August 31st, 2011; Just three days after being humiliated by Manchester United 8-2 at Old Trafford, fielding a team that included Traore, Coquelin, Jenkinson, Djourou and Miquel, Özyakup, Lansbury and Sunu on the bench, Arsenal went on a Transfer Deadline Day spending spree that saw the likes of Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos and Benayoun join the club.

It was a busy summer that saw a lot of movement in and out of the club. Short term it was a step backwards, but could yet be looked upon as a turning point to better times, but I digress.

The departures that summer were big names like Cesc and Nasri and lesser names such as Clichy, Eboue and Traore. The arrivals were Jenkinson, Gervinho, Chamberlain, Park, Toral, Bellerin, Olsson, Gnabry, Campbell, Eisfeld to add to the names mentioned earlier. It was definitely a turbulent time.

I want to focus on two players that Arsenal acquired that summer and that are under scrutiny by pundits and supporters alike – Mertesacker and Arteta.

There are a multitude of positives that these two have in common. Character, professionalism, experience, an ability to “read the game”, and most importantly, what was so desperately needed at that time, in conjunction with all previously mentioned, leadership ability.

The short journey for both players has been a bit different but for me, they are both at the same point in their careers and exhibiting the same weaknesses. Let’s break it down by player.

Arteta:

Arteta isn’t a DM, holding midfielder, etc. , whatever you want to call it. That’s just a fact. He played a more forward position at Everton and was in fact a play-maker and sometimes scorer. Upon his move to Arsenal, where he took less money to play in bigger matches with a bigger club, he also took on, at 29, a more defensive role. He did it as best as could be expected given the age at which he switched positions, the demands of the position given the style of system he was thrust upon, the upheaval in personnel he had to endure and the pressure all of that entailed. In summary, the man sacrificed what was left of his career to go to a bigger club and do what they needed him to do to get on the pitch and contribute. It was utterly professional – selfless even; A rarity in sports.

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For the first 18 months, he was AN answer, just not THE answer at the position. For the last 18 months, it has been rocky, to say the least. The issue with Mikel is simple; Playing deeper, in the position he was/is asked to play, he’s being tasked with covering the back four, particularly the CB’s who are left exposed by the attacking FB’s, against players much faster and stronger than him. With his diminishing physical abilities (most noticeably pace), he simply isn’t able to do this task effectively. It was admirable to watch in the first half of his Arsenal career, the effort, the organization, the leadership, all on display, that helped us grind out results. His experience and ability to read the game allowed him to be relatively effective against most teams (top clubs excluded) and his clear passing talent allowed for some opportunities in the attacking end. It was a “bend don’t break” approach and it was OK given the transitional nature of the period. It isn’t what is needed now however, with the talent acquired by Arsenal these last few years.

Midway, since his arrival, whether it be age, the physical toll of the position or simply that the opposition knew they could – Arteta has been overrun in midfield. Where as before it was by more talented opposition, the deterioration of his physical abilities has allowed for less adroit teams to take advantage and run roughshod over the Arsenal midfield. Long story short? Arteta is getting old, is slower and has less of a motor. He was never meant to be the complete answer at that position but has been plugged in to stop a leak, but now the damn has broken – the water found a way through as it always does.

This isn’t new news, it’s been easy to see for quite some time. What was at one point admirable, is now cringe-worthy most times. There is a reason why in the last two summers there has been SOME effort to replenish the ranks at that position. I say some effort because if there was ABSOLUTE effort it would have been accomplished. Arteta can’t help getting older, getting slower and being played there despite obvious flaws for the position.

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Mertesacker:

Mertesacker had a bit of a tough transitional period after his move. The rigours of life in the EPL are immense to deal with and it showed with the big German. He was even confused by pundits with Metzelder who briefly played for Real Madrid; what’s in a name ey? Slowly but surely, he became (still is) a fixture in the side. Like Arteta, Per is a true professional that embodies all that is right in sport. Just like Arteta, Mertesacker is not exactly blessed with physical prowess, although he’s a tower of a man. Despite this, he was able to use his vast experience to be at the right place, at the right time – most times.

The similarities of the decline of their physical attributes is especially intriguing given that both arrived at the same time.

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Mertesacker is a mountain of a man, but funnily enough doesn’t use that to his advantage. He is a more technical player that uses positioning to ward off attacks. Since day one, where he has struggled has been his lack of pace and power. More physical forwards can out-muscle him and more pacey forwards can outrun him. Players that possess both attributes absolutely destroy him – Lukaku for example.

Although the above scenarios do occur, they have been offset by the dynamic pairing with Koscielny and were limited to exceptions rather than norm as the pair became better acquainted. Experience and great positioning coupled with physicality and grit – A great duo.

Yet, I am concerned with the deterioration of Mertesacker’s decision-making and positional awareness versus attackers that have one or both of the attributes mentioned before. Simply put, whereas Arteta’s decline can be attributed to physical limitations, Per’s is more mental. That’s not to say Per hasn’t “lost a step”, but never being fleet of foot before, the decline there is minimal and surely can be compensated for. The mistakes where Per misreads match situations have gone up considerably over the last months of last season and into this year. As an example, there has been much praise for Debuchy on his arrival, due to his “sweeping up” of play – coming behind attackers to dispossess them or make the final tackle to save the defence. Although some of that was with Chambers beside him at CB, some of it was also with Per there, that’s never a good sign when coming from one of Arsenal’s most experienced players.

There have been times during this period (end of last year – beginning of this year) where replays show Per knows where he needs to be and is unable to get there or something out of the ordinary happens; a fall, an off-side trap poorly executed, etc. There are also times where he is just physically outdone. Such was the case of Lukaku’s goal a couple of weeks back where, although fouled, the BFG was simply tossed aside. Is it rust? Is it a player in decline and if so, is the decline mental or physical?

Better yet, is any of this fixable?

Remember, we’re talking about Arsenal’s captain and vice-captain here, as well as a major portion of the spine of the team!

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What does this all mean?

