Showing posts with label Nacho Monreal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nacho Monreal. Show all posts

28 November 2022

Confessions & Cravings of an Amateur blogger

Now, I know in advance that this will end up as a low-interest post because I'm not offering a splashy title about whom we're going to splash some cash on in January, but maybe that's because I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too. If you're here reading this and read beyond this point, you might actually visit this little blog o' mine more than occasionally, and you are therefore more inclined to give me the feedback I seek. If you're not here, all the better for me because I'm therefore somewhat less likely to get the kind of feedback I don't like. With that in mind, I'll offer a brief, brief history of why I'm here (while you reconsider why it is exactly that you're here) and then ask you to weigh in on a few issues. Let's get to it, shall we?

27 August 2018

Forget Laca. Forget Auba. When we need a goal, it's La Cabra!

Image result for monreal goal west hamLa Cabra has struck yet again, delivering a crucial equaliser that re-seized the momentum as we won us our first match of the season. His goal, coming minutes after Arnautovic opened the scoring for West Ham on a day when we looked just as likely to score as to concede. What's remarkable, though, about Monreal's fourth goal of 2018—third-best in the squad after Aubameyang (10) and Lacazette (6)—is that each and every goal that Monreal has scored for Arsenal has lifted us out of a draw or brought us back to level terms. That's a stunning stat that shows how vital Monreal has been going forward.

22 April 2018

Arsenal 4:1 West Ham—Vote for Player Ratings & MOTM!

In a strangely subdued performance, one that in no way reflected the significance of a week in which a manager of 22 years announced his retirement, Arsenal labored for 80-odd minutes before finally rising to the occasion. Nacho Monreal opened the second half with a scuffed finish from Xhaka's corner, but it wasn't until the 81st minute that we could feel at all settled. Ramsey sent in a cross that Aubameyang dummied a header for, bamboozling Hart (who had been excellent). Late on, Lacazette found a brace that left it at 4-1, and we could sit back, relax, and enjoy it. Well, let's get down to the poll!

15 February 2018

Östersunds FK 0-3 Arsenal—Vote for Player Ratings & MOTM!

Arsenal strolled to a comfortable, cozy win over Swedish hosts Oestersunds FK, braving the frigid temperature to waltz away in the first leg. Goals from Monreal, OG, and Özil eased jangled nerves. Pity that the OG stands for "Own Goal" rather than Olivier Giroud. The away-goals should be more than enough to carry us through the second leg in the event that we somehow out-Arsenal ourselves by succumbing to a massive comeback from the visiting underdog. I wouldn't put it past us, much like Ospina wouldn't let Oestersunds put anything past him. Aha. Ha. Let's move on and get down to the poll...

30 January 2018

Swansea 3-1 Arsenal—Vote for Player Ratings & MOTM!

Well, that was unexpected. After all of the hype and excitement of adding Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, Arsenal arrived at Liberty Stadium and promptly laid an egg against the Swans. At least it wasn't a goose-egg, if you don't mind my mixing metaphors. Monreal salvaged a tattered scrap of dignity by briefly putting us ahead. However, horrific defending allowed Swansea an easy equalizer—and without suggesting any blame—Mkhitaryan came on and bore witness to a god-awful comedy of errors as Čech squibbed an easy clearance directly into Ayew's path, and it was 2-1. We never really showed any fightback after that, and we deserved the result—the beating, really. I just hope the ink is dry on Auba's contract. He might be reconsidering his options. Feh. Let's get down to the poll.

24 January 2018

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea—Vote for Player-Ratings & MOTM!

It looked like it might be over before it began as Chelsea's Eden Hazard slotted home an early goal and were looking far-more lively despite being shorn of several regulars and Conte worrying about fatigue. However, Nacho Monreal headed a corner in from Mesut Özil, and Chelsea's Rüdiger helped it home to equalize. After going into the half on level terms, Arsenal came out in the second half looking much more purposeful, and an energetic Lacazette worked his way along the edge of the area, and Xhaka pounced on the deflected pass to seize the lead. Four minutes of stoppage time gave the visitors several chances, but Ospina was more than up to the challenge. The winners will go on to meet Man City in the final. More on that when the time is right. For now, let's get down to the poll!

