28 August 2013

Make a Good Squad Better, Mr. Wenger

Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs are good.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Sports are funny. They’re much like a relationship with an actual human. You create a bond with them, learn about them and depending who they are, you develop a variety of feelings for them. These feelings range from true happiness to utter frustration. I have a relationship with Arsenal — all 13 members of it. Right now I’m not sure what sort of feeling is going through me, which I guess in turn makes me frustrated.

In a tie that was supposed to be a rather difficult test, especially with traveling to Istanbul first to face Fenerbahçe was always going to be a rocky challenge. Except, in the end, it wasn’t. Sure the first half seemed testy at times, but when it ended 3-0 and our cannon-clad hearts could beat surer after a terrible start to the season, things were looking up. Arsene Wenger stated that our "transfer window started now," immediately rousing up a new set of rumors that all seemed to be deflated in a mere weeks time.

Arsenal followed a relatively easy 3-1 win over Fulham over the weekend with last night’s 2-0 sweep away of the Turkish side. In the end it was an impressive performance from a team that’s had an imaginable amount of pressure on it.

With no signings yet coming in since Wenger’s declaration a strong starting 11 was again put out and as luck would have it, not all came back. Lukas Podolski was stretchered off near the start of the second half with what seemingly was a hamstring injury. While Yaya Sanogo and Ryo Miyaichi got a rare taste of first team soccer, the Turks seemed to change their strategy around the 75th minute to treating Jack Wilshere like a medieval serf. While shockingly no opposing player was sent off for their lashings, Aaron Ramsey subbed himself off, leaving his squad down to 10 men with just minutes remaining.

27 August 2013

Match Preview: Fenerbahçe vs. Arsenal (0-3 agg.), Emirates Stadium, UEFA Champions League, August 27, 2013

Arsenal looks for its first home win of the season.
(Photo courtesy Jeremy Couture)
Having heaped derision on Fenerbahçe ahead of the first leg of Arsenal's Champions League qualifier in Istanbul last week -- a decision I made largely in order to avoid having to think too hard about the terrible, aorta-straining implications of a bad result -- it's probably time for a slightly more sensible look at the Turkish club and its prospects for overturning a three-goal deficit at the Emirates in the second leg on Tuesday.

Those prospects are, to put it bluntly, not great, based on the first leg's evidence. Fenerbahçe didn't look able to keep up with Arsenal, getting eaten alive in midfield by Jack Wilshere and consensus man of the match Aaron Ramsey. Grievously wounding Laurent Koscielny proved an unprofitable strategy. Despite the isolated chance or two after the game would have been beyond doubt (for other clubs), the Gunners were firmly in control for most of the match, and the scoreline seemed appropriate for the performance.

Still, as a lazy writer, I can't help but be mildly superstitious heading into today's game. Down three away goals, massive underdogs, and with the prospect of a failed appeal over the match-fixing allegations threatening to bounce them from the group stage even if they were to overcome Arsenal? If it happened in a movie, you'd walk out. Just too unlikely. But such is the stuff of which sporting legend is made.

26 August 2013

Week in Review Vol. 2: Stop Comparing Everything to the U.S., NBC

This year's Premier League has plenty of history.
(Photo courtesy Toby Jagmohan)
In general, these first few weeks of NBC's English Premier League coverage have gone over well.

The match production and commentating are superb. The talking heads throughout the network seem generally excited about discussing the EPL, and the ability to watch matches at home without breaking the law is, obviously, an improvement.

Inevitably, the move isn't without its hiccups. For the most part, I've enjoyed the programming. The hosts are informative and engaging, but there's one crutch the writers and others rely on far too much -- Please stop comparing everything to American sports.

There are, of course, many similarities between the Premier League and American leagues. The desire to point out these commonalities makes sense, but they shouldn't be the only retort of these men and women hired to talk about the game.

23 August 2013

Match Preview: Fulham vs. Arsenal, Craven Cottage, English Premier League, August 24, 2013

Feel any better? I know I do. The difference between the emotions following Saturday’s match and Wednesday’s is unbelievable. It’s not as great as the feeling that we’ll feel when Arsenal wins its next trophy, but it did feel pretty damn good. It was relieving.
This man will always terrify us.
(Photo courtesy Nick Sarebi)

There’s something about getting a result that puts the mind at ease. Perhaps, it’s the whole “you’re only as good as your last game” thing. If we go by that, Arsenal is quite good. I know that there are still a lot of off the pitch complaints and things that need to be resolved within the squad right now including that dreaded “t-word.” Sometimes, it’s nice to stop worrying and to just watch football. Football cures all worries.

