27 June 2014

World Cup Watch: Do Arsenal Players Equal Wins?

Campbell celebrates his goal
against Uruguay
(Credit: Danilo Borges)
During the England vs. Italy game on the first weekend of the World Cup, as my home nation were losing, I turned to my wife and her parents and jokingly said that the reason the Three Lions were losing was that Roy Hodgson had neglected to select the Arsenal players in his squad. This was followed by a dawning realization that I may have actually been on to something; Spain had been thrashed by the Netherlands the day before, while Santi Cazorla sat on the bench for the majority of the game, while Joel Campbell inspired Costa Rica to a 3-1 victory over Uruguay in the match before England's. After this, I kept an eye on the trend. Germany started Per Mertesacker, Mesut Özil, brought on Lukas Podolski, and demolished Portugal. France's first game ruined my theory, as they beat Honduras with Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, though I was bailed out on Twitter by my regular Throwdown partner Andy, who said that everyone would beat Honduras anyway. France then redeemed themselves - in the eye of my theory - by thrashing the seeded Switzerland, with Giroud starting alongside Karim Benzema for Les Bleus.

25 June 2014

World Cup Links: He Bites, He Dives ... Well, You Know The Rest

Cannibal Suarez. To be fair, Chiellini
does sound like a tasty pasta dish
I’ve been meaning to write about the World Cup ever since it started, but just couldn’t really find anything of interest to say; we’re all aware of how good this iteration of the tournament has been, with more goals per game than any World Cup in a long time, the reigning champions being eliminated after just two games, and late equalizers and winners. I didn’t feel like I could add anything to what we’d all witnessed. Until yesterday, that is.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, Luis Suarez bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder, with the score tied at 0-0 in a game that would go on to decide who qualified from Group D behind Costa Rica. It should be noted that replays from multiple angles haven’t proved overwhelmingly conclusive, but it certainly looked like the Racist Cannibal had a good munch on some prime Italian shoulder meat. FIFA have opened an investigation into the incident, with Suarez claiming that Chiellini “bumped” into him. Compounding the matter is the fact that Suarez threw himself to the ground as if he’d been shot (as is his wont) in a clear attempt to either confuse the referee or earn his side an important penalty; he might have been hoping the Italian defender would react and shove him, so by going down quickly was preparing for contact.

18 June 2014

The WAT: Arsenal to try new 0-1-0 formation

Having negated the need for new, returning, or current first team players with the signing of Mesut Ozil in 2013, Arsene Wenger may be adopting a new midfield-heavy 0-1-0 formation during pre-season training after the World Cup.

The new formation will feature Mesut Ozil in all outfield positions and, with limited goalkeeping options, Wojciech Szczesny featuring largely in the "rotation."
Ozil kicking ball, running after ball, then kicking it back the other direction at training.

The always excitable Arsenal fan and first/only team keeper announced his excitement to get back to basics in the upcoming season. "Mesut is a great, great player. I'm looking forward to us getting a lot closer this year. Also, I haven't talked to the boss yet, but I'm hoping maybe I can get some outfield play time in some big games this season, too."

12 June 2014

Thursday Throwdown: World Cup Predictions

Neymar (center) will be key to the hopes of the
host nation
(Credit: Ronnie Macdonald)
Sam: The Greatest Show on Earth is finally here! The 2014 iteration of the World Cup takes place in Brazil, the nation that gave the world the likes of Pele, Ronaldo, Zico, Romario and Roberto Carlos (definitely deserves to be in that list!) and home to some of the most rabid and passionate soccer fans on the globe. The hosts will be considered among the favorites to win the tournament, though the last time they hosted, the Seleção crumbled under the intense pressure, losing to Uruguay in the final.

Despite that, I have them as ranked as favorites to win; they won the Confederations Cup convincingly in similar stadia and conditions last year and key players like Hulk and Neymar enter the tournament in good form. Argentina will also have a good chance; their group is one of the easier ones, so they should progress without taxing too many of their key players, and Lionel Messi will be desperate to add international success to his club trophies and strengthen his argument as one of the best players ever. Finally, I am looking forward to watching Germany. They have a very talented and deep squad, though taking just one traditional striker could hurt their chances as they get to the latter stages. So, Jess, those are my favorites to take the trophy home. Who do you think will win the 20th World Cup?

