30 March 2013

Arsenal vs. Reading: Player Ratings

American beer-based ratings.

  • Cazorla: Dragon's Milk. 8/10. Dominated the midfield and created innumerable chances.
  • Gervinho: Old Rasputin. 8/10. MOTM. Pranced and shimmied all over. Could have and should have scored a few more.
  • Koscielny: Cadillac Mountain Stout. 7/10. Solid all-around, anchoring the defense all day. Under the radar but excellent.
  • Giroud: Sierra Nevada Porter. 7/10. Mellow and smooth. Under-delivers just a touch, but still quality.
  • Arteta: Edmund Fitzgerald. 7/10. Quiet, but sneaks up on you and knocks you for a loop when you least expect it.
  • Ramsey: Two-Hearted Ale. 7/10. Classy and subtle and won't give up until you're satisfied.
  • Sagna: Fat Tire.7/10. Quality all around and everywhere you want him to be.
  • Rosický: New Glarus Spotted Cow. 6/10. Reliable and offering flashes of brilliance.
  • Mertesacker: Raison D'Etre. 6/10. Could've scored one or two; helped to hold down that back line.
  • Fabianski: Daisy Cutter. 5/10. Did about as much as he could, might've done better on the goal.
  • Monreal: Honker's Ale. 5/10. Really should've done better on the goal but was decent.
And the subs:
  • Oxlade-Chamberlain: Anchor Steam. 6/10. Replaced Gervinho and drew the foul for Arteta's PK.
  • Gibbs: Pete's Wicked. 5/10. He's there and pretty good but not memorable.
  • Podolski: Blue Moon. 5/10. Cute and not without its charm but doesn't really stand out.
Good times, all around. Make sure you celebrate enthusiastically but wisely.

Arsenal 4-1 Reading: Knockin' on 4th Place's Door

What a brilliant, brilliant game. Even our misses looked beautiful. This was the kind of dominating, swash-buckling game we've needed after a few tenser, tighter matches (even a few 2-0 games can feel that way). Passes were tight and audacious, and shots were plentiful, so much so that we could afford to squander a few. Gervinho tallied early, giving us space to relax and to attack with more verve, and the second half saw the floodgates open with three more goals. Yes, we conceded one, but I did after all predict a 3-1 score and don't mind that Fabianski's string of clean sheets comes to an end. It's enough wiggle-room to permit Wenger to bring Szczęsny back to the first team next week without anyone complaining too much. Another clean-sheet might have proved difficult for Wenger to make that change. Back to the actual game, though...

Arsenal 1-0 Reading: Halftime Report

An 11th-minute goal from Gervinho, assisted by Cazorla, has given Arsenal an early lead over Reading, who have never really threatened aside from a header from Mariappa in the opening minutes and a tricky deflected cross in the 28th minute that Fabianski handled well. I look like a veritable psychic, having predicted big days for Gervinho and Cazorla. Both have looked bright and quick, with Cazorla in particular making absolute mincemeat of the Reading midfield. He found Gervinho cutting into the box brilliantly and put it right on Gervinho's right foot (knowing perhaps, that the Ivorian only uses his left for standing on and alternate foot-steps). Gervinho put it home no problem and could have had a second but dilly-dallied and allowed a defender to step in front of him before he could shoot, forcing him to actually use that left for a harmless shot. Good God, the man actually set himself up for a lefty shot in the 42nd that was quite good, if a bit high.

Stuart Taylor was lucky not to have been booked for a harsh tackle in the box against Giroud, who himself has looked sharp as well and could have had an early goal of his own if not for a decent save from Taylor in the 4th.

After an quiet start, Tomas Rosický came to life in the second 20 minutes. I'm adding him to the list. One goal or an assist from the Czech in the second half.

Right, then. By the numbers:
  • Possession: Arsenal 72%-28% Reading
  • Shots (on goal): Arsenal 16 (2), Reading 2 (0)
  • Passing Success: Arsenal 88%-71% Reading
  • Corners: Arsenal 5-1 Reading
All in all, a solid first half, but it would be nice to send a second goal home. The chances have been there, so the finishing will have to get tighter in the second half.

Elsewhere, Spurs look to be handling Swansea quite well, up 2-0 at the break on goals from Vertonghen and Bale. Chelsea, by contrast, are struggling at Southampton, down 2-1.  Let's hope Southampton can make their former manager proud by hanging on to that one, and more importantly, hope that Swansea can pull one back on Spurs. Second half action coming up...

Arsenal's Line-up vs. Reading

Fabianski minds the net with Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Monreal in front of him; Ramsey and Rosický join Arteta and Cazorla in midfield, and Gervinho comes on up top with Giroud.  I like how this looks on paper, and I'm picking Gervinho to have a goal and an assist.