After the win in Istanbul, Arsenal is back in England for a short trip to West London and Craven Cottage. While Craven Cottage is one of the smaller grounds in the Premier League and Fulham are a relatively modest club, the Cottagers have consistently given Arsenal trouble over the last couple of seasons. Despite Wednesday’s stellar performance, there is nothing to suggest that this match should be anything but challenging.

Weekly Arsenal Thing: Arsenal Secure Titles with Massive Flamini Signing

Reports are pouring in from credible sources that Arsene Wenger is on the cusp of securing erstwhile former-Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini and, by extension, the 2013-14 Premier League title, Champions League Cup, Capital One and FA Cups, and -- fuck it, why not? -- World Cup 2014.
He has returned.
(Photo courtesy Nick Wadge)

"It has been requiring a lot of the mental toughness for me to keep this signing a secret since May, euuuhh, but I know that, euuuhh ... this will I think silence the critics in the media who have been wanting me to fail," said the be-grinned Wenger, hardly able to contain an excitement sure to be shared by Gooners the world over.

Meanwhile, sources at Old Trafford have confirmed that David Moyes is "inconsolable"  after learning his new club lost out on the 29-year-old midfielder who spent the entire 2011-12 season on the disabled list at AC Milan.

"I am already bested," admitted a sullen and "visibly humbled" José Mourinho in an interview with A Bola. "I wish now only to return to Portugal, to fish the waters of my father, and to live simply for whatever time is left to me."

21 August 2013

The Deadline is Coming

In the HBO television series "Game of Thrones" (based on the series of books entitled "A Song of Ice and Fire") the audience is introduced to the Starks, a proud, historic family that lives in the north of Westeros. The family patriarch is Ned Stark, a highly principled man who believes in honor and duty, and is unwilling to compromise those values for pragmatic gains.
Even with Wednesday's win, Arsene Wenger must buy.
(Photo courtesy Wonker)

This ethos serves him well for most of his life, until he is thrust into a brand new situation in a different world, a world that renders his honor moot and laughs at the principles that he holds so dear. Despite standing tall in the face of these dark forces, he eventually is laid low, a victim of the very philosophy that made him one of the most respected men in all the land.

Arsene Wenger has been in the "Ned Stark in King's Landing" phase of his career for several years now and like Ned, he seems to be fighting a losing battle. Wenger is one of the most respected managers in the history of Arsenal and of the modern English Premier League. Upon arriving at Arsenal in 1996 he transformed the Gunners into a new breed of squad, doing everything from introducing dietary guidelines to bringing in foreign talent if he felt it benefited the team. 

With Arsenal he won four FA Cups and three league titles, including 2003-2004 when "The Invincibles" became the first in 115 years to go undefeated over the course of a season. He is a legend both at the club and in the league, and he was the perfect manager to guide Arsenal into the current era of football. The problem is that like Ned Stark, he hasn't adjusted to the changes that have been made since.

Daily Links: The Just Win Baby Edition

You will not see this for at least 12 weeks.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Good morning folks. I know that this isn’t exactly the most peaceful time to be a supporter of the Arsenal, but I hope you’re all excited for the Champions League first leg against Fenerbahçe. If you aren’t, I suggest you check out Jon Gold’s match preview. If you are, please read it as well. We’ll have a Whining Wednesday post by Andrew Klema on how Wenger needs to change his mind set up later.

Not to get anyone's hopes up, but today’s opponent does have a match fixing appeal court date next week, which could see the Turkish side booted from the Champions League if Arsenal doesn’t do it themselves. (Guardian)

Yesterday, we learned that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be out “for a while.” We learned that that meant 12 weeks from Ox last night. (Twitter)

Juventus says that Paul Pogba is not for sale. Add him to the banner.  (Telegraph)

20 August 2013

Match Preview: Arsenal vs. Fenerbahçe, UEFA Champions League

Hopefully these lunatics behave on Wednesday.
(Photo courtesy David Jones)
Hey, Turkish fans, remember when you were every lazy soccer nerd's tip (including mine) for the up-and-coming league in world football? Remember when we were all excited about the deafening match atmosphere that made Anfield in the 1970s sound like, well, Anfield these days? Remember how pumped everyone was about the rising quality and competitiveness of Turkish teams in Europe?

Yeah, well, congratulations, you've officially fucked the duck -- now you're Italy, with none of Serie A's lingering cachet from the glory days. Enjoy your new status as bar trivia answers for serious soccer dorks.