So, after giving my take, and in the end that’s all it is, what does this all mean?

I have been waiting for Arsenal to get a proper holding midfielder for the last 6 years. It has cost the team time and again. There is a need for a player with technique, power and pace to compliment the creative talent in the side. There are players available, the funds (also available) have to be spent to acquire one!

For this position, Arteta isn’t going to suddenly get faster, stronger, meaner, etc. The physical attributes will continue to deteriorate. He is 32 going on 40. I like Arteta, I really do. I have said it time and again. He can be a squad player, he can continue to guide younger players, he is a great leader and a wonderful professional. He just shouldn’t be Arsenal’s main choice for holding midfielder. The solution is clear and has been for some time – Arsenal need to sign a holding midfielder!

For Per, I have a lasting hope that he can improve on his present form. The BFG just needs to be more aware of his surroundings and adjust for the opposition faced. There needs to be better communication across that back four and the team in general. The mistakes have gone up, yet hopefully can be curtailed as the season progresses and the partnerships with new players grow. The need for Arsenal to address proper CB cover is still an issue with or without Per’s issues or improvement.

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Football is a funny game. Nothing happens as you think it might. On that August in 2011 when Arsenal went “bargain shopping” as some called it, to fix the many issues at the time, the club ended up with these two players that brought stability, professionalism, pride, work ethic and class when it was sorely needed and missing. They have been the embodiment of professionalism ever since and I don’t think you could find anyone associated with the club that could speak ill of either player.

But this is sport, sentimentality is in short supply. Football teams and players are in the business of entertainment, results, and money. Will Arsenal do what they must to take that next step? Or will we as supporters be having these same discussions next September? Questions about how the summer was a missed opportunity to get on even footing with the elite? Time will tell.

For me, it’s clear what needs to happen as I’m sure it is with you. Will it happen is another thing altogether. Those decisions are left to those that know better than us.

They do, you know – “know better than us”, that’s what’s so frustrating.

Up the Arsenal!

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This piece never made it to this site, originally written the 9th of July – so here it is.

Information. It’s what everyone wants.

We connect to Facebook, Twitter, every football site imaginable to get those precious bits of information. The problem is, that “information” is usually anti-Arsenal, late or altogether wrong. I imagine a scenario in “football journalist’s” (I use that term loosely) offices in which they have several dart boards up with team, players names and fees. They have pre-written scripts that have blanks ready for those missing pieces and all they have to do to finish off the often times predictable story is to throw those darts to get the appropriate info for the next mash-up.

It really is that desperate and that ridiculous. Phantom players, phantom teams, phantom fees and in the end, what is it? Phantom news.

So, we as football supporters struggle with what to believe, what sources to read, who to listen to.

So, when I got a message in mid June that read, “We’re signing Alexis Sanchez.” My first response was, “get the f%@# out of here”. Why? Well, Josep Bartomeu (Barca’s president), had a press conference two days earlier where he said they were not letting any of their top players leave. So my thinking naturally was, “Alexis is a top player, no way he’s going.” (Cesc was sold days later, so much for his word!).

So I messaged back, “Are you sure?! Really? How reliable is the source?”

He messaged me back, “Reliable. Trust me.”

Trust.

Trust is a funny thing, it’s earned, not given. Did I trust the person sending me the text? Absolutely. You have to understand, this is a person that has never claimed to be in-the-know and doesn’t want credit as such. This person, well, they had no reason whatsoever to lie or any track record of it with me. So I began to get excited. Should I tweet it? Should I shout it? What could I do?

Then came the next message, “Nothing about this online please.”

So, there I sat, mid June, one of the bigger AFC transfer stories about at that moment and I’m asked not to say anything online. What do I do/say?

“Ok, you have my word.”

Given the origin of the news, I knew the request didn’t extend to the podcast members with whom I regularly speak with, so naturally my next text was to them:

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As you can see, I wasn’t the only one that was told, there where others who also knew and also kept this to themselves, as asked, until it was official.

So the countdown began and so did the inspection of some of the most notable ITK’s on Twitter. Finally there was something I could measure to see what outlets and who was reliable. Besides Geoff, you know Geoff, not one of the ITK’s got it right. One very arrogant ITK, who loves a fight, on the same day tweeted that Liverpool were given the go ahead to bid for Sanchez as Arsenal where only after Draxler only! Laughable.

It went on and on and on. As if any of us needed any more proof. There are but one or two reliable ITK’s or better yet, people with accurate info from time to time, on Twitter. They can be wrong sometimes, but that’s because situations may change, but their track record over time speak for themselves.

We all know Twitter is filled with supposed ITK’s. They have Google Translate on a separate tab at all times. They follow every journalist from every country, every sporting news outlet and they pretend they know how reliable these outlets are. They take anything Arsenal related or relevant and plop it into Google Translate and then tweet something along the lines of “I was told/I heard today that xxxxxx would happen.” You know these lot. When they are proven wrong later, they blame the journo or outlet. When they are “right”, they pump their chest out and tell everyone how right they were, but never telling you the person who “told them” was or that in fact that they read it…these lot are a disgusting, self-absorbed, attention seeking bunch. I won’t even get into the Indykalia’s and Fairthorne’s of the world.

So there I sat, day after day, knowing what was happening and seeing it take shape. So, I decided to do what I always do. I took local news from radio, tv and print and passed it on; I translated it properly (I’m a native Spanish speaker) and sent it out to followers on Twitter and listeners on the podcast.

“What are our chances John?”, I was asked. “Looks good.”, I replied; or something to that extent. I got slated a few times for things I posted:

All locally reported and passed on, along with other similar posts. These reports coincided with what I already knew. All the meanwhile, all the lads from the pod who were privy to the info and I just chatted and saw how everything was taking place and we all commented on the evolution of the story. Over time, something became apparent and we all came to the same realization, the reporters haven’t a clue either.

