Tag Archives: FA Cup

Arteta and Per Lifting the Cup

Matchday Photo of the Month: the Final

By Jonathan Blaustein

“Look at the clock. Keep the faith. You never know. But a third for Arsenal… and surely curtains. (pause.) And there it is! Mertesacker!” The other Fox announcer. (Not Stuart Robson)

It’s Monday afternoon, Mountain Standard Time. Outside, the blue skies have shaded gray, as a Monsoon storm approaches from the West. The field of extinct volcanoes, out my door, reaches up to grab the walking rain, always welcome here in the high desert.

Sage bushes soak up water, voracious, like a drunk at the pub. The wet air soothes my lungs, still hoarse from shouting at the television screen two days ago. I’m sure you were out of your mind with excitement too. Right?

Yesterday, under what appeared to be a far more menacing weather pattern, Londoners and Gooners alike danced through the streets, following an open-topped, red bus like cultists, celebrating the genius of a tall, skinny dude from Alsace.

Long live the king!

And, just like that, another season is done and dusted. (Who says a Yank from the boonies can’t appropriate some English slang?)

We’ve reached the end, and I’m not entirely sure how I’ll go two months without any more football. At least there’s Chile to root for in the Copa America. (Don’t get hurt, Alexis, you magnificent bastard.)

It’s been a pleasure to step from the ranks of the silent masses, and contribute to this blog over the 2014-15 season. I appreciate the opportunity to pitch in and attempt to add value to this, my favorite Arsenal blog.

Have I done so?

I’m not sure, really. The submissions never came pouring in, but always managed to pop up at the last minute. Just when I thought there’d be no column, some Gooner from a far flung corner of Earth would email me a picture, and I’d try to write something witty and/or intelligible about it, while sharing my opinions on the state of the club.

Looking back, I was vindicated by adopting a stance of guarded optimism. I called myself the voice of reason, and reason prevailed. Trophy delivered, no horrendous performances, (save Monaco at home,) and a very likable team came together before our eyes.

We saw pictures of cute kids, yes, and I got the chance to whip out my wicked Jose Mourinho impression. But it’s hard to feel vital here, as Tim does such a good job with his analysis, the London guys actually report from the games, and Naveen just knows a ton of shit.

Where do I fit in? Good question. I haven’t exactly figured that out, so we’ll see if there’s motivation come August.

That said, I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and am thrilled to have been the recipient of emails from people like Sean Thum, in Malaysia.

We ended up, unexpectedly, having a few guys submit multiple times, becoming almost a group of regulars. (Norm!) So May would have come and gone, but on the 30th, Sean sent in a picture of his buddies, screaming at a big screen, while the FA cup was lifted.

Arteta and Per Lifting the Cup

How could we not publish that? What better visual could there be for why this football club inspires the Global joy and loyalty it does?

It’s not escaped my notice that long-time fans think newbies are a breed apart. (The JV fans, if you will.) I don’t blame them. Relationships like these take years to build, to gain the subtlety of flavor. But for me, the rise from AVB’s negative spiral to this sort of savored, unlabored victory?

Totally. Fucking. Awesome.

So thank you, 7am kickoff readers. Thank you, Tim. And thanks to the photographers who took the time to share their world with the rest of us.

As we say out here in the Wild West, much obliged.

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Arsenal 4-0 Villa: It’s Been A Long Road To Victory

By Tim Todd, Chief 

Arsenal thumped Aston Villa 4-0 to retain the FA Cup, catapulting Arsenal to an English record 12th FA Cup trophy, making Wenger the joint most successful manager in the competition with 6 of those titles, and becoming the first team to win consecutive FA Cups since Chelsea in 2009-2010. But more than just records, this was a cup which overflowed with the narratives of the season.

This win was the culmination of a season’s work. Much has been made of Coquelin nailing down the starting spot in the defensive midfield role and as well there has been a lot of speculation over weather dropping Szczesny for Ospina dramatically changed the team. There is no question that Coquelin and Ospina are conservative players and that their reserved nature forms a great base for Arsenal’s defense. But this season isn’t marked by Wenger drilling his team to play two banks of four. It should be remembered instead for Wenger changing the entire team’s approach to defense, adding a counter pressing style.

In their yellow and blue kits Arsenal looked like a pack of angry bees swarming any time there was a player invading their half. And like a bee kicking a foreign invader out of the hive they stripped the ball away and started a counter attack. It wasn’t uncommon at all to see three or even four yellow shirts around a lone Villa man with the ball.

