefit our Champions League run where we have to be ready to play a wide variety of styles.

Don’t forget that these boys have a lot of experience playing in the Champions League. They may be young, but they’ve been around the block.

Experience and depth? Without buying? Really?

Domestic Cups

I’m lumping the FA and League cup together here because, well, because I haven’t got much to say about them. I will say that the League Cup this year should be very interesting owing to Arsenal’s unique depth in this tournament.

Arsenal’s policy of grooming youth in the League Cup may actually pay off this year as both Wilshere and Rambo looked pretty good in pre-season and are coming off a successful reserves/Youth Cup season. The whole reserves squad will get a real run and will be looking to impress in the League Cup. I’m hoping for an easy schedule in both cups but if not, I’d love nothing more than to see Jack Wilshere get revenge on Chelsea (who love the League Cup almost as much as they love the Charity Shield) for the 2007 League Cup final.

Conclusion

Any team that wants to challenge on all four fronts (Premier League, Champions League and both domestic cups) needs an experienced team that has the depth to handle the inevitable injuries and international pressures that crop up in the long season. On Arsenal, the fact that Wenger buys players who can play at such a wide variety of positions means that especially up front and on the wings, Arsenal have a huge variety of options. Slightly concerning are the midfield and in the center back position but again, there are a lot of folks who can play in the two central midfield positions. Hell, Cesc himself was brought in the squad to play the holding midfield role so it’s not as if he’s exactly unfamiliar with playing there (though it would be a bit of a waste of his talents). As for the center half spot, it’s nearly full and unless we lose Senderos could be seen as topped up by some. Of course, we’d all welcome depth at any spot.

As for experience, last season’s campaign surely taught this young team a lot and Wenger keeping them together for another bite at the apple is only going to help. Already there are reports that camaraderie is at an all time high in training camp and everyone in the squad is talking about what they hope to achieve this year. It’s easy to discount these players because they are young but there aren’t many midfielders in the world who can say that they got to start nearly every game in every competition for one of the best teams in the world in the toughest league in the world. Denilson and Song can, and I think that fans and our opponents do them a grave disservice in calling them inexperienced.

So from where I’m sitting? This looks like a pretty strong squad with a lot of depth, great options, and who have the needed experience to challenge. I think they will challenge on all four fronts for honors this season.

If I could, I’d put money on it.

*slight hyperbole, the popular opinion is that Arsenal need 1-2 signings or the earth will split open and swallow Arsene Wenger.

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=666901&sec=england&cc=5901&campaign=rss&source=soccernet

The rain in Spain falls mainly on England’s future #1

Ugh, it’s raining.

But on the other hand, IT’S RAINING!

Washington state gets about 4 weeks a year of sunshine, where I don’t have to mow the lawn, and the return of the rain signals both the return of the lawn mower and the return of football! Sure I have mow the lawn every Saturday, in the rain, but it’s a small price to pay for football.

As we get set for the new season and players jet off to their various international friendlies, some guys are inevitably left behind and start to pine for the camaraderie of playing in a meaningless game, getting injured, and spending the rest of the year in the treatment room.

One such player on Arsenal is Denilson, the other is Manual Almunia.

Owing to his lack of international duties, Manny Pickledickle had time to give an extensive interview to the Guardian, hitting all of the weigh points; Arsene Wenger, the youth revolution, citizenship, and the pressure Wenger is under to win something this year. Interesting stuff, I suppose but the interview has been dissected and various quotes have found their way into all of the major papers, and Goal.com.

Me, I’m just going to hit on two things here. First, the issue of him playing for England and second, a strange quote on the dot com.

I’ve always maintained that if Almunia is going to play for England he’s going to have to show a sort of mental fortitude that very few people have. English fans are notorious for their fickle-ness when it comes to the national team and all it would take is one mistake and Manny would be booed off the pitch. Further, the remarks of England’s captains (Gerrard, Ferdinand, and Lampard) regarding the possibility of Manny playing for England don’t offer any encouragement. In fact, I would characterize them as openly hostile to the idea, at least, and xenophobic, at most. So, it would take a player of extraordinary mental strength to walk in to that dressing room and look Steven Gerrard in the eye and say “I’m your new keeper, Matey*.”

Judging from the quotes in the Guardian where Almunia is basically asking them for support, I don’t think he has it; neither the support, nor the internal mental fortitude. He may still surprise me here but for the time being, I can’t see it. When he says “The England players are very important, I would like to know what they think and if I will be welcome.” I just have a real hard time imagining Rio Ferdinand going back on what he said just 6 months ago and saying “why yes, I’d love to have a Spanish guy play for England!”

Even if others in the dressing room  supported him (he mentions Theo) Capello would risk alienating Gerrard, Lampard, and Ferdinand by including Almunia. Again, I really just don’t see this happening. Sorry Manny, it’s not that you’re not good enough, it’s just that England aren’t ready for that sort of thing yet.

The other weird story around Almunia is that the dot com issued an “article” which has the following quote from Mooney:

At the beginning of last season, we had tall people and we still had problems. It’s not a issue of having tall people, it’s a issue of attitude. How you face the ball and are focused on the game in every single moment.

What makes this story really odd is a confluence of events, all of which have taken place this morning (it’s morning for me). First, Everton shocked everyone and actually denied Lescott his transfer request. Second, Fulham have basically priced Hangeland out of Arsenal’s market by suggesting that since it’s so late in the transfer season and since they wouldn’t be able to find a replacement, they want £15m for him. And third, Everton have said that despite the offer sitting on Wenger’s desk for a long time, they are still in the market for Senderos, as a backup.

So, I’m wondering if the dot com piece, with the de-contextualized quote isn’t just a bit of propaganda. I mean, there’s no doubting that commitment, timing, jumping ability, and organization go a long way to settling duels in the air, but it’s patently false to say that height doesn’t matter. In fact, I went back and looked at the two losses at the start of last season (Fulham and Hull) and the back 2 were Gallas and Toure. So, he must be talking about, erm,  Adebayor? And maybe he thinks that Bendtner’s commitment will be the all important factor? Who knows.

Irregardless, it’s a curiously timed article and sure to raise speculation that Arsenal are only in for one more player this year, Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh.

Like I said yesterday the boss is being coy about signings. As always, we’ll have to wait and see but don’t expect any signings this week (especially not Patrick Vieira), what with everyone away playing for their country.

*”Matey” is an intentional joke.