What may be most embarrassing for Fenerbahçe fans, in particular, aside from being the the one nobody can remember from the Three Tenors-like trio of Turkish teams anybody has heard of outside of the country*, is that even if they somehow win on Wednesday, they could easily be booted from the competition once again, given that they've already been banhammered by UEFA for match fixing for the second time in three years.

Daily Links: The At Least We're in the Champions League Edition

Despite the completely deserved fear, uncertainty and doubt facing Arsenal at the moment, the performance of last season's final few months has still guaranteed a chance at the Champions League's group stage. As you've heard, Arsenal is in Istanbul right now awaiting their first leg with Turkey's second fiddle, Fenerbahce.

Bacary Sagna's injury is not as bad as feared.
(Photo courtesy Warwick Gastinger)
Jon Gold's match preview will be up later today, so I won't focus too heavily on the fixture itself. However, there is some good news ahead of the tie.

Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs and everyone else we feared injured after the loss to Villa seems to be in better shape than expected -- except Ox. No one's sure if they'll play or not, but the fact that we can even have the conversation means they're healthier than we expected. (The Telegraph)

I don't really know how long "a while" is, but that's how long Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out for. Hopefully, Anthony Taylor is also done for "a while" for letting the match deteriorate as it did leading to these damn injuries. (The Independent)

I encourage you all to check out our piece from yesterday about the role Mikel Arteta's absence played in Saturday's debacle. (One Club on Boylston)

19 August 2013

Week in Review Vol. 1: Mikel Arteta's Pretty Important, It Seems

Mikel Arteta is expected to miss at least a month with a torn quadricep muscle.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Around 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, there were two primary targets of vitriol among Arsenal supporters. 

The first, as expected, was Arsene Wenger. The manager, as synonymous with the club as red-and-white kits and undefeated seasons, sent out a side that lacked a number of traits required to win matches. Chiefly among those was depth. A team plagued with injury and short-handed by a summer of inactivity quickly saw that shortcoming exposed.

Whether it was Aston Villa's design or sheer rotten luck, Arsenal saw three players go down to injury and another sent off. The second issue is where the other target of Arsenal fans' rage comes in. Official Anthony Taylor was wildly erratic in decision-making, awarding a pair of penalties to Villa and the same number of red cards to Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny.

The first penalty, while rightfully given in my estimation, was the most telling for Arsenal. The offending party, goalkeeper Wojech Szczesny, had little choice but to charge Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor seconds after he beat Koscielny and approached the box unmarked. Szczesny took the forward down in pursuit of the ball. Taylor awarded the penalty, produced the caution and Christian Beneteke scored Villa's first goal on the rebound of his own attempt. It was the beginning of a very frustrating day for Arsenal. Naturally, Johnson took some heat for the call, as did Szczesny and Koscielny for their efforts on the sequence.

The play developed, however, long before Agbonlahor did his damage. The leadup revealed an absence Arsenal simply can't deal with at the moment. Mikel Arteta's 20 months in North London have solidified him as one of the Premier League most influential players. There are, of course, more talented, more dynamic central midfielders around. Few, though, have proved more valuable to their club than Arteta to Arsenal.

Daily Links: The Murphy's Law Edition

Remember how excited you were around 9:30 on Saturday morning? That was about five years ago it seems like. Everything that happened after Olivier Giroud's strike was unequivocally terrible. Not one to blame officiating, I'm totally blaming the officials. Regardless, it's time to move on, but not without one final reminder of everything bad about Saturday morning.
Spend some money, huh?
(Photo courtesy Joshua Hayes)

John Cross lays out it all out right here. I'll never join the Wenger Out brigade, but that doesn't mean I'm not furious with the Boss right about now either. (ESPN FC)

Interesting look here at how Jack Wilshere's role changed without Mikel Arteta in the lineup. Other good points about Danny Welbeck doing some of Ryan Giggs' dirty work to save the latter's legs. (ESPN FC)

A reported bid for Yohan Cabaye was rejected by Newcastle. I doubt there was ever a bid, but we'll see how it plays out. (The Telegraph)

The Independent is in on the game as well, randomly deciding to use Michu and Micah Richards as possible targets for Arsenal. (The Independent)

The Arsenal Supporters Trust has advised the board against extending Arsene Wenger's contract. I can't say I blame them either there are so many questions that no one is willing to answer. (The Guardian)