10 June 2014

World Cup Watch: Gunners in Action Pt. 2


Placed in dubious Group D along with Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica, England will begin its World Cup action with a marquee matchup vs. Italy on June 14th. Roy Hodgson's side includes the Arsenal midfield duo of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, each of whom will play a crucial role for England if they are to advance. And it really is incredibly difficult to predict which teams will advance from this group; Uruguay, Italy and England have a combined total of seven World Cups and ten world titles, as well as a myriad of star players, which means that at least one star-studded squad will be excluded from the knockout stages of the competition.

Arsenal midfield duo Super Jack and the Ox
Credit: Flickr
England have looked less-than-stellar in their World Cup tune ups, most recently playing a ten-man Honduras to a scoreless draw amidst lightening storms in Miami. Before that, the English side drew Ecuador 2-2, a match that resulted in Oxlade Chamberlain's knee injury after clashing with Carlos Gruezo. Fortunately for England, the Ox was in training in a protective knee brace yesterday going through some pretty strenuous conditioning training. Although he will miss the opener against Italy, he could be fit to face Uruguay in England's second group match. If our revered Ox can get back to full fitness, he will be a part of the young English core that the team's success depends on.

09 June 2014

World Cup Watch: Gunners in Action Pt. 1

A poll on Arsenal.com asks Gooners, "Which Arsenal stars are most likely to win the World Cup?" Our response thus far has been overwhelmingly in support of the German trio– Ozil, Mertesacker and Podolski– who currently hold 65% of the vote. Coming in second is Santi Cazorla who made the final cut for La Furia Roja at 16%, followed by our English and French boys at 6% each.

Twelve Gunners will be in action in Brazil competing for seven different countries. Below is a preview on the Arsenal stars representing France, Germany and Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. Tomorrow's part two will feature Gunners in action for England, Spain, Costa Rica and Switzerland.


Didier Deschamps' French squad boasts three Gunners in Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna (and lacks one former Gunner bad boy in Samir Nasri, an absence that I'm sure none of us shed too many tears over). In fact, not even the ruling out of Franck Ribery was enough to get Nasri back in the final 23, and recent reports suggest that Koscielny's opinion on the matter and his position as a senior member of the side may have swayed Deschamps' decision to exclude the Manchester City midfielder. 

Les Bleus will face Honduras in their opening match of the tournament on June 15th, fresh off an 8-0
Koscielny is key to France's success in Brazil
Credit: wonker
drubbing of Jamaica which included a second-half goal from our very own Oli. Also included in Group E are Switzerland and Ecuador. After a truly awful showing in the 2010 World Cup, France look poised to win Group E and avoid the winner of Group F, which will almost certainly be Argentina.

It will be interesting to see how much action Giroud gets in Brazil, as he will most likely be playing back up to Real Madrid's Karim Benzema. Sagna, who played the second half of France's final tune up match against Jamaica, will also play a secondary role behind Newcastle's right back, Mathieu Debuchy. Koscielny, who finished third in the voting for Arsenal player of the season, is France's premiere central defender and will partner with either Sakho or Varane in the center of the pitch for Les Bleus. He will undoubtedly be hugely influential for the French side.

06 June 2014

Friday Throwdown: Transfers. Transfers? TRANSFERS! It Must Be Silly Season, Part 2

In the first part of our transfer Throwdown yesterday, Andy and I discussed the needs in the defensive areas of the pitch. Today, we will be looking at the more attacking positions: attacking midfield, wingers and striker. And, of course, we discuss the big story of the week - Cesc Fabregas. Note: this was written before the news that Arsenal would not, in fact, be activating their buy-back clause.

Andy: I assume no one will argue that we need to replace Aaron Ramsey in the box-to-box role or argue that we are short on creative talent through the rest of midfield either. Is the Gunners' midfield indeed set outside of the CDM role, or do you see some tweaking that could still be made?
Cesc won't be returning, but could Carlos Vela
move back to North London?
(Credit: Ronnie Macdonald)