20 January 2018

Arsenal 4-1 Palace—Vote for Player-Ratings & MOTM!

Arsenal blitzed Palace in the first 12 minutes through goals from Monreal, Iwobi, and Koscielny. Lacazette added a fourth as the Gunners eased to an easy victory. The only drama centered around whether or not Petr Čech would keep his 200th career clean-sheet. Sadly, he was denied this achievement in the 78th. More's the pity. Still, it's a fine result and one that restores some much needed confidence and, hopefully, momentum as we look for progress in the League Cup, Prem, and Europa. Enjoy this one. It's back to work in just a few days!

22 October 2017

Everton 2-5 Arsenal—Vote for Player Ratings/MOTM!

Arch-nemesis Wayne Rooney scored just 12 minutes in—his 15th against Arsenal, most against any club—and it was starting to feel like we'd again dominate possession and pass it about without ever really finishing a sequence. All of our shots, it seemed, were straight at Pickford, until, finally, Nacho Monreal lashed in a rebound from close range. This seemed to take the air out of Koeman's side, and shortly after halftime, Alexis found Özil gliding into the box. After having created a half-dozen chances for others, Özil glanced his header past Pickford to make it 1-2. Referee Craig Pawson finally saw fit to send Gana off after a series of late tackles, and that's where the wheels came off. Lacazette and Ramsey scored nifty goals to just about kill it off. A sloppy late goal for Everton offered small consolation for the hosts, but Alexis sliced one more in to leave no doubt. Let's get down to the poll!

01 October 2017

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton—Vote for Player Ratings/MOTM!

Nacho Monreal opened the scoring for Arsenal in the 16th minute during a scramble in front of Brighton's goal, and Brighton never really looked ready to answer. Alex Iwobi scored his first goal in January to make it 2-0. Arsenal were turned away time and again in a splendid performance by Mat Ryan, assisted by numerous goal-line clearances and the woodwork as well. The result is our sixth win and fifth clean sheet in our last seven outings, and we're making the most of a softer stretch of the schedule. We're now level on points with Chelsea, no small feat when we consider where we were after the loss to Liverpool. Enough of the big picture for now; let's get down to the poll to rate our efforts against Brighton!

26 September 2017

Lacazette bags the brace, but Monreal steals the show!

It doesn't often happen when your mate bags a brace and your squad boasts of almost 70% possession that you, a wide defender in a 3-4-3, get to claim MOTM honors, but when you're Nacho Monreal, well, you floor that like Koscielny floors opponents of questionable personality and repute. On a day when we pushed Pulis's peons around like—well, like peons—we voted none other than Monreal as our Man of the Match. It's almos as if Nacho looked at Pulis's "tactics" and decided he would show the man how football is played, proper. Not to slight the man he dislodged from the position, but Monreal showed us just how irrelevant Gibbs had become. Let's look at some numbers...

26 April 2017

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester: Vote for player-ratings and MOTM!

For 86 stultifying minutes, it looked as if Leicester would escape the Emirates with a well-earned point. For close to an hour and a half, it looked as if Arsenal's hopes of scraping into the top-four were done and dusted. Then, along came Nacho. He sluiced a pass into the box for Alexis. He tip-toed around the scrum. He caromed a shot off of Huth's chest. He scored. Score, Nacho; score. And so on. The process was a bit tetchy, but I think we can all live with the result. After all, it keeps alive the hope that we can still find that mythic, legendary top-four finish. Along those lines, we have a tense, taut trip to White Hart Lane to prepare for. In the meantime, let's get down to the player-ratings poll!