16 August 2013

The Weekly Arsenal Thing - Welcome to the WAT

The Weekly Arsenal Thing Hello all, and welcome to the first ever The Weekly Arsenal Thing, or T.W.A. … oh. Huh. Well, what's in a name, right? The important thing is the content. OK, are we almost at 600 words? Forty.
Recent photo of the author. (Photo courtesy Oatsy40)

Ahem, ah, so far so good, I think. I was recently asked by Mr. Meloni to come up with a weekly humor column, and I'll let you be the judge of that. I haven't started a new blog in a while, so things are going to be a little rocky until this thing gets some sea legs. So that's the intro. Now, in the spirit of acclaimed kids' book author Theo Walcott, I think it's time to just sprint this bad boy downfield, lump one in the (general area of) the area, and see what happens. (The metaphor completes when there's nobody there to actually read this post.)

Here we are, the beginning of the 2013-2014 season extremely fucking nigh, and the close of the transfer window slightly less fucking nigh, but still pretty fucking nigh. I have to admit, I don't have much patience for transfer season. Not in the way that everybody doesn't have much patience for transfer season, but in more of a hardly-follow-it kind of way. I mean, it's largely unfounded reporting anyway, right? That's why I like to wait until mid-August, when it's all neatly wrapped up, and I know how we're looking for the new season.

Daily Links: Let's Do This Dance Edition

Why are we wearing Hoops?
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
It's really at the point where I'm sick of all the transfer news -- mostly because it's all negative -- and I really want is the match to start tomorrow. I'm tired of waking up, checking Twitter immediately, skipping right over to The Guardian to see what good news lay ahead. Yes, you could call me a hopeless optimistic, but I believe Wenger knows what he's doing. Except, this morning, what I found wasn't what I wanted whatsoever.

Mikel Arteta is slated to miss up to six weeks with a thigh injury, just one of a few injury worries ahead of this weekend. With Arteta out, our squad is remarkably thin. The fact that Gedion Zelalem, despite all the talent he shows, really isn't ready for the big time, could be on the bench tomorrow as well as Emmanuel Frimpong, who's apparently still a member of Arsenal. (The Guardian)

Arsenal have officially missed out on the talents of Luiz Gustavo after he completed his move to Wolfsburg earlier today. Whether the underlying reason is wages, total transfer fee, or playing time, the fact he's not playing in North London and instead in Northern Germany, is shocking. (ESPN UK)

MATCH PREVIEW: Arsenal vs. Aston Villa, English Premier League

Welcome back, Gooners! (Photo courtesy Dan Noctor)
One of the things we miss out on, as American fans of a team that plays most of its games in England - is what you might call the full match-day experience. Most of us never got the chance to bellow our opinions about what, in fact, Tottenham is from the North Bank, or scarf down meat pies at half-time, or rub our eyes in disbelief at seeing an impossible piece of skill from Dennis Bergkamp in the flesh.

So our thoughts, on the first home match of a new Arsenal league season, tend to be a lot less idealized and sepia-toned -- we save that kind of crap for baseball, as written by tiresome prigs like [ed. - snip! You can't say that about George Will!] -- and have more to do with waking up much, much earlier than most largely childless groups of youngish Americans do.

Yet we're looking forward to it all the same -- rushing to catch the bus that gets you down to the Back Bay by kickoff, shouting and pounding on the bar at Arsenal goals, joking nervously with the cigarette smokers at half-time because you're all so nervous about the one-goal lead and making fun of Bryce for never showing up on time.

It's fantastic. It's soccer season again.

With that, here's a look ahead to Saturday's home opener against Aston Villa.

15 August 2013

Thursday Throwdown: What's Your Starting XI?

In this first edition of the Thursday Throwdown, Bryce Larsen and Shep Mallya discuss the different positions on the pitch and which players should feature as starters for Arsenal.

Bryce Larsen So, let's begin, shall we? Just a normal conversation. We can question one another and so on. First off: goalkeeper. There has been a lot of talk about adding a new goalkeeper this summer, a priority for some. Do you think this is a necessity?