On the other side, we'll see Taylor, Kelly, Shorey, Mariappa, Pearce, and Karacan; Leigertwood, Guthrie, Robson-Kanu, and McAnuff; and Pogrebnyak. Stuart Taylor, for what it's worth, made some 30 appearances for Arsenal from 1997 to 2005 but saw that there wasn't room for him after we signed Lehmann and Almunia. He's bounced around quite a bit, never really finding first-team action anywhere, but I'm sure he brings a bit of extra motivation to face his old club, for what that's worth.

Gervinho and Cazorla will put this one to bed early.

Come on, you Gunners!

29 March 2013

Arsenal Vs. Reading: Preview and Predictions

Well, we won't have Marouane Chamakh's heroics to count on against Reading this time around, leaving us to wonder where the goals will  come—oh, wait. Never mind. I was briefly lost in an alternate universe in which the Moroccan regularly delivers braces for us. Silly, silly me. On to more serious news and assessments of our prospects for tomorrow's match, not to mention closing the gap on 4th place with Spurs traveling to Swansea...

The Diaby Debacle

As news of Diaby's torn ACL has made the rounds, I've cast about desperately for news that could convince me that he will in fact return in 10 months' time. I've always been a believer in Diaby and hope fervently that he'll not only come back, but come back in a form that comes anything close to what he showed us against Liverpool in September when he was more spider than man, leaping and bouncing about, pouncing on balls and tackling various Scousers left and right. Were it not for his litany of injuriesnone so cruel as thishe'd be a world-beater, the kind of player we'd be lionizing and remembering for years to come. Instead, through no fault of his own, he's ended up as Samuel Jackson's character Elijah Price in Unbreakable, a villain so fragile that he can barely walk without fracturing something. Diaby could have and should have been Bruce Willis's character in that same filmDavid Dunn, the titular hero who was impervious to illness or injury.

28 March 2013

Wilshere's Out Two Weeks, Diaby Gone Eight Months

It seems that a routine scan of Jack Wilshere's ankle shows continued inflammation serious enough for the medical staff to recommend a further two weeks of rest, with Wenger admitting that it will be "very difficult" to know when Wilshere can return. This setback means that Wilshere misses the Reading match, which is not new news, but will now also miss the April 6th trip to West Brom as well as our home-match against Norwich. Beyond that, it's hard to say when he'll be back. The news and tone of Wenger's description are hard to describe as upbeat or optimistic, containing as it does words like "cautious" and "very difficult to know". The last time Wilshere went down with an ankle injury, he was gone for 17 months, so it's alarming to see what was once a two- to three-week rest get extended for a few weeks, and in a way that feels indefinite rather than specific.

While it's true that we can probably get by over the next few weeks against the likes of Reading, West Brom, and Norwich, the longer-term picture is harder to feel good about. I'm not referring to tougher matches down the line or securing 4th place this season. I'm worried that Wilshere runs the risk of getting "Diaby-ized", succumbing to a string of injuries that keep him out of action and that gradually erode his form. Speaking of Diaby, news from arsenal.com has him with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which will knock him out for eight to nine months. The report is quite skimpy, barely five sentences, but it's terrible news for a player already plagued by injury. I genuinely feel bad for Diaby, victim to a string of injuries that would be positively laughable if it wasn't so sad.  At the risk then of reducing the man to a symbol, let's hope that Wilshere, Wenger, and the medical team learn from Diaby's example and err on the side of excessive caution. If this means that Wilshere sits for the rest of the season, so be it. He's too young and too bold to be asked about his own fitness; he might try to rush himself back too soon, and there's no good reason for that. Yes, I know 4th place is a prized target, but Wilshere is the kind of player we hope to have and build around for the next decade, if not longer.

Diaby's case is a bit more complicated. Does this mark the end of his time with Arsenal? Could it mark the end of his career? A torn ACL is no sprain, inflammation, or bruise. This is going to take time, and when he does come back, the lingering mental and physical trauma is likely to plague quite a while longer than the injury itself. Here's hoping he comes back in 10 months a new man.

We'll come back later with more upbeat news on the squad and the upcoming match with Reading. For now, hope the two lads recover quickly...

Jovetic: Feast or Famine

There's been a lot of talk in the last few days about Stevan Jovetić and his apparent affinity for Arsenal's style of play. Lost in all of the hub-bub is the larger question, how much do we actually need him? For a team that is currently 4th in the Prem in goals scored (with a game in hand on 3rd place Liverpool), it is not clear that another striker is a top priority. Even if it is, it's less clear that he is the best player to meet that priority. While it's true that he's scored 12 goals in 24 appearances for Serie A's Fiorentina, a closer look suggests that Arsenal's needs might be better meet by looking elsewhere. After all, a a player currently valued in the mid £20,000,000 range, as Jovetić apparently is, should be counted on to deliver more goals than has the young Montenegrin.

