24 July 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Summertime, And The Livin' Is Easy

Arsene wooed his man, who chose
North London over Merseyside
(Credit: Fanny Schertzer)
Sam: Well, it feels like ages since we last sat down to talk about the Arsenal. What with work getting busy, then enjoying the World Cup too much to actually take the time to write about it, and major transfers happening, the time has just flown by. So far, we've had a really busy summer, and I'm sure there's a lot more to look forward to. I also realized last night that Boston Gooners events are getting back in to full swing, with Arsenal playing friendlies every weekend until the new season opens with the Community Shield on August 10. So, Andy, how has summer treated you? What's been the highlight from an Arsenal perspective so far?

Andy: Some of us are lucky enough to have tickets to go see Arsenal playing their friendly in New York City against the Red Bulls so that is certainly on my mind at the moment. Overall though, the Arsenal based highlight of the summer for me has to be the signing of Alexis Sanchez. He stood out as a star among a game Chile side during the World Cup, but we all knew how good he was far before that. Players don't earn transfers into the starting eleven at Barcelona for being decent occasionally when representing their country and to be honest, it's still a shock to me that the Catalan club was willing to give him up.

I wrote about Sanchez at more length here but he does mesh very well with the current Arsenal squad. He is pacy, has excellent dribbling and passing skills, and his versatility will be vital to a team trying to field as much talent as possible while adapting to opposing strategies. This is the second year in a row the Gunners have gone out and secured the talents of a world class player and I have to say, I could get used to this.

Are you riding the same transfer high as me, or are your eyes set forward rather than (slightly) backward?

Sam: While I agree that Sanchez is a quality signing and a great fit for the squad, the initial rush has worn off a bit as I'm now casting my eye around the rumors and gossip, hoping that Arsene Wenger will strengthen other areas of the squad, too. We spoke earlier this summer in length about what we thought we needed, so seeing Mathieu Debuchy come in to replace the departing Bacary Sagna is a good start. There are strong rumors that the Club have agreed a deal with Nice for Colombia's 'keeper David Ospina, who impressed during the World Cup and will be a good understudy - if not serious competition - for Wojceich Szczesny. I also still believe that a defensive midfielder is a priority, so I'd be very happy to see any of the names - Carvalho, Khedira, Schneiderlin, or one of the Benders - we've been linked with actually put his John Hancock on an Arsenal contract. Although, now there are stories surfacing that Wenger will put his faith in Jack Wishere and try to convert him into a holding midfielder - an idea that I'm pretty much on board with, and one which might begin on Saturday.

I, too, will be joining several thousand Gooners in NYC to watch Arsenal's first Stateside match in 25 years. I'm kind of split on the emotional scale, though; while I'm excited about seeing the Gunners live for the first time since moving to Boston from England (and the first time since the second 5-2 against Sp*rs), much of that excitement is tempered by the knowledge that this is, after all, a pre-season friendly. You can never take too much from those, and while it will be interesting to watch some of the youngsters and reserves attempt to stake a claim in the first-team squad, I know that we won't see most of the players that featured in the World Cup. We will, however, get to see the Greatest Player in Arsenal History, which makes this more than just a normal pre-season match. I'm also sure that as soon as I get on the bus at South Station tomorrow, my excitement levels will suddenly jump, as I know I'll be on the way to actually see the Arsenal in my new country. It's kind of unbelievable. What are your feelings about the match this Saturday?

Andy: In the interest of full disclosure, I don't think it's fully sunk in that I'm actually going to watch Arsenal play in just two short days. That's not so much due to shock over the impossibility that I could ever see the Gunners in person, but more because I'm still wrangling the travel and accommodations and I have my own random worries rattling around in my head and distracting me.

When I take a second to think, however, it does coalesce in my mind and I get that nervous excited feeling. I agree with you that we can't take a lot away from the quality of play in this match, of course. It's an exhibition match that serves as 90% marketing and 10% training, and the imbalance may be even more drastic than that. I'm not expecting to walk away from Red Bull Arena talking about the impressive chemistry between Gedion Zelalem and Chuba Akpom. If I see players do cool things and perhaps score a couple of goals, I'll be happy enough with the footballing portion of the day.

American Gooners will get a
chance to see USMNT target
Gedion Zelalem.
(Credit: Kieran Clarke)
What matters much more to me is the match day experience and actually being able to watch the Arsenal in person, regardless of the quality of the game. It can't possibly be overstated: we don't get to do this. We are the fans from overseas who wake up at absurd hours of the morning to stumble out to the living room or down to the pub to experience a connection to a club that exists thousands of miles apart from us. We are always literally on the outside looking in and however easy technology has made it to still be a part of the experience, it's not the same as actually being there. That's what I'm so amazed by in regards to Saturday: the fact that it's actually happening.

Now that I've probably overstated what Saturday will be like, setting myself up for heartbreaking disappointment, do you find yourself looking forward to the start of more meaningful matches? Next week will be another exhibition session with the Emirates Cup, but then the following week we have the Community Shield and then it's almost the start of the league. Are the anticipation levels rapidly rising?

Sam: I'd say they're rising slowly for me, actually. Admittedly, I am looking forward to the start of a season where we've made our marquee signing early in the summer, rather than on deadline day, and also to the upcoming weeks where I'm expecting at least one or two new players to arrive. What I'm actually looking forward to most - and forgive me if I sound like a softie here - is getting back to Lir and watching games on a regular basis with fellow Gooners. Back home, if you want to watch a match, you have to contend with whatever Sky Sports or BT Sport decide to show, or you sit at home watching a dodgy, buffering stream, often in a foreign language, just to get your Arsenal fix. To actually be able to watch every match (and I have to give NBC a lot of credit here), is amazing.

Andy: That never ceases to amaze me: the United States somehow has better access to Premier League matches on television than England does. For all of the poetic waxing I just did about what it's like to be an observer from afar, we do have a pretty damn good system set up to be just that. As you said, hats off to NBC for their coverage because they've certainly kicked it up a notch or two from what FOX Soccer used to do. Now can someone please steal their Champions League rights away so I never have to listen to Gus Johnson and Eric Wynalda call another match again? That would be wonderful.

It is certainly still summer but we are creeping closer and closer to the start of the season. Sam and I (and others) will have more for you as we draw nearer, from team previews to BOLD PREDICTIONS. In the meantime, enjoy the fact that Arsenal is finally, physically in America.

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