Tag Archives: FA Cup

Navin-FACUP

Match Day Photo of the Month: August

Did you happen to catch the Man City-Liverpool game a couple of weeks ago?

The weather was crap, with icy cold rain, and at one point, they showed Mario Balotelli sitting on the bench with his new teammates. He had a hood over his head, if I recall, and looked as miserable as a stewardess with a horrible case of diarrhea on an Inter-continental flight.

I’m certain Mario was thinking, “Why couldn’t I have been bought by Sevilla? Or Napoli? Or Barcelona? Yeah, Barcelona. That’s the ticket. It’s nice there all the time. That’s where I should be playing my football. I’ll make sure to call my agent when the game is over. He’ll take care of it. Yeah, Barcelona. Shouldn’t have to do much more than chomp on some lad’s ear, and I’ll be off just like Suarez. It worked for him, and I’m just as crazy.”

Now, I’m not sure I’d like to have to play outdoors in the dead of winter in Liverpool either. And sitting on the bench can be notoriously boring, in the best of times.

The mind wanders.

I recall riding the pine for the Varsity soccer squad, as a freshman. We were playing in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, which is smack dab in the middle of the Pinelands. Lots of chicken farms, (hence the town’s name) and trees that go on for miles.

My friends Chris Kelly and Rominder Varma were sitting on either side of me. They too, were bored as hell. So Rominder turned to both of us and said, “If a pack of man-eating, wild dogs descended upon the field, ready to eat everyone here, where would you hide?”

Surprisingly, neither Chris nor I had the slightest qualm at taking his query seriously. We began to scour the horizon, looking for a port of safe harbor from those imaginary, famished beasts. Then, after a moment or two, we burst out laughing. Because that shit was hilarious.

Rominder was a funny guy. And he did not fit the stereotype of an Indian-American. He drank and partied, and cracked people up on a regular basis. He was the kind of funny you felt good about laughing at.

As opposed to the clichés about Indians and Indian-Americans that seem to be floating about in popular culture, sadly, to this day.

Recently, my young son got hooked on the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” trilogy. They go for easy laughs, for the most part, and of course they have an Indian character named Shirag Gupta. He’s shrimpy, and you’re meant to laugh at his thick accent, because, you know, foreigners are different.

(Sample dialogue, “I am Shirag Gupta. And I am single,” he says to the pretty, 7th-grade-blonde-girl who would never, ever, go for a guy like him.)

Then, just the other day, I heard Hank Azaria interviewed on NPR. Something to do with a Simpsons marathon they were hyping. He launched into his Apu accent, because everyone loves the Quickimart guy. This time, though, I didn’t crack a smile. It seemed so 20th Century, and a bit sad. White man making fun of brown people. You laugh, white man. Laugh.

Now, I’m well aware that you don’t know who I am, nor why I’m rambling on like this. I’ve done it every week for 3 years at my regular gig, for the photo industry blog, A Photo Editor, so please, bear with me. I’ll get to the point.

Which is, I loved the photo sent in to me by Navin Sharma, from across the river from my home state of New Jersey. Look at that picture. He’s standing on one side of a garish trophy, resplendent in a home Gunners jersey, and his strapping young son Nikolas stands on the other. (Wearing last year’s away kit, if I’m correct.)

Navin-FACUP

They look happy. Confident. Their shoulders are square. Navin’s taken off his hat, all class, but young Nikolas has his on backwards. Like kids are wont to do.

Maybe it’s their best day of the year so far?

They were in the Red Bulls soccer stadium in the industrial wasteland that is Northern Jersey, just up the train tracks from Newark Airport. But they don’t care. Arsenal came to town. Boo-yah.

And what’s with that trophy anyway? Can you believe they went to that much trouble to smelt and polish some metal to give away at the end of a silly friendly? In which guys like Jon Toral played a vital part for Arsenal?

That’s not a contest. It’s a dress rehearsal for a 4th grade play. That’s how much the results meant.

But tell that to Navin and Nikolas. There they are, standing in front of a perfectly crafted Barclays PR backdrop. The kind they erect out of some cheap scaffolding. It’s theater. But not the kind you laugh at.