27 March 2013

Back To What Matters

Well, that's all over for now. Even with the United States stealing a point in its away game with Mexico, I couldn't get very worked up about the international break. The best that can be said is that no one got hurt. Sorry, Nacho, even your assist in Spain's 1-0 win over France comes in second. Most of our other boys didn't play or didn't do much for good or naught. Rosický, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Koscielny played a full match, Giroud subbed in late, and that's about it, thank you very much.

We can now go back to the business of chasing down Spurs in our quest for 4th place and otherwise making the universe right again. Along the way, perhaps we can restore Pluto's planetary status. I did say "making the universe right again," after all.

We'll take a closer look at Reading later in the week, including an analysis of their new manager, Nigel Adkins, who wasn't quite good enough to finish the season with Southampton even though he's brought them up from League One back to Premier League status for next year. Although Southampton has languished just above the relegation zone this year, it seems harsh to have sacked the man after what he's done for the team. Having just been appointed to lead Reading on Tuesday, who knows what kind of impact he'll have on the team? Will this invigorate a team that had lost its way under Adkins, or will the team arrive at the Emirates in disarray? We'll see. For now, it's worth noting that, despite sitting in the relegation zone, tied with QPR, Reading has held its own, coming very close to some famous results: losing 1-0 at Liverpool, at Man U, and at Man City, drawing at home with Chelsea, losing 4-3 at home to Man U, and losing 2-1 at Man U in the  FA Cup. Some tight affairs, no doubt. Yes, we've put home 12 goals against them in two matches, but they've notched 7 of their own against us.

In other words, we'd do well to prepare for this one as if it's going to be a tough one rather than glorified scrimmage. More on that later...

26 March 2013

Transfers and Rumors and Rats, Oh My...

Even with today's international matches pitting various Gunners against each other, so much of the chatter focuses on who we might sign and who might want away. It's getting difficult to resistwill Jovetic sign? Articles out today suggest that he feels an "affinity" for Arsenal and is "flattered" at our interest. Well, I've had crushes on girls who'd speak in stronger terms of our shared future, and I never got more than the "let's just be friends" talk out of it. There are suggestions that Podolski might be on his way to Juventus, but he claim that it's "unlikely" that he'll leave. It would be nice for Podolski to speak more forth-rightly of his desire to stay, but that's a mug's game. Much as it pains me to admit, we can't talk out of both sides of our mouths on this one, saying "the badge on the front is more important than the name on the back" in one moment and then deriding players who want to move on to better opportunities in the next.  They want glory and championships, the same as we do, after all; they just have a much-smaller window in which to achieve it than do fans.

25 March 2013

Jack Wilshere for Captain?

I've previously gushed about Wilshere's quality and symbolic value, so I'll try to restrain myself rather than shrieking like an 11-year old at the site of Justin Bieber (sorry; just threw up a little in my mouth. And we're back). With each game, Wilshere's value and skill seem to grow, and he has said that he wants to play every single game, but for as much as I respect the man and for as many goosebumps as he gives me, I'd prefer to see him rest from time to time. He has the spirit and mindset, if not the experience, to drive the team forward moreso than any of the men who've worn the armband over the last few years.

Totem and Talisman, Part Two

In my previous post, I meditated on how Arsene Wenger, the totem, symbolizes Arsenal's recent past. Today, we take a more forward-view, pondering the talisman that embodies Arsenal's future. Jack Wilshere was born in the same year I finished high school, three months after my formal soccer career came to a cruel end, 5-1 at the hands of a wealthier team (they not only had their own pitch, but several, while we toiled away at our local public park). At any rate, that year, 1992, a 42-year old Arsene Wenger coached Monaco to a 2nd place finish behind Olympique Marseille and lost the European Cup Final to Werder Bremen. January 1992 also saw President George Bush I vomit at a banquet in Japan, the first stage of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and Princess Sarah Ferguson did all sorts of crazy things.

24 March 2013

Totem and Talisman, Part One

Between us and 4th place lie two teams and nine games to play. However, rather than looking at numbers and fixtures, I'd like to take a broader view and look at two men and what they mean to Arsenal. One embodies the past, and one embodies the future. By now, you're probably tumbling their names and faces around in your mind. Arsene Wenger, the totem, embodies Arsenal's past and present while continuing to represent the future. Jack Wilshere, the talisman, embodies Arsenal's future. This is not just a meditation on age and the passing of time; it's also a taking-stock of a team's future and its destiny.