They may get news earlier and some have better contacts than others, but for the most part, they are grasping at straws, much as we do. They get bits of info and they connect the dots given past experiences and relationships with the clubs they follow and report on. In the end, they are only slightly better informed then we are. It’s not eye-opening really, we kind of knew that didn’t we? But “kind of knowing” and “actually knowing” are two different things.

How do so many get it so wrong so often? The journalists at least have an excuse, they are working with what they have and if what they have is almost nothing and other outlets from other countries have some info, they try to piece things together. It’s their job, after all, to print stories. They call it rumour/gossip and move on to the next “story”; a successful job as long as it gets hits – So the bigger the story or rumour, the better. Do I agree with it? Nope. Do I understand it? Yes.

But why do these wannabe ITK’s do the same? What is the motivation to dupe people? Is it the followers (of course it is)? What is the necessity to lie about their intentions and their “news”?

Very simple. A lack of attention. They are very bored or very ignored. Take your pick.

I have been wrong many times, not as often as I have been right – but I always hold my hands up in those cases; Cesc moving, hell, even Alexis! Way before I got THAT message – “We’re signing Alexis Sanchez.” Why? Because I only pass on local news and make educated guesses. Nothing more or less.

ITK’s, real ITK’s are never wrong. They know what’s happening. Real time, real info, all the time.

Are you ready for this? THERE ARE NO REAL ITK’s ON TWITTER, ON FACEBOOK or ANYWHERE else. They covet their jobs or the jobs of those that give them info too much. There are people who may get info from time to time and pass it on, but anyone that knows anything, will not share it 100% of the time for fear of losing their position or having their contact lose their position. Be happy with those few credible sources that tell you “we have bid x amount for this player, will it happen, I don’t know.” You are already ahead of most journos having those tidbits of info.

There are some people on Twitter and other social sites that want a higher standing or want to pretend to know things and people they don’t. Pity them. They are a needy bunch, they are easy to spot. You know their names, you know their “style”. You know who they are. Call them out, they need a reality check. They make those “If X happens, I will deactivate!” tweets and promises. They will never do it, but hold them to it! We would all be better off! (The most they will do is change their display name, we know this, but let’s make it inconvenient for them at the very least).

Conversely, there are people who want to give you hints and want you to know the small bits of info they get. Be grateful. Stop the abuse. Use time and past revelations to see if they are legitimate.

For the first time in June, I got info ahead of time instead of a detailed explanation after – I was briefly “ITK”. Guess what? It wasn’t fun. It was so hard not to yell it from the top of my lungs, but I gave my word, so did other’s and we just smiled – that was enough for us!

The person who gave me the info doesn’t want it shared who exactly he is, but some of you know. He has taken a lot of heat for views, but he is someone not after attention of this nature. Funny how that is. The ones with the info want none of the credit/attention and get most of the hate. The ones with lies get most of the attention and praise and continue to operate despite their obvious deficiencies and lies.

It’s a game. It’s horrible. It’s ITK tic-tac-toe and like the real game, you only win by enjoying the game, not being right/wrong as it often ends in a draw.

Enjoy this summer Gooners, it’ll end up being a memorable one once you get to look back on it. At the end of the day what matters is the club, our season and where we can go from here. Now that the restrictions of the past have somewhat been lifted, we can build upon the success from last year and take that often talked about, “next step”. The future is bright, and guess what? We all win as supporters – Isn’t that what matters?

Up the Arsenal.

I don’t even know where to begin. Late Thursday evening a “sports journalist”, and I use that phrase lightly on this occasion, had an article published online in The Wall Street Journal. The article is a grotesque personal view of a fan-base using the most amateurish and simplistic of tools, stereotypes. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you are from but it should matter if you are a football supporter. The article should appal you, it should madden you because at its core it diminishes the very strides the various leagues, especially the EPL, are trying to make in capturing an ever-growing American market. It is xenophobic in its tone and condescending at every turn. So let’s break down the article by this HACK. Give it a read and you’ll be astonished by the ignorant nature of this gibberish.

“The Problem With American Soccer Fans”  is the title but in the actual link to the story it reads “Why I Hate American Soccer Fans” – Reading between the lines I come up with — “I don’t like you, I hate you but I DO want you to read my crap.” Hate. Such a strong word and feeling with such little substance contained within to justify it.

“Growing up as a soccer fan in England…”

I understand the need to specify the target audience by the use of “soccer” in the title, but for me the use of it here and many times during the article only accentuates the flaw in the argument. Soccer, although derived from association football and coined by the Brits is a term used in the US by Americans and in Australia where they also have their own version of football. Both are countries where there is a direct conflict with another sport. For an English-born journo to write a scathing review of a fanbase and then use a term that many Brits loathe and is common amongst the fanbase he is deriding is hypocritical at best and leads to one thing; diminished credibility from the very start. He goes on with his introduction that screams “plastic”.

“But lately, I’ve discovered there’s a new scourge on my beloved game that I simply cannot tolerate: Americans.”

Let’s see how many things are wrong with that. A scourge? You mean the same scourge every major football league in the world is trying to capture? Why? This market spends and they spend BIG. Approximately 25 billion USD a year on watching and supporting professional sports. 35 billion a year on sports equipment. 8 billion a year on sports logo apparel. 300 million a year in sports registration for youth players and 900 million more on their equipment and travel.  That “scourge”? The “beautiful game” is for the world, not any one country you putz.

“I don’t begrudge fans here who have only recently awakened to the charms of what the rest of the world has long known as the beautiful game. Welcome to the party! The problem is your soccer obsessives. By my reckoning, they may be the most derivative, excessive and utterly ridiculous collection of sports fans on the planet.”

My takeaway from this is if you are a new supporter or recent lover of the game, he likes you, but still puts you down, “welcome to the party”! Almost undoubtedly because he can partake upon you his infinite wisdom and his “do’s and don’t s”, you can be his little project. No thanks pal, I am allergic to plastic. On the flip side, if you are excessive in your support he doesn’t like you. Likely because you won’t jump on his bandwagon or listen to his inane commentary.