24 April 2017

About this 3-4-3 of ours, is it the Arsènor's New Clothes?

It was a shift borne of desperation. Having conceded 25 goals across nine fixtures, some kind of shake-up was desperately needed, if only for the sake of shaking things up. After all, it's one thing to conceded five to Bayern. It's quite another to concede three to West Brom. Or again to Crystal Palace. Whatever the case, the shake-up had to happen. The only real question was whether this would happen in the squad or the front-office. With Arsenal's fortunes fading fast, we at least got the former. Whether the latter is still necessary is an open question. For now, let's take a closer look at how well this 3-4-3 worked. After all, we won two in a row for the first time since January. Surely, there's something in it?

23 April 2017

The FA Cup: where Mancs' hopes go to die...

It wasn't supposed to be like this, not after trudging just barely past Middlesbrough and being embarrassed at Selhurst Park. We were supposed to fold, to crumble, to pull up tent-stakes. The early signals were there: we went down 0-1. City had a goal wrongly disallowed and struck woodwork not once, but twice. That new 3-4-3 formation was getting picked apart. However, from somewhere, from the deepest of depths, we summoned something. Maybe it's the magic of the FA Cup. Maybe it's something to do with Wembley. Maybe Guardiola's a bit of a fraud. Whatever the proximate cause, the effect is that Arsenal's going to Wembley for the FA Cup final! Whether that's enough to resurrect a season is another question for another day. For now, it's enough to announce that we defeated Guardiola's Man City squad, denying him silverware for the first time in his managerial career. Whatever. For now, let's get to the player-ratings poll!

09 March 2015

Man U 1-2 Arsenal: Vote for Player-Ratings/MotM

A cracking match saw Arsenal go ahead midway through the first half courtesy of some nifty work from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, setting up Nacho Monreal who slotted past de Gea. The lead was short-lived, though, as Rooney flicked home a sharp header barely five minutes later. That's where it stood through halftime up until Welbeck scored on the hour beating de Gea to the ball and putting it home to make ir 1-2 and remind Van Gaal of what he's capable of. Shortly after that, Angel Di Maria, in a moment of madness snatched at referee Michael Oliver's jersey from behind. Oliver, showing a bit of bottle, sent him off, reducing Man U to two men. Far from denting their ambitions, though Man U started throwing everything forward and very nearly found their equalizer. De Gea made almost enough saves to earn himself another meme, but we're through to the next round our second win in 16 trips to Old Trafford. Bask in it, lads, but don't overdo it in the voting below!

27 February 2014

Uncertainty at left-back as we prepare to face Stoke...

It looks like we have a bit of a dicey situation at left-back. According to Arsène, speaking at his pre-match press conference, there "are uncertainites about Monreal, who had to come off last week [against Sunderland] with a foot injury and about Gibbs [still recovering from a Ribery—er, buttocks injury]." While it's possible that Gibbs will be fit enough to face Stoke, this thrusts into the delicate position of having to consider Thomas Vermaelen, who is still not 100% and doubtless a bit rusty, having played a mere 45 minutes of football since facing Tottenham on 4 January. Arsène claims that Vermaelen is available, but where does that leave us? Do we play Gibbs at his preferred position on the notion that he's perhaps less-fit but a better fit than Vermaelaen? Is it better to play Vermaelen at left-back where he's out of position, a bit rusty, but perhaps closer to having fresh legs and fitness?

As Arsène put it, "Thomas can play [left back]; it's hot his preferred position and he has been out for a long time now, but we'll see. I still have 48 hours to make a decision." None of the options seems ideal as we face playing one of two (or three) players, none of whom seems fully match-ready. The one closest to it has fallen out of favor for his preferred position, in part due to his own patchy form and in larger part, it must be said, to the improved form of his teammates at that position. With Monreal the least likely to make the trip, what's the best option—the rusty, out-of-favor and out-of-position Vermaelen, or the pained-in-the-arse Gibbs? Casting our net a bit fruther, could we send out Flamini at left back? It may not be his preferred position, but he's at least fully fit and defensive-minded enough to press too far forward, as an overly-aggressive Vermaelen might be.