Enlarge the photo, and you can see that each gent is warped in the trophy’s glare. Fun house mirror portraits, thrown in for good measure. And you can also see the white sheets perpendicular to the facade. Proof that all around this micro-environment, it looks as fancy as the bowels of a stadium. That’s the point of facades, though. You’re not supposed to see what’s behind them.

Then, in the distance of the trophy’s inner glow, you see bright light in the background. The outdoors, perhaps? The pitch? Where Thierry Henry plies his trade. The god of North London, displaced to North Jersey?

I love this photo. It reminds me why we all get so excited each match day. Why grown men will put on another man’s jersey. And so will teenaged boys too. Wearing Jack Wilshere shirts, while bearing a faint resemblance to our smoking box to box mid-fielder.

Hope the boys had a great day that afternoon, even though the Red Bulls took home the silverware. It’s sitting somewhere inside that miniature stadium, I’m sure. Collecting dust already.

Runners-up

1st Runner up

from Nick Pewter, of the Bermuda contingent, at the Crystal Palace game.

runnerup 

I have no idea what the Club Level means. I live in the mountains of New Mexico. How the f-ck should I know? But it sure does look swanky. In the words of the immortal Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”

2nd Runner up

from James Murphy: Twitter handle: @JAlexMurphy

Everton-pano

Sure, this looks like a standard panorama shot, from the away seciton of Everton game. But get a look at the dude all the way on the right. How drunk is he? Not exactly a flattering depiction.

Post Script

Are you going to a game this month? Want to see your photo featured here? Be creative and send your pictures to matchdayphotoofthemonth@gmail.com. – Tim

Wenger lifts the FA Cup

The magic of the Cup

It took a second before the reality of the goal set in. No one, not even the players on the pitch reacted in the way that players typically react when a goal goes in. But once I saw the ball spinning in the goal and the nets rippling I slumped into my couch. It was happening all over again.

Arsenal have this thing in big games where they can’t seem to overcome their own frailties and they make the same mistakes over and over again. Or at least that’s the perception and often times perception is stronger than reality and with this Arsenal team the perceptions of the sports writers and fans are that we are bottlers. So, there in my living room, I was watching Arsenal bottle a big game again.

And then the second goal came and I had to put my hands on my face to hide my shame. Two-nil down in the 8th minute of the FA Cup final and I could have cried. The Arsenal players visibly slumped. And when Hull nearly got a third but for the brilliant headed save from Kieran Gibbs* I honestly thought Arsenal were going to get blown out. 6-0 or something. The most humiliating loss in the history of histories. Everything was going to be criticized.

All the anger and frustration of 9 years of being told that we are just “one piece away” from glory. All the deferred gratification and of almost winning trophies welled up inside me. That second goal unleashed the anger of losing the Champions League final to Barcelona. I felt the frustration of losing the League Cup final against Chelsea. I felt the pain of losing the League in 07/08 when Arsenal fell apart in the aftermath of Taylor breaking Eduardo’s leg. And when Bruce won that looping header I felt the sharp sting of my own memory of Wembley, the League Cup final that Arsenal lost in the final minutes because of a Zigic header.

Perception, though, is not the same as reality. In the cold light of Monday morning, three days later I can watch those first two Hull goals and see that they were lucky. Hull may have worked that corner routine up in training but Huddlestone’s shot for the first goal was poorly taken and going well wide and but for the lucky deflection of Chester that would have been a harmless corner. And their second goal was scored from an offside position after a brilliant save by Fabianski.

But in the  moment, I was devastated. I hate using the word “gutted” but I felt like a gutted fish.

But cup finals are the kinds of games where players make a name for themselves. Charlie George didn’t really have a sparkling career at Arsenal but Charlie George will always be a legend because he scored that goal in the 1971 FA Cup final.

The same goes for Santi Cazorla. Cazorla has been a good player for Arsenal and one of my favorites last year. This year he seemed to struggle to get back into form and to develop a real partnership with Mesut Özil. But all that is irrelevant. None of it matters, because Cazorla scored the goal that started the comeback. When he struck that ball he unleashed more than just a wicked shot, I leapt out of my seat and screamed “YEEES”. It was a primal scream, like I was letting out the pent-up rage and frustration of those cup final failures of years past. Cazorla’s legend grew three sizes with that kick.