“If you’ve ever stumbled across this tribe as they spill out of a bar on Saturday mornings after 90 minutes spent watching a game contested by two teams based thousands of miles away, you’ll know the sort of fans I’m talking about. They refer to the sport as “fútbol,” hold long conversations about the finer points of the 4-4-2 formation and proudly drape team scarves around their necks even when the temperature outside is touching 90 degrees.”

First, any supporter that gets up in the wee hours on the weekend to watch a team from across the planet, spend on merchandise and takes the time to learn the intricacies of the sport gets a thumbs up in my book. Not to this hack. It’s something to be frowned upon. What irks me as well is the way he tries to have a go at the use of the word football here. The spelling he uses is the Castellano version of Spanish. I know many football supporters in the States and unless they are Mexican, Spanish or South American they never pronounce the word that way. This is another attempt at condescension.

“It is this band of soccer junkies who have turned the simple pleasure I used to derive from heading to a bar to watch a game into something more akin to undergoing root canal surgery.”

Simple pleasure? Nothing simple about love, loyalty and support for your team pal. There are very easy solutions to your dilemma though, don’t go to the bar to watch, stay at home or adapt.

“It’s not that they all have the same stories about study-abroad trips to Europe, or that they get wildly excited about the simplest saves, or even, for inexplicable reasons, that 90% of soccer fans in the U.S. seem to root for Arsenal. My biggest gripe is that all of this feels like an elaborate affectation.”

This one takes the cake. You can’t cheer when you want, that’s inexcusable to this idiot. 90% of fans in the US support Arsenal? Really? At last look the two most supported teams in the US where United and Real Madrid, with the likes of Barcelona, Liverpool, and many others right behind, Arsenal among them. But to be so idiotic that he says 90% of all Americans support Arsenal shows the small sample from which he’s making all of these stereotypical points. Then, “…feels like an elaborate affection”, what are you on about here lad? Supporters are supporting, that’s to be applauded, not ridiculed. Maybe you should try to support your team, whoever that might be this year, and leave others be?

Now at this point it is obvious that the writer’s problem is not with US football supporters, it’s with America(ns) in general and he has inexplicably launched himself into one of the most diverse cities in the world, New York. You’ll see what I mean with the next excerpt.

“Instead of watching the game in the time-honoured way of American sports fans—by thrusting a giant foam finger in the air, say, or devouring a large plate of Buffalo wings—your soccer fanatics have taken to aping the behaviour of our fans from across the pond. The scarves thing is an obvious example, but it’s far from the only one. There’s the self-conscious use of terms like “pitch,” “match” and “kit,” the songs lifted directly from English soccer stadiums, and even the appropriation of terrace couture.”

So, go buy a large foam finger, because of course, all ‘mericans do that and while you’re at it, get a huge plate of food and stuff your face Yankees! What an utter disgrace of a person. How the Wall Street Journal allowed this to be associated with them is beyond me. His argument up until now is that the “Americans”, due to his flip-flopping and mixing of cultural annoyances I can’t tell who he’s talking about, are being too enthusiastic and know too much. They shouldn’t use the correct terminology, sing their team’s songs or do anything at all like in England, because, you know, the EPL is the ONLY league being watched in the US. A punch in the face is too good for this cretin. The xenophobia continues and of course, leads to a Revolutionary War comment…

“On a recent weekend, I went to a bar to watch the UEFA Champions League final and found myself stationed next to a soccer fan wearing a replica Arsenal jersey, a team scarf around his neck and a pair of Dr. Martens lace-ups. He looked like he he’d been born and raised along the Holloway Road. In fact, he was from Virginia. The whole thing seemed to be less an expression of genuine fandom and more like an elaborate piece of performance art. Didn’t we fight a war so you guys wouldn’t have to take cues on how to behave from London?”

The nerve. With all due respect to all my English mates. Yes a war was fought, the English lost, now you’re a guest in that country and taking the piss out of the supporters of a global game; simple solution — leave.

“It should come as no surprise that the situation is particularly heinous in New York City. This is a town where artisanal toast is now a thing. So of course there’s a peculiar species of fan here whose passion for soccer seems to be less about 22 men chasing a ball up and down a field and more about its intellectual and cosmopolitan qualities. Never mind that no other sport is so linked to the working class. For these fans, rooting for an English soccer team is a highbrow pursuit and a mark of sophistication, like going to a Wes Anderson movie or owning a New Yorker subscription. It’s not just English soccer that’s been fetishized in this way, of course. Your soccer snobs have pilfered elements of fan culture from Spain, Italy and Latin America. These days, half of your national team has been imported from Germany. There’s the curious obsession with ‘tifo’—those enormous banners that are unfurled in stadiums before kickoff. They work at Lazio, Bayern Munich or Boca Juniors. At Real Salt Lake, not so much.”

No words for the above excerpt. Let’s put down New York and its fascinating mix of cultures and at times “high brow” tendencies. Of course, to make the argument somewhat broad in its attempt he mentions certain things taken from other football cultures. All the while forgetting one thing; America is a melting pot of different cultures from around the globe, wouldn’t it then be natural that all of these cultures would import some of their quirks and customs from the one sport that is shared by them all? No, wait, that would be too much of a conscientious and logical conclusion to come to. I won’t comment on his derision of the US Men’s National Team, because of course, other countries have never imported any players to their NT or the US has never lost a player to another country…

“These soccer snobs are so intent on maintaining an aura of authenticity that when they make a slip-up or use an incorrect or ill-advised term, I feel compelled to pounce on them with all the force of a Roy Keane challenge.There’s no such position as outside back! (It is fullback.) The rest of the world doesn’t call them PKs! (It is penalties. Just penalties.)”

OK mate, make up your mind. A second ago you were complaining about how terminology being used correctly by novices or die-hard supporters alike drove you mad, now you’re having a go for the few that make mistakes. Which is it? Keep a proper argument going at least. If you’re going to look the part of the idiot, as you have to this point, at least be consistent.