Sam: I think that the midfield is pretty much sorted, which is why - once again, controversial opinion alert - I'm on the fence with regards to all these Cesc Fabregas rumors, leaning towards the side of not re-signing him. Look, I understand all the arguments for: he's a great player, he knows and loves the club, it will strengthen the squad and give us extra depth, etc. Also, I would hate to see him play for a different EPL squad, but I have concerns too. Ramsey has just had a break-out season so we don't want to see him in a platoon in that position, and while you could play Cesc and Ramsey together, it doesn't address the need for a more defense-minded central midfielder; if anything, it takes us further away from protecting the back line and makes us much smaller in midfield. Cesc could also play further forward, but then you're dropping one of Ozil, Cazorla or Walcott (who probably constitute the first choices in attacking midfield) and that's before listing players like Wilshere, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain... I know I'm in the minority here, but I really believe that it would impede the progress of Wilshere and especially Ramsey, who's just completed one of the best breakthrough seasons in recent memory. One of the lesser mentioned aspects of a potential Cesc signing is the impact on our transfer budget. No one outside the Club knows for sure how much money we have to spend, but if the fee of £30m being quoted for Fabregas is correct, then that would surely deplete much of our funds, putting us in a position where we may not be able to sign other high level players or focus on strengthening positions that really need it. The more I think about it, the more I'm torn; it would be great to have squad depth, and a rotation of Cesc, Rambo and Wilshere would be one of the best in the EPL and of course we'd have cover for any injuries, and I wouldn't be unhappy if he returned, I just think there are other areas of the squad that should be priorities. Also, Wenger is usually against re-signing old players, and by all accounts he seems to have told Barcelona he's not interested in Cesc. To me, that shows he has faith in the players he has, and I believe it is time for this young core to develop together. Am I being stupid here?

05 June 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Transfers. Transfers? TRANSFERS! It Must Be Silly Season, Part 1

Serge Aurier is rumored to be Arsenal's
future at right back
(Credit: Swing59)
This week Andy and I decided to discuss transfers: what signings we need, who we would like, etc. Our discussion ran much longer than usual, so this week's Throwdown will be split in to two parts. Today, we look at goalkeepers, defense and central midfield. Come back tomorrow for our takes on the Fabregas rumors, attacking midfield and strikers.

Sam: It's been a pretty quiet week, with most of soccer being focused on the World Cup. Following on from last week's Throwdown, we're going to discuss specific transfer needs and desires. At the end of the last post, I seem to have made a somewhat controversial statement regarding the goalkeeper position; allow me to defend my position. As much as Wojciech Szczesny has improved over recent season, and as well as he played this past season, I still think that an upgrade is possible. Victor Valdes, a multiple La Liga and Champions League winner, is out of contract at Barcelona, while Iker Casillas, Spain's number 1 and a multiple trophy winner at domestic and international level, seems to be out of favor at Real Madrid. Am I wrong in thinking that either of those are better 'keepers than Szczesny? I'm not saying we should go after them, just that there are other options in the soccer world. Realistically, though, I guess we'd go for a back-up, so, Andy, has anyone caught your eye for that spot?

Andy: I believe the phrase "how dare you?!?" is the first thing that came to my mind when you mentioned upgrading from Sir Szcz, so yes, mildly controversial. In a vacuum, I might agree with you. At the moment Casillas and Valdes would be upgrades (though we may disagree on the degree) over Szczesny, so Arsenal could technically improve the goalkeeper position if they wanted to spend the money. But here's the thing: Szczesny is 24 years old and he has fought off all comers to win the job and become the Gunner's #1. I can't help but feel that it would be massively unfair to unseat him after his best season yet where he firmly established himself as The Guy. So no, I can't be on board with that.

02 June 2014

2013/14 Season in Review: Promising Signs, Improvement Needed

Arsenal's victory parade was well-attended, and very
welcome after 9 years.
(Credit: David Holt)
Editor: This was supposed to come out the week after the FA Cup final, but circumstances conspired against me. Better late than never, here is the Boston Gooners season review...

Arsenal's league campaign started off horrendously with a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day, but the Club rebounded by winning 11 of their next 13 games to lead the table on Boxing Day. This run, however, included a 6-3 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in an early kick-off - the first result in a trend that went on to haunt the Gunners for the rest of the season. The Boxing Day fixture also saw Aaron Ramsey suffer an injury that kept him out for over three months. The Welsh midfielder had been hugely influential up to that point, but despite missing the player of the season up to that point Arsenal remained on top of the table through January into the beginning of February. Then, another dismal showing in an early kick-off at Anfield began a tough two months during which Arsenal won just two of their eight games; Arsenal started the match top of the league, but after the defeat they would never sit atop the table again. The Gunners slumped with heavy defeats against Chelsea and Everton, momentarily giving the Toffees the advantage in the race for fourth, before Everton themselves slipped, allowing Arsenal to secure fourth place with two games remaining.