The same goes for Koscielny. Koscielny was already a fan favorite but when he scored the second goal to send the match into overtime I didn’t really need to scream. I had already spat out my anger and instead a calm came over me. I was ready now for Arsenal to win the cup. What I did feel on that goal was fear. Watching on the replays as McGregor scissor tackled Koscielny and seeing his ankle turn over dredged up all the fears of Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo, Shawcross on Ramsey, and countless tackles on Diaby. But Koz got up. Koz played on. And Koscienly’s legend grew three sizes.

Did Wenger’s legend grow three sizes with the win? I remember questioning his substitutions in the moment of the game but he got them all exactly right. Sanogo came on and played an integral part in the win — his energy on the pitch was unrivaled by any player on either team. Not only that but he was a huge pest to the Hull defense just pulling their center backs apart to create spaces for the Arsenal midfielders to run into. Taking Podolski off and putting Sanogo on was a huge gamble and it paid off.

Wenger took another gamble to start the second half of extra time, he hauled off Özil and Cazorla for Rosicky and Wilshere. I remember thinking that he’d lost his mind. But in retrospect, Wenger took off Arsenal’s two most creative players, who had been fatiguing, and put on two of Arsenal’s most energetic players. It worked perfectly. Sanogo was already giving the Hull defense fits with his constant movement, Rosicky and Wilshere were creating pockets of space all around the Hull box, and it looked like it was a plan tailored to get Ramsey shots in good positions. In that period after the 90th minute, Ramsey took 6 of Arsenal’s shots, clearly he was the focus of the team. And when Rosicky and Wilshere came on, Ramsey got the shot that sent Arsenal to cup heaven.

Ramsey’s goal was a moment of catharsis unlike any I have felt before. Aaron Ramsey in many ways symbolizes the post-Invincibles era Arsenal team. Bought as a youth player with huge potential, his career was nearly cut short by an horrific tackle from Ryan Shawcross. Despite overcoming that huge obstacle, he endured years of criticism at the hands of the media, the opposition fans, and his own fans. Arsene stayed true to Ramsey through all of it and as we started to learn more about this young man the one thing you could always count on with Ramsey is that he wouldn’t hide. When you needed a player to step up, Aaron Ramsey has always been there for Arsenal, even when we weren’t there for him.

Ramsey has had a real break out season this year. He won games for Arsenal at critical times: the Champions League qualifiers, the match against Dortmund and so on. And so it had to be Ramsey who put the team on his shoulders in the 100th minute of the FA Cup final and said “I got this.”

Of course he was going to be the one to score the goal. And of course the goal was going to be a back heel from Giroud, into the path of the onrushing Ramsey, who hit it on the volley, with the outside of his boot, short-siding the keeper. When that goal went in, I didn’t yell. I didn’t make a sound. I sat back on my couch with both hands on my face, choking back tears of relief.

Aaron Ramsey, the player who suffered so much physically and emotionally and did so always with dignity and always played with heart, won Arsenal the FA Cup. His legend didn’t grow three sizes, he is the legend now.

This whole team is legend now.

The cup itself is physically empty but as a symbol it is ready to be filled with whatever you want. That is the magic of the cup. Is it the vindication of Wenger’s long-term plan? Will the cup make recruitment easier this summer? Does the cup mean that Arsenal have sloughed off the tag of almost-winners? Is Cazorla now a free kick specialist? Is Koscienly’s ankle made out of titanium or something? Is Aaron Ramsey one of the best players to ever play for Arsenal? Does the cup mean that we will now kick on and win more trophies?

Yes yes yes yes yes yes…

Winning the FA Cup shows me that this team has the potential to do great things. Think about it, Arsenal won the FA Cup without a goal-scoring striker and with an ageing defensive midfielder. Imagine for a second if this core group of players had both the striker and the midfielder that Wenger tried to buy this summer?

I think the cup will help there as well. Luis Gustavo turned Arsenal down last summer to move to Wolfsburg. No matter how much we wish players would look at Arsenal and simply say “yes, that’s a big club, I join them” the reality is that Arsenal had an albatross hanging around our necks for the last nine years. Now that we’ve won the cup, and been top of the League for 128 days, we have proof that Wenger has built a team that can challenge for trophies.