“Not to mention the fact that your fans happily refer to Team USA captain Clint Dempsey by the nickname “Deuce.” Deuce?! This is international soccer, not “Top Gun.” Ever since a ball was first kicked into a net, it has been an inviolable law of the game that Dempsey should be shortened to Demps. Just like Michael Bradley gets cut to Bradders, John Brooks to Brooksy and Jermaine Jones to Jonesy, or perhaps JJ, at a push. (For the record, Mix Diskerud can still be known as Mix Diskerud.)”

So, first it was “stop being so English”, then it was “stop being so worldly”, then “be more American”. Now with this last excerpt it is “but don’t be SO American, in this instance it’s OK to be a little English.” Amazing way to try to prove a point; painstaking to read and to understand the different stances within the complaint, but one thing is clear, it screams “I hate America.”

“The great regret about all this is that mimicking the customs of fans from everywhere else could hinder the development of your own American soccer identity. One of the joys of soccer is seeing how different cultures view, interpret and celebrate the game in their own distinct ways. I find it fascinating, for example, that while we see soccer as a broad narrative that unfolds over 90 minutes, your fans tend to think about the sport as a series of discrete events. Or that I view the coming World Cup and England’s inevitable failure with a mixture of trepidation and dread, while your fans seem positively excited about the tournament. Mind you, with Team USA facing a potentially decisive matchup with Germany, there’s a strong chance that your upbeat disposition won’t last long. That is one lesson you can take from an Englishman.”

One great thing about the above excerpt, it marks the end to a horrid piece of xenophobic propaganda. As I stated before, the great thing about the US is its great cultural diversity, naturally that diversity was always sure to integrate itself into the sport as football grew. Maybe the “American way” to support is a mix of all of those cultures and that’s okay. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” as they say.

Conclusion

Having lived on three continents and beginning my support for Arsenal roughly 23 years ago, from Dallas, TX, I have never been so incensed at such a thoughtless article by a “sports journalist” in my life. The way it stereotypes Americans and football fans in general is ghastly and the disconnect from reality is so large that it begs the question — Why would someone live and work and continue to subject themselves to a society — or better yet, to a sub-sect of the society they quite obviously loathe? In short. Leave. I’m 100% sure that you won’t be missed.

I’ve made my points above so there’s no reason to re-list them again, the narrative from my perspective is very obvious. What I will say to finish up is that this view is undoubtedly in the minority. I’ve spoken to supporters from all over the globe, as we all have, and no matter the age, by in large they are all obsessives about the teams they follow and would be equally judged by this moron. Between the hate and the casual/plastic tone of the published article, I felt compelled to respond.

So, Jonathan Clegg, take a bow son. You’ve won cunt of the year, and it’s only June. Congratulations.

*All the misspelled words in the quotes from the original article have not been changed as to not take away from the amateurish nature of the original piece.*

 

Listen, let me start by saying I never abused Rambo. I criticized him for his run of form as most did and the rest should have. I’m not a woman or a fanboy so the boyish good looks means nothing to me. I am a football supporter, I’m a Gooner and that’s where my allegiance lies.

Before I begin in earnest, let me say this. If you are one of those “I never doubted him” or “I never criticised him”, let me say this. I call bull%&@€! If you truly support the club, there had to have been a point during this time that you thought about having the lad on loan or sitting him for a while. Either that or you are one of the above, a fangirl/fanboy OR you are blind, in which case you are forgiven, you didn’t get to see the truly dreadful performances he managed at times.

There were times when Aaron’s play made me scream and cry. There were times were another shot or ten of Jack Daniel’s wasn’t enough to erase the missed back-heels, the sloppy passes, and the wayward shots. I wasn’t shy about saying that I backed the lad, but that he needed a loan move to cure his bad form. I was quick to say he needed to be a lot more like Song at Barcelona and make his acquaintance with the Emirates bench and often. You see, for me, it seemed that the trials and tribulations the club were having with Rambo working out his kinks on the pitch with Arsenal instead of with some other outfit on loan wasn’t an ideal situation.

Then came the positional changes! Oh my!!!! Rambo on the right, Rambo on the left, Rambo as an AM, Rambo as a CM, Rambo as a DM…everywhere there was Rambo. The sloppy Rambo that we all saw and most commented on and some abused (never agreed with them by the way). He had/has a non stop motor that I admired but things just weren’t clicking. Looking back at it now, those are the times that have made him the player he is now. Short term suffering for long-term achievement yes, that’s why Arsene gets paid the big bucks and I’m sat here looking like a mug. At the time though, it seemed that this once promising player was being thrown to the wolves, out of position and being run ragged at the cost of matches and points and I hated it.

I was, like we all were, worried about league position and trophies. I wanted him or whoever Arsenal had in form at the moment to play to help the club achieve “things”. So for a good year to 18 months, I criticized the lad. In my mind rightfully so. As the months wore on, I had thoughts that the injury was too severe and that the player wouldn’t reach the level and beyond that he looked so capable of prior to the leg break. I doubted Ramsey. In my mind, once I have doubt, it becomes something that’s very hard to turn off. So, when the moments of great play last year began to become more frequent, I chalked it up to coincidence. It was late in the year, the other teams were fatigued, Ramsey was on decent form and the combination flattered to deceive. So went the narrative in my mind.

Fast forward to the summer, the flashes of brilliance continued, an air of confidence was more evident and those back-heels and touch passes were now coming off rather easily and more frequently. The ball was hitting the back of the net; and it continued well into the season. Despite a slow start after being “Taylored” vs Villa, Arsenal were heading into December fighting for the title and Rambo scoring goals at will. No extended summary was needed. I was WRONG. Plain an UTTERLY WRONG; but, as it benefited the club, I was happy to be wrong. Never been so happy to be wrong in my life. Then came the injury lay off that cost Arsenal the title. That’s how important a piece of the puzzle this kid has become. Let me rephrase that; that’s how important this man has become to the club. Arsenal where making do without Theo, without a proper holding midfielder, or a deadly striker. The club was making do with the likes of Podolski, Chamberlain, Cazorla, etc. out at certain times. Once Rambo and Özil were out, the run was in essence over. What a turnaround it’s been.