In the longer term, converting Vermaelen to a versatile defender who can cover at left, right, and center, but that's another question for another day. For Saturday, we'll have to rely on the idea that Stoke does not pose a terribly potent attacking threat so that whoever it is who gets the nod at left-back can put in an eventful shift. We'll take a closer look at that as match-day approaches.

'Til then, feel free to weigh in: who's our best option at left-back against Stoke? Vermaelen, Gibbs, or Flamini?

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26 September 2013

Arsenal 4-3 West Brom (pen); undeserved, but, well...

It wasn't pretty, but we managed to pull off the win, and that's really all that counts. I do regret that West Brom came so close only to come away with nothing, for the league cup offers clubs the rare opportunity to do something famous. It's similar to the movie Hoosiers, in which any club, no matter how small, has a chance to knock any club, no matter how large. We saw a dose of this last spring when Wigan knocked off Man City to claim the FA Cup. For the first sixty minutes and again for most of the rest of regulation and into overtime, West Brom simply outplayed Arsenal and arguably deserved the win more than we. That we came out with a win anyway proves only that outcome and effort are sometimes miles apart, for we were certainly not the better squad on the evening.

That said, there are few moral victories in sport, and so I doubt that there are many Baggies trudging home thinking, "well, at least we hung tough". To those who are, it's cold consolation, if any at all. I've been on the other side of such losses, and I'd almost prefer to have been roundly thrashed. Once Gnabry missed his spot-kick, I thought, "well, that's it." I can't imagine (and don't want to, either) what it must have felt like to be on the other end, thinking, "we're going to pull this off" only to see not one but two misses slam shut the door. To have come so close only to see victory slip through their fingers must be agonizing, and I hope it doesn't provide West Brom with too much motivation against us going forward.

Back to Arsenal. Back to Gnabry. For as much as we might bemoan the saved kick, let's be honest. Penalties are a lottery. The shooter picks one of three basic options: left, center, right. The keeper chooses from the same. Even if the keeper matches the shooter, there's placement, pace, timing. On the whole, Gnabry's shot was among the better-taken of the ten. He just had the bad luck of being the only one whose shot was saved. Here, then, is a quick review:
  1. Reid: 8/10—well-taken, top-right corner and out of reach despite Fabiański guessing right.
  2. Bendtner: 6/10—decent but only midway between the center of goal and the right post. Good thing Daniels guessed wrong.
  3. Rosenberg: 4/10—very nearly down the middle, almost saved by Fabiański who dove to his left but almost deflected anyway.
  4. Gnabry: 5/10—similar to Bendtner's but towards the left post. Daniels guessed correctly and parried.
  5. Morrison: 9/10—nearly perfect, top-left corner shot. The only element missing would be to have it glance in off the post.
  6. Olsson: 6/10—good shot, beating Daniels who guessed right. Extra point given for responding well to the pressure of the moment.
  7. Dawson: 1/10—plain and simple, you must make the keeper save, at a minimum. Putting it that far wide is inexcusable, especially given how a goal would have all but sealed the victory.
  8. Akpom: 5/10—again, another decent shot but only midway between the center and the post, benefitting more from the keeper guessing wrong than from the quality of the shot.
  9. Amalfitano: 1/10—as with Dawson, one must put it on-frame. Knowing that the squads were now level, it was all the more crucial to do so.
  10. Monreal: 6/10—similarly, the shot was midway between center and post and went in because the keeper guessed wrong.
That was enough to seal it. It may not be fair or just, but we advance and will host Chelsea in the next round, set for October 29 or 30. West Brom will nurse its wounds while we savor the win. I'd like to offer up a platitude along the lines of "that's the way the ball bounces", but it might be more-true to point out that we escaped by the skin of our teeth. On to a few other individual performances...