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Arsenal have spent all season working on this press. From the start there were signs that the King Bee wanted his men to pressure the opposition but that some players didn’t quite know what to do. Early in the season, against Hull, Wilshere was so distraught that he turned around and yelled at Cazorla to get up and help fill the gaps (illustrated below).

Wilshere-Cazorla

The Spaniard, however, took time to catch on, as did all of his teammates. And that finally paid off here in the final as time and again the Gunners simply surrounded the Villa player and walked away with the ball.

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Villa’s response was to resort to cynical fouling. Each time Arsenal took the ball from them, they would chase down the Arsenal man and foul, trip, or pull the player from behind. Villa were outclassed, their manager completely out of ideas, and they were simply grabbing at anything to try to keep a hold in this game.

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It was pure joy for Gooners to watch as Arsenal dismantled Villa for 90 minutes. Turning defense into offense, the Gunners ripped open the Villa lines: Bellerin played dangerous crosses; what Ozil saw must have looked like a fly’s vision as he chipped, back-heeled, and crossed into the path of the attacking players over and over; Cazorla played like Pirlo, going 12/12 picking out forwards with his perfectly floated long chips; Walcott terrified Villa’s defenders and showed that he can play through the middle; Alexis scored what could be the goal of the season — a moment of brilliance from Arsenal’s brightest star; and despite being far from a finished product, even Coquelin put in a shift (not just his defensive work!) with 3 dribbles to escape pressure and 7/7 long balls, spraying passes all over the pitch and looking to jump start Arsenal’s counter.

It’s been a long road for Arsenal to get this far.

The nadir of the season has to be when Arsenal fans stood on the platform in Stoke and abused Arsene Wenger. Raphael Honigstein even said that he “saw the logic” in such abuse and that “personal abuse might be the way forward.” As in the way forward to force Arsene Wenger out of the club. He was wrong and those fans were wrong: there was another way forward.

The other way forward included trusting the new fitness team to get the key players back and healthy. That way forward included trusting Wenger to change up his team’s preparation for the games. That way forward included waiting for the Arsenal players to figure out what Wenger was asking them to do. And this FA Cup win was the destination of that other way forward.

As an example of the change in preparation, Wenger knew his team are susceptible to crossed aerial attacks. He also knew that Benteke is a beast in the air. Benteke did win 9 aerial duels today but, crucially, only 2 in the danger area. Mertesacker and Koscielny both pressured Benteke on all crossed aerials into the box and kept him quiet.

Szczesny was also clearly trained and ready for this aerial bombardment. From nearly the first minute Szczesny came out to claim whenever Villa tried a cross. He even had a powerful punch at 0-0 to beat Benteke to an open header. His aggression on crosses forced Villa to play them deeper and further away from the danger area. In the end, Szczesny didn’t have much else to do, Villa only registered 2 shots, both from distance and both blocked, but what he did have to do, he did perfectly.

And of course, player fitness has been a problem for a long time. Before this season, Arsenal would typically say that a player would be out for two weeks and have that turn into four weeks and then six weeks before the announcement that the injury was actually season ending. But for the first season ever Arsenal got players back before they were supposed to. And the players look more robust. Alexis in particular looks like he’s made out of some indestructible material, Alexmantium?

Arsenal’s fitness was so perfect today that Wenger was able to start Theo Walcott (throwing a spanner in Tim Sherwood’s plans) and bring on Ox, Giroud, and Wilshere. All of whom have missed large portions of the season through injury.

In beating Villa 4-0 we saw exactly what a fully fit, prepared, and tactically adept Arsenal team can do. It was the complete performance, an example of what a little faith and a lot of hard work can achieve, and a fitting end to the season. But it’s not the end of the road for these players.

The future looks bright for this team. The last time a Wenger team won back to back FA Cups was the season before the Invincibles. I’m not foolish enough to predict that this team can go an entire season unbeaten but given the way they finished this season and the way they have taken to Wenger’s new style of play, I think they could be title challengers.

But as much as they could be title challengers, we know that they are cup winners. Congratulations to the club, the manager, the players, and the fans. For all you went through this season, the injuries, the uncertainty, adapting a new playing style, and fitting in new players, you deserved this.