It all culminated in the FA Cup victory last week with Ramsey side footing a delicious finish and doing his best Charlie George impersonation lying face up on the pitch and letting the glory sink in. The comeback on the day was complete, but so was the comeback for the player. From terrifically talented youngster, to broken leg sufferer, to misfiring player, to one of the club’s most important players and finally – trophy winner. Doing what the likes of Cesc & RVP had failed to do, LEAD the club to a trophy.

Aaron, Mr. Ramsey, Rambo,

I was wrong. I am sorry, and from all of us, thank you for a wonderful season.

Up the Arsenal!

 

A lot has been said about the lack of bodies to Arsenal in January when it was apparent that injuries where starting to take their toll. Although the club made a mistake by not going into the market in a more aggressive manner, there are a lot of misconceptions about the squad as a whole.

To give you an example of what I mean, I constantly read about how Arsenal have a thin squad. That’s just not accurate. The bodies are there, they are just not all in the right areas. Another issue is the personal opinion of supporters as it pertains to different players. Just because you don’t like a player, doesn’t mean he’s not useful.  My opinion is that the Gunners lack the quality  much more than the quantity that so many like to point to. A brief breakdown of position by position:

GK – Szczesny, Fabianski, Viviano

FB – Gibbs, Sagna, Monreal, Jenkinson. Area of need due to experience.

CB – Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen. Area of need.

MF – Özil, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott, Chamberlain, Gnabry, Arteta, Flamini

FWD – Giroud, Podolski, Bendtner, Sanogo. Definite area of need.

Other – Ryo, Akpom, Zelalem, Bellerin, Olsson, Hayden, Källström, Eisfeld. Most of these players, bar Källström, took part only in FA Cup or league cup action. Ryo and Akpom took part in 1 league match each.

Forgotten Souls – Diaby, Park

In total, 25 players took part in league matches. Two of those players having only one appearance. If you compare that to The Invincibles season, where 22 players took part and two of those also had just one appearance each, you will see that it is indeed the quality of the second and third choice players rather than the quantity of bodies available. Why Arsenal have the amount of injuries or why the quality isn’t there in certain areas is an altogether different subject, which has been written about ad nauseam.

So now that we’ve dispelled part of the “thin” myth, let’s take a look at how injuries have impacted the run at the Premiership title and how similar injuries would have impacted the top three clubs in front of Arsenal.

Arsenal key injuries since January; AM – Özil, CM – Ramsey, CM – Wilshere, RW – Walcott.

There is no point in trying to deny it, having these four players as part of the group instead of on the sidelines would have made all the difference. That’s not to say that it would have eradicated the losses to City, Chelsea or Liverpool, but it certainly would have made the difference in matches versus Stoke, Southampton, Swansea, Everton. Points are points. Arsenal would have had more now with this group intact, or at the very least available for more of those matches, than without. It’s a fact, not an opinion.

Let’s see the output of the equivalent players of the top 3 and who would have backed them up at their respective clubs.

Liverpool:

AM – Coutinho, CM – Gerrard, CM – Henderson, RW – Sterling

31 goals & 31 assists. Having a look at the squad, there are very little options after the starting XI. They’ve been fortunate to have limited injuries.

Chelsea:

AM – Oscar, CM – Ramires, LM/LW – Hazard, LM/LW – Schürrle

30 goals & 19 assists. Having sold Mata & de Bruyne, the backups to these positions would be the likes of Willian, Salah, Lampard. As we have seen a few times this year, even WITH the above four healthy, Chelsea have fallen to some pedestrian teams.

City:

AM – Silva, CM – Yaya, AM/LM – Nasri, RW – Navas

35 goals & 30 assists. Backups here would include Jovetic, Fernandinho, Milner. Needless to say, once you get past the first XI, the creative aspect of this team changes.

If you look at the different teams above there are certain things that stick out. Liverpool are by in large living on the output of their attack and their luck with injuries. Chelsea have a good attack, but no striker. They have good options in midfield and a solid defense. City has a plethora of striking options, but when either Silva or Yaya are not on the pitch, they are different team. Likewise, when Aguero has been injured, they’ve been less than stellar.

Conclusion

NO team could have withstood the injuries to key players Arsenal have been dealt this year.  Whilst some may have depth at certain areas, all the teams in front of us have an area of weakness as mentioned. Had the areas where those team have strengths been hit with injuries as Arsenal have, we would be having a different discussion.

Let’s put this into perspective. Thanks to the folks at injuryleague.com we know that Arsenal lead the EPL in the Injury League table by a huge 80 matches on second place team. They lead Liverpool, who is the closest top four rival in the Injury League table by a margin of 111 matches. The next closest top four rival is City who Arsenal lead by a margin of 133 matches. Finally, they lead Chelsea who is second bottom in the Injury League table, buy a margin of 168 matches. injuryleague.com calculate the table as such – One player injured for one week = one point. You can see that table below.

InjuryLeague

To put things further into context, you have the percentage of matches the key players have missed for the club. Theo Walcott has missed 75% of Arsenal’s matches. Oxlade- Chamberlain – 58%. Lukas Podolski – 47%. Aaron Ramsey – 47%. Jack Wilshere – 39%. Mesut Özil – 25%. You can see those and other percentages below.

Injuryroom

Now, are injuries the ONLY reason why Arsenal faltered? No. The lack of quality backup options is definitely an issue, but as explained earlier, you’d be hard pressed to find a team above AFC with the sort of backups at every position like most pretend they have. They have just been lucky enough not to deal with so many injuries to so many key players. To add insult to injury, pardon the pun, most of these injuries have been at the same time, which makes dealing with them tougher.