Racism in Football

Coming on the heels of yesterday's look at nationalism in the Serbia-Croatia match, it seems fitting to revisit the problem of racism in football.  With news that AC Milan's Kevin Prince-Boateng and former Gunner Patrick Viera met earlier in the week with officials from the United Nations, it seems that there is finally some serious attention being paid to the problem. Clearly, however, racism in football is not the most pressing issue on the UN's agenda, but confronting it here helps to confront and perhaps eradicate it everywhere.

Boateng himself said, "racism can be found on the streets, at work, and even in football stadiums. There were times in my life when I didn't want to deal with the subject. I tried to ignore racism, similar to a headache that you know will go away if you just wait long enough, but that was a miconception. Racism does not go way. If we don't confront it, it will spread." The more clearly we make it that racism has no place on or around the pitch, the more young fans will understand that it is not acceptable out on the streets.

Racist incidents accidents (man, do those terms sound innocuous, as if these are things that just, sort of happen on their own without people deciding to make them happen) decisions and behavior are, sadly nothing new to sports. Here in the United States it wasn't until 1959 that the Boston Red Sox ended its shameful practice of racist segregation, a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color line. Even now, in a society that is as pluralistic and as diverse as ours, with people interacting with all sorts of people who differ from each other, practically forcing everyone to be tolerant if only through exposure, if not actual respect, racism still finds its way in. The global nature of football  mirrors that, with teams fielding players from almost every continent and country imaginable. Still, with that context and that mosaic of cultures, we endure the ugly prospect of racism ruining the beautiful game, not to mention society.  The Premier League and others have done what they can so far, aided by technology that enables them to identify hecklers and fine or ban them, but this is not enough.

I was impressed when Kevin Prince-Boateng of AC Milan walked off the field during a match against Pro Patria after racist chants. I would have been even more impressed if Pro Patria's players did it first— they joined him and supported him, which was wonderful and brave and sends the message that players will not tolerate racism from their own fans. I'd love to see more of that, Sepp Blatter's opinion notwithstanding, whether it's because Rio Ferdinand got hit by a coin or someone tossed a banana at Balotelli or some chump monkey-chants against Jozy Altidore or any of the other acts of brazen stupidity that ruin it for everyone.

Look, I know that fans get drunk before, during, and after matches, and they'll find ways to get under the skin of their opponents, but attacking opponents on the color of their skin goes beyond the pale. And I know that there people in this world who have chosen racist ideas and ideologies for a variety or reasons, and there are still others who are fed racism from an early age.  Finding, fining, banning those people is one step, although legal sanctions (arrest, jail time, etc.) should remain off-limits. Freedom of speech demands that governments should not punish or restrict these opinions, but private organizations should be able to set conditions for admittance to their events. However, those measures do not go far enoughit is time, I believe, to sanction teams themselves for the actions of their fans, beginning with forfeiture of match in which it happens and possibly, Thierry Henry and others have suggested point deductions and relegation. As regrettable as that is for the overwhelming majority of fans who pay good money for tickets and concessions, and as disappointing as that would be for the players who are working hard on the pitch, that might be what it takes to get racism out of the stadiums.

I'm not saying this will end racism itself, but it could help to push it out of at least one more place in our society. As long as there are differences, people will have opinions, and sometimes those opinions will mutate into prejudice and then to racism. After all, we do live in a world in which the nephew of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi can refer to Balotelli as a negretto (translated variously as "little black man", Negro, or, yes, nigger) and get away with it, and supporters of Zenit St. Petersburg can claim that the absence of black players is "an important tradition".  Go read Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" if "tradition" is that sacrosanct to you.

Maybe it's time for a little "reverse-colonization", for lack of a better term. When Jackie Robinson and Bill Doby broke through, their own fans abused themuntil they saw the men play and help the team win games. Maybe something similar could work for footballif we can't educate racism out of the game, and if we can't punish it out of the game, maybe just showing those idjits how valuable a player can be to his teamregardless of coloris the only way left: "look, you moron; that guy you called a monkey has been transferred to your team. He just scored you a game-winner. Maybe you're ready to drop the racism?" Along these lines, Boateng has called for a "black Mourinho" or a "Pakistani Guardiola" so that it's more than just players who are involved and affected, it's coaches and managers. This approach might not shine like a moral beacon of equality and compassion and respect, but convincing a racist to change his mind is sometimes like talking to a refridgerator, and, in the end, the ends would justify the means. Andbecause it's not the job of the victims and targets to end racism, just like it's the victims of rape to end rapelet's see some white players, coaches, and managers confront the issue head-on: "Taunt my teammate or opponent with racism, and I walk off the field."

Again, sadly, it may be too much hope for to ever fully stamp racism out, but that's certainly no excuse to stop trying.