Qq

empty seats

Empty seats and the Americanization of the FA

By Tim Todd, Tout-in-Chief

Watching the FA Cup semi-final on television this weekend I was struck by a camera shot just after kickoff. It was a scene from the half way line which showed a huge swath of empty seats. These were the best seats in the house; lower tier, center line, directly behind the player’s entrance tunnel and yet there were a ton of empty seats. It only took me a moment to remember that, at Wembley where this match was being played, the Football Association takes control of over 40% of the ticket allocations and gives them away to their corporate sponsors and partners. It was those seats which were empty.

Many of those seats remained empty throughout the match. And in the match the next day between Liverpool and Villa the exact same scene played out: empty seats in the FA allocation. This wasn’t a case of a few corporate sponsors lingering over a cocktail after half-time, many of these ticket holders simply didn’t sit in the stands or didn’t even attend the match. And so, there on international television was a glaring example of corporate cronyism, greed, and a pure indifference to the sport.

Clearly unperturbed that their semi-final allocations weren’t used, the FA announced ticket allocations for the final; Arsenal will get 25,000 tickets, Villa will get 25,000 tickets, the FA will give away 20,000 to their “football family”, and the FA will allocate 17,000 to Club Wembley members.

The FA did something similar last year and their actions prompted Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis to write a letter pleading with them to get the balance right. And that’s, unfortunately, what we are really talking about here, getting the balance right. Changing the numbers just a little bit in favor of the fans.

No one expects the FA to take tickets away from the Club Wembley partners. Those are the super-rich, the corporations, the lard which greases the pig that is modern football. Without them at the match, the FA officials wouldn’t have rich folks to rub elbows with. They need those tickets to give away to the mega-rich so that FA officials can bask in the glow of their power.

And the FA need corporate sponsors because they need money to pay the salaries of guys like Martin Glenn. Martin Glenn, former chief of United Biscuits, is apparently a marketing genius or at least that is how the FA sold his appointment, calling him “a veteran of industry”. That is exactly what the football association needed in order to improve the quality of their international football program, a great new marketing campaign. That way the fans can sing, “We are lions hear us roar!” as England crashes out of group stages of the World Cup, again.

The other 20,000 tickets will be given away to the FA’s football family. This means, practically, that clubs who hate Arsenal and Aston Villa will get an allocation. And it’s all done on a very fair basis as well: last year, volunteers distributed the 20,000 tickets. Arsenal and Villa are going to use complicated arithmetic to figure out who get their paltry allocations, meanwhile the Football Association are using “volunteers.”

And there you have it, 55% of the tickets for the FA Cup final go to the real fans and 45% go to everyone else. That 55% will be divided by lottery and will hopefully be going to the fans who travel week in and week out to see their team play across the country.

It’s a shame that the allocation couldn’t be 90% of the tickets for the clubs and 10% for the corporations and associations. It would be nice for once to be able to give every season ticket holder a seat at the final and make the corporate sponsors and friends of the FA have to enter into a lottery.

But this… this is modern sports. They renovated Wembley in order to build more corporate box seats. And it’s not like the FA are doing anything unusual, they are simply becoming more American in the way they allocate tickets.

The NFL’s signature game, the Superbowl, is divided in a similar way that the FA did their ticket allocation. The NFL give each team 17.5% of the total seats and a further 5% goes to the host team. After that, 35% are divided equally among all the other teams in the NFL and the organization takes the remaining 25% for themselves. In terms of percentages, the FA actually give a much bigger chunk to the two clubs in the finals, doling out nearly 28% of the tickets to each team.

The result of the NFL allocations is that an infinitely small number of real fans go to the Superbowl. With online ticket resell sites run rampant in the United States, combined with the rarity of obtaining a ticket, the average fan can pay for his season tickets many times over with the profits from the sale of a single Super Bowl seat. How many “real” fans attend the Superbowl is unknown but I’ve only ever known one.

This last bit could be misconstrued as me saying “hey it could be worse, you should quit complaining” but it’s actually just the opposite: “hey, it could be worse, you don’t want it to be worse, COMPLAIN LOUDER!”

Those empty seats in semi-finals were just a symbol. They are a symbol of how English Football is changing, is becoming more Americanized. And if that continues, the average fans might not even be able to go to the games.

But hey, if you’re really lucky you’ll get Katy Perry and Left Shark as your half-time entertainment for the Football Association Sponsored by Doritos Budweiser Cup Final presented in Sony Humorphic 3D.

 

It will almost be like being there.

Qq