Shep Mallya Arsenal have an interesting goalkeeping situation in that they have two Poles. Szczesny and Fabianski aren't just competing to be the the No. 1 for Arsenal, but also for Poland. I think that's a healthy competition. When one struggles, you give the other an opportunity. There's got to be incentive to succeed or disincentive to get comfortable. For me, a new keeper would be a nice addition, but not a necessity. I think the competition between Shezza and Fab is good for them and good for the team. What do you think?
Wojech Szczesny starts his second year as Arsenal's No. 1.
(Photo courtesy Wonker)

Bryce Larsen I couldn't agree more on that front; good shout about the competition for not one, but two spots (club/country). If we could only sign a couple of players (as it seems increasingly likely), GK is not one I would focus on. If we could afford to bring an experience keeper to mentor Szcz at a decent price, then I would certainly be for it. Fabianski is the senior GK at 28, but he hasn't had enough first team experience to really by the mentor for Szcz in my opinion. I think this is why many were shouting for Cesar. Old, experienced, proven. However, I do recall quite a few errors from him this season, and cannot forget his howler against Bayern while he was at Inter. I think he would be good if we could get him on loan rather than purchase, but would probably still prefer Szcz in most games and enjoy Cesar mentoring him in practices.

Daily Links: More Money, More Problems and FIFA is the Worst Edition

So, the sadness continues. Arsenal still haven't signed anybody, you can go back to your sandwich. Our squad situation, which I'll lightly describe as less than ideal, to purposely leave out necessary expletives, could have gotten that much worse. In what only could be described as an idiotic move by FIFA -- a week after many leagues opened and more importantly three days from the beginning of Arsenal's -- a giant round of International Friendlies were played. It seems that all things considered Wenger's faithful few are still in one piece, barring a few cuts and bruises.  

14 August 2013

Playing for Second ... or Fifth

I read a tweet today asking "what we were imploding about tonight?". It made me laugh, then I actually thought about the question at hand.
Still no spending by Arsene Wenger.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie MacDonald)

Was it that Sunderland has signed 10-plus players? That Spurs are a markedly better team than they were last year, especially if they retain the services of Gareth Bale?

Or was it that Arsenal is the sole team in the Premier League that hasn't improved our squad at all? Even Southampton and Cardiff City made notable additions.

No, it was the fact that the question had to be asked in the first place. What are we imploding about? Everything.

Let me start off by saying that I haven't been an Arsenal fan long -- three years -- but I'd be willing to bet a couple PBRs and an Emmanuel Eboue that I can more than hold my own. During my short stint as a supporter, I've witnessed what could sorely be titled the "downtrodden years" for the red-and-white, North London club, especially under the reign of arguably its most successful manager, Arsene Wenger.

Daily Links: You're Just a Diving, Biting Racist Edition

Luis Suarez bites people.
(Photo courtesy Gwydion M. Williams)
So now that Luis Suarez has accepted his fate as a great player on a mediocre team -- allegedly -- and he's even considering signing a new contract -- supposedly -- Arsene Wenger's focus has -- apparently -- turned to a few other players he will try -- unsuccessfully -- to sign.

Again, we enter the final few weeks of the Transfer Window without the type of upgrade that makes Arsenal a realistic contender for anything other than a Champions League berth. But, hey, at least we aren't Spurs.

Our own Ryan Fleming goes into this more in his debut piece, which goes live later today, but The Boss is looking at Manchester City's Edin Dzeko and Swansea's Michu apparently. Neither of those things will happen, by the way. (Daily Mail)

13 August 2013

Daily Links: Friendlies Are Unequivocally Stupid Edition

In the grand tradition of bad timing and arrogance, FIFA scheduled a friendly between England and Scotland for August 14, 2013. That's tomorrow, Wednesday, just three days before the English Premier League season kicks off.

Naturally, Arsenal's top scorer from last season, Theo Walcott, took a knock in training with his country on Tuesday, according to a number of reports. Below is a look at Walcott's status for Saturday's season opener and a few other storylines developing as we speak.


Despite the injury, England boss Roy Hodgson believes Walcott will be ready for the match with Scotland. No mention made of the club that pays Walcott's wages. (Sky Sports)

12 August 2013

Why We're Here

Five days from today, it starts again.

The early-morning weekend alarm clocks, the incessant refreshing of social networks on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, the anticipation of events taking place an ocean away.

The Boston Gooners during a match last March.
Being a soccer fan in the United States isn't particularly difficult. Being an English soccer supporter, however, requires a bit of sacrifice. It isn't enough just to watch the matches or keep up with results. No, being an English soccer fan in the U.S. is a constant battle to prove you belong.

Unlike our other preferences within sports, for most of us, the Boston Gooners, our decision to support Arsenal was just that. We had a choice, sought out some options and decided on the red-and-white-clad club from North London. We are, for the most part, Arsenal supporters because we wanted to be, not because our mothers or fathers bestowed their own silly obsessions on us. This one is all our own.