Training methods definitely need to be looked at. There has to be something that makes Arsenal more susceptible to injury than other clubs, this has been a trend for some time now. If it is not the training methods or having players rush back from injury, then the club must educate the players to stop if they feel anything close to a problem. Beyond that, the type of player purchased may need to change. Arsenal may have to forego smaller, technical players for stronger, bigger athletes. All of this is conjecture, but “it” needs to be fixed, no matter what “it” is.

Although I expect the team to end the year in the top four and end the trophy drought with an FA Cup win, the league was a missed opportunity. As a supporter I felt the club had more than enough, even with obvious missing pieces, to make a run at the title. Lack of addressing the injury issue in the January window hampered the run and further injuries decimated it. What we can hope for is that the issues that have caused these injuries are addressed and that the areas clearly lacking talent are reinforced. If this doesn’t happen, Arsenal will be repeating another season as Injury League Champions and I for one don’t want any part of that trophy!

UTA!

Sense of Entitlement

So, I support Arsenal, have done since 1991. That ought to be enough yeah? Been to Highbury, am a club member, buy multiple shirts yearly, etc. So all should be right in the world and any other Arsenal supporter shouldn’t be able to pull out the, “but you’re not local” or “high ticket prices – money spent” card right? Wrong.

The truth is, like any other big club, the majority of the supporters are actually NOT local. That global recognition is what allows for the growth and prosperity of Arsenal. It seems though that there is a local element that feels itself superior in some ways. I get it to some extent. I just don’t see how one can take ownership over it and say you are a bigger fan based on proximity, in this supposed age of information when everything is available at the touch of your fingertips; one has access to anything – anywhere. Although I do respect all local supporters as I would be involved in all things Arsenal as they are able to be; I do lament the fact that SOME, not all, feel superior to us foreign fans. Worse yet, that some feel the need to voice that superiority on a fairly regular basis.

Attending Matches

Well there is nothing I can do to have Arsenal come play in Barcelona every weekend, although at the rate with which we’ve sold them players in the past it was almost reality, but I digress. It is a wonderful thing to live locally to the team. One can walk, taxi or take the metro to the match, meet friends before and after for a drink at the pub, etc. Does that make you a better supporter than me? Well no, but some sure do seem to think so. That scenario makes you luckier than most and you should revel in that rather than use it as a point to win a baseless argument.

Ticket Prices

There is little you or I can do to change that as much as we would all like and some are attempting to do. The extra pounds spent on tickets do not buy you more “supporter points” with the football Gods. If you want to bring up ticket prices in comparison to trophies won over the last eight years go ahead – that’s a very compelling argument to make to the club. But what you spend on tickets doesn’t make you a better supporter over someone not local, sadly that’s not the prevailing opinion of some.

My Story

I feel connected to the club on several levels just like the next supporter. We all have something that hit home with us to connect us to Arsenal. I will share my personal story with you as an example why sometimes foreign supporters will go to extremes to watch the club in action. It might make you think before “going off” on a foreign supporter next time.

Some of you have heard this story before. I started following Arsenal in 1991. That year I met a foreign exchange student at my school and we became friends, as time went on she became my girlfriend. She introduced me to Arsenal and I was hooked. Back in those days there was no internet as we know it now. Cable and satellite services were ok but in its infancy as far as pay-per-view. So what where my choices? There weren’t many let me tell you.

In 1991 the option was tape delay and wrap-up shows as the EPL as we know it now would come into effect the following year. Starting in 1992 (and the subsequent 9 years) I could watch all EPL matches in a given weekend for $69.99 (if memory serves correct) or a specific match for $49.99 (that would later turn to $39.99 for every match). In those years the exchange rate for dollars to pounds ranged from $1.40 to $1.90 (so let’s call it a medium of $1.65), so on a weekly basis I paid 30£ to watch the Arsenal play via these services. Let’s not even mention getting up at 5-6am for early matches on a Saturday or Sunday (later matches were 8-9am so a bit better). Add the cost of midweek cup matches that cost the same, plus shirts being shipped over, etc. Well, all that added up to a pretty penny in those days.

Tickets could be had for as little as 8£ in those days if you remember. Obviously as the years wore on the prices went up but some tickets could still be had under the 30£ I was paying weekly to watch on TV. Some supporters will only go to home matches so that reduces the amount spent – while I spent 30£ minimum on every match, home and away to watch Arsenal. HUGE difference wouldn’t you say? I did this for nearly 10 years. From 2000/01 prices became more economical with better coverage, but were still a rip-off. I don’t even want to get into what it cost to fly from US to UK, hotel, meals and all the rest to watch the team play. But even all the money spent I mention doesn’t make me any bigger of a supporter than the next person and I very rarely bring it up. So why do some feel the need to try to rub the amount spent, matches seen live, etc. in others faces as proof that they are better?

Relax, Reflect, Adjust and Support

My point of all this detail, the pricing breakdown and the rest is very simple. I direct the next few statements to the supporters that think themselves “superior”. The amount you spend, the numbers of matches you see live, the fact you are local, etc., none of this gives you any reason to belittle or call yourself a “better” supporter over any other person that follows the team. In fact the more you beat that drum, the dumber you look. This becomes even more evident when a supporter can bring out a similar story to mine. Trust me, there are hundreds if not thousands like it.

Supporting a team is a very peculiar thing. We love sports as a society; it can provide an escape – a connection to someone or some time. Sports can make a bad day better and a great day fantastic. It can work in reverse too! Anything that can affect you so much shouldn’t be taken so lightly as to try to measure it in dollars, euros or pounds. Supporting Arsenal has left an impression on my life. Coming to Europe to visit during those early years of my adulthood made up my mind that this (EU) is where I wanted to move. The impression this club has left on me is something I can’t forget, I live it every day. My story is but one of a thousand similar cases.

So I caution the “superior” supporters for whom this entry was written – before you make a comment about how you are a better supporter for any of the reasons discussed; remember there are those with far more complex stories than yours. Enjoy the luck of being local to the team you support, you don’t know how enviable of a position you are in and how others wish they had the same luxury.