But most important, it was inconceivable to me that Arsenal would be able to overcome a 2-0 deficit and win a final. I’ve posted the “Never in Doubt” picture on Twitter many times this year, but the truth is that I had doubt. Plenty of doubt, plenty of times. But now, an incredible cup run in which we swept aside Spurs, Everton, and Liverpool and won on a day we were 2-0 down has restored a great deal of my faith in the players and the manager.

That’s the magic of the cup.

Qq

*You know that when you put a player on the corner like that it’s called “zonal marking”.

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Manchester United v Arsenal

Norwich v. Arsenal: only one thing to play for. Plus: ticket prices hurt real people

Arsenal head into the final day of this wild season with only one thing to play for, or to play not for. Arsenal play Norwich at Carrow Rd. with the Canaries already relegated, with Arsenal settled into 4th place, and with an FA Cup final a week later so the only thing Arsenal have to play for is to not get injured.

Norwich have some prior in this regard, Bradley Johnson stomped on Sagna’s leg last year and the Arsenal fullback came up with a broken leg. There are many who forgive the Norwich midfielder because he tweets positively about Arsenal. We should give him the benefit of the doubt and just say that he’s oafish, I suppose. Oafish or injurious, let’s stay away from the oafs tomorrow so that we have a full squad for the final against Hull City.

It really is that simple. The FA Cup final is the chance for Arsenal to change the narrative from “hasn’t won a trophy in X years” to “hasn’t won a MAJOR trophy in X years” or “hasn’t won the Premier League since 2004.” It’s the chance to change this annus horribilis to an annus prosperitas. We need our whole team at 100% in order to steamroll over Hull City.

I know that we always play to win. I know that we are on a three match clean-sheet run. I know that we want to go into the FA Cup final with a team that is fresh and full of match day experience. I know that we want to respect the competition. I know that we want maximum points. I know that we want to show improvement from last year. I know that stuff and don’t care because I want Arsenal to win the FA Cup.

I want Arsenal to win the FA Cup for players like Koscielny. Koz is the latest in a long line to sign a long term deal with the club and secure the future of Arsenal. The partnership between Koscielny and Mertesacker has been very good this year as we have seen in the fact that Arsenal had 16 clean sheets this season and won 6 additional games by a 1-goal margin.

Koscielny’s career at Arsenal has had some rough patches and in many ways mirrors Arsenal’s last 4 years. That famous loss to Birmingham was probably the roughest patch for both club and player. No player deserves a win, they earn their wins (or sometimes they are gifted them!), and no team deserves a win. Wins are the culmination of hard work, talent, and perseverance. Arsenal and Koz have worked so very hard have persevered through so much, do they have the talent and the application to win one last time?

That we will find out in a week.

My schedule for the rest of the weekend is to publish a piece for Arseblog on Sunday after the game. I’ll be looking at the whole season in review and if you have some data you’d like uncovered let me know in the comments.

In other Arsenal news the club has announced a ticket price increase and fans are predictably in an uproar. Well, most fans. There is a strange group out there who are arguing in favor of the ticket price increase. I understand their argument, it’s the same that the club are making: the ticket prices are in line with inflation. I have even seen people argue that it is cheaper to go see a match at the Emirates than at Highbury, based on average cost of living.

Indulge my tangent for a second here. One thing all the economics arguments ignore is the human element to the club. I know so many Arsenal supporters who go to games more for the matchday experience of being with their friends than for the game itself. I once asked a friend in England how bad the club would have to play before he would quit going. He responded that it idn’t matter if they were relegated, he would still go. That was a surprise to me but I pressed him and asked what would make him stop going? He said “if my mates stopped going.”

Therein lies the real danger with raising ticket prices. Individuals, who have not been the beneficiaries of a rise in the average wage, or who for any number of reasons simply cannot afford £5 more or whatever… those people, real people, are going to have to give up their friends because of this price increase. Remember that when you’re making your “average price” arguments.

Arsenal aren’t going to price out the touts and the corporate types, and they aren’t increasing the prices so much that they are going to price out all the foreign fans who flock to the Emirates for our annual pilgrimages, they aren’t going to price out the fans who go to 10 games a season and sell on the rest of their ticket, and they aren’t going to outprice every one of the multitudes of great fans I’ve met there. But they are going to break up groups of friends, some of whom have been going to the games for decades, some of whom have been going to games for generations.

The coffers of Arsenal might be richer for that but the club is overall poorer when we lose a bit of our history.

Qq