Everything mentioned doesn’t make you any better and it certainly doesn’t make their love for the club any less. I would suggest all this frustration and energy be directed into supporting the team and cheering on the lads as opposed to putting others down or competing with them to see who has the biggest ticket drawer.

Up the Arsenal!

If you are a foreign supporter and have a crazy story on how you became and Arsenal supporter I’d love to hear it! I will be making a permanent page for them in the near future so stay tuned!

I don’t even know where to start. Various outlets that shall not be named come out to say he’s been lacklustre. Some supporters have stated that he’s not been worth the fee paid.  It seems there is some widespread disappointment of Mesut’s opening months of the season. Where did it all go wrong? Well that’s easy to pinpoint, people at every level not understanding what the player brings and what’s been missing from the team to optimize his performances.

Özil’s “pros” run deeper than X goals, X assists, X chances created, X passing percentage,  although those are not too shabby. According to Squawka those numbers currently sit at 4 goals, 7 (others list 8) assists, 51 chances created(the most in Europe) and 88% passing percentage in 17 league appearances. Add to this tally 6 pre-assists or second assists, like the one he had versus Villa when he sent Monreal in who squared the ball for Jack’s goal.

I had the privilege of watching the player live on a number of occasions whilst I lived in Madrid and was always taken aback by how easy he made everything look. I want to delve deeper into what he brings to the Arsenal squad that just isn’t clicking at the moment which has opened the door for these silly complaints from supporters and pundits alike.

Clinical Forwards – Midfield Shooters – Runners 

Özil is lacking three types of players that would benefit from his superb passing and eye for space. The first type is a clinical striker. Giroud, for all his work-rate, combination and hold-up play, is not a clinical striker. He currently sits second from bottom in conversion rate of the top EPL clubs strikers, with a staggeringly low 12.5%, only Soldado is worse; here. Let that sink in. If you go back and watch past matches you will see a multitude of Özil’s passes that have made their way to Giroud in scoring positions only for him to squander those opportunities or not read the play properly and not receive the ball at all. Theo Walcott was a bit better at 15.2%. Bendtner was the best in his limited appearances with a percentage of 25%. The signing of a premier finisher would help Özil and by default, the club.

The second type of player that Arsenal lack at times are midfielders who actually shoot the ball. For all the creativity in the team, the Gunners still want to walk the ball into goal at times. It was refreshing to see earlier in the season Ramsey and in recent weeks Jack then Santi make this less of an issue, but overall it is a problem more often than not. How many times have you sat and watched a match and yelled – “SHOOT!!!”?  Özil himself is guilty of this at times, but coupled with others that do the same, it can lead to long periods of frustration as we have witnessed. A bit more aggressive approach could make all the difference.

The third type of player is a pacey runner that can get behind defences. Arsenal have the poster boy for this type of player, Theo. Unfortunately he’s not been on the field with Özil enough to see that combination thrive as it will in the future. Fortunately with the emergence of Gnabry and the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain, we may yet get to see that type of combination this year. Özil is at his best moving the defence with his quick touches and subtle runs, then unleashing a killer pass for a runner that leaves him clear on goal, there was evidence of that in the match versus Sunderland where he put Theo through several times but the finishing simply wasn’t there. Once this relationship starts to develop, it’ll bring out the best in all parties involved.

Chess –Adapting to a New League – New Teammates 

One of the things I see that brings a smile to my face is how clever the player is. He can move a defence with a deft touch, a slight turn, or a quick pass. The problem is that his new league is not necessarily faster than La Liga, but certainly more physical, and he’s still adjusting to that. He plays chess out on the pitch and his teammates are not quite in tune with him as of yet which leads to misplaced passes, runs that never come, etc. Everything seems to be one step off at the minute, but when it clicks it will be deadly and precise.

In matches where some deem he’s not made a dent, they don’t pay attention to the quick passes that create space for others to make a play. They ignore the runs he makes that pull a couple of defenders with him or the slight turn that makes a defender hesitate and leaves a teammate free to go clear on goal. Those plays don’t show up in the stats and hardly anyone talks about them which is a shame, but if they paid closer attention, one can better appreciate how he can subtly affect the match without having a direct impact.

Mesut also commented the other day on how he was impressed with Rosicky and how he enjoyed playing alongside him. This isn’t a surprise because in many ways, they play very similarly. One thing that strikes me is the tempo at which TR7 plays – always driving forward. This is the same tempo Özil had at Madrid and Germany. I’ve yet to see MÖ go full-out at that speed with Arsenal. I don’t know if that’s due to him wanting to play at the pace of his teammates, if he’s trying to play more within himself or if it’s just a matter of acclimation or system. If Arsenal can play more up-tempo I think you could see the best of Mesut sooner rather than later, and the best of the team as we witnessed in the second half Saturday versus Fulham. Özil and the team as a whole suffer at a lower pace.

Fear

One thing you can’t measure with any stats is the fear he instills in the opposition. The opposition know they must watch him closely, they know of his quality and likely game-plan for it. You only have to look at what Mourinho said about the player prior to the league meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea in December: “I think I know how to try to stop him to be in the game 90 minutes, with 90 minutes of direct influence. But it’s impossible to stop him for 90 minutes, because these kind of players they will have always a moment or a couple of moments where you cannot stop them and they end up showing why they are so good. To stop him completely, I don’t believe we can.”

That kind of respect and necessity for planning can’t be measured and that’s what a talent like Özil brings to the table. The fear factor that can lift a whole squad as it has since his arrival.

Conclusion

At the end of the day there are some things that are clear. The player isn’t playing at 100% yet but that’s due to several factors as I’ve mentioned. Some can be easily tweaked and better results can be had right away. Others will take a signing or two to fix and we’ll see that in the future. But one thing is clear above all else, if you are one of those complaining about Özil or making a statement that he hasn’t been worth the money – You don’t know Özil…and likely you don’t know football as it’s meant to be played.

The best is yet to come from both player and club. It’ll be fun when things click, don’t blink – you might just miss it. Up the Arsenal!