The Squad
Ah, to be Arsène Wenger. On one hand, you're lambasted for rotating Academy players in. On the other, you're lampooned for the injuries to first-team players. The critics can't have it both ways. If Arsène plays Giroud, Ramsey, or Özil, he'll be criticized for over-playing them. When he plays Gnabry, Akpom, or Miyaichi, he's criticized for throwing in the towel. Sure, there's a middle ground, a magical fairy-tale land in which every single signing works out exactly as planned (or in which a club can simply buy any available player), but that is, after all, a fantasy. Last season, we threw on a full-strength squad against Bradford and were humiliated. On this night, we threw on a squad of second-choices, the recently-injured, and the youth of today, and it worked out (barely). Whenever you throw together a bunch of players who are unfamiliar (and far from fitness—Nicklas Bendtner, I'm looking at you...), there's bound to be some disjointedness and sloppiness. We got through despite that. On to a few players...

Nicklas Bendtner
Look, the man hadn't played competitive football for club or country since May 2013. Between the width of his waist and the breadth of his beard, his aerodynamics were understandably off. For him to have played 120 minutes of football is therefore astounding. Well, "astounding" might be overstating it, but still. He delivered an assist on our only goal of the game, a well-weighted pass, and had a few chances that he might have delivered on had he been more in-form. His spot-kick may have been his first Arsenal goal since 2011, but it came at just the right time and with the appropriate amount of celebration.

Lukas Fabiański
Mr. Flappyhandski actually turned in a decent performance despite conceding the equalizer to Berahino. By the time the keeper has to make a save, I've always maintained, ten other guys have let him down in one way or another. To criticize Fabiański for failing to save a point-blank header misses the point. Where were our center-backs, each of whom towers over Berahino, on Berahino's header? Why didn't anyone close down on Shane Long to prevent his little chip? By the time the ball was in the net, a sequence of other failures preceded Fabiański's. Otherwise, on the whole, he acquitted himself tolerably well.

Thomas Vermaelen
While it may be too early to memorize and declare lines from Walt Whitman's "O Captain, My Captain!", it was gratifying to see Vermaelen take to the field and perform as well as he did. According to, he led the team in interceptions, shots blocked, effective clearances, and passing accuracy. In the absence of a true, in-form defensive midfielder (Arteta working back from injury and Hayden being, well, 18), Vermaelen linked defense to offense quite well and looks to be regaining the form and confidence that had abandoned him a year ago. Should this hold true, a center-back rotation of Vermaelen, Koscielny, and Mertesacker could be formidable indeed.

Long story short, we may not have deserved this win, but we got it. There's a tricky visit to Liberty Stadium to face Swansea on Saturday, and we've continued a run that has seen us win 17 of our last 20 competitive matches (including eleven in a row on the road). We may have underestimated Swansea a bit last year, but we won't do so again this year. On top of that, this is a squad that wants to win and knows how, whether it's a squeaky bum like tonight or a 3-0 over Fener. In either case, we're on a nifty little run. Enjoy it while it lasts!

02 April 2013

Poor Tom (Vermaelen, that is...)

Of a man named Tom, Robert Plant once sang,
Here's a tale of Tom
Who worked the railroads long;
His wife would cook his meal
As he would change the wheel.
Poor Tom, seventh son,
Always knew what's going on
There ain't nothing that you can hide from Tom.
Now, of course, there is little in this song that actually relates to Thomas Vermaelen, forgotten love-child of Joaquin Phoenix and Justin Timberlake, except perhaps for the title. The song wormed its way into my head, and here we are. The captain has now sat out three straight gamesBayern, Swansea, and Readingwith little sign that there is room for him on the pitch, at least as a center-back. Koscielny has put forth several strong performances, including a MOTM-worthy display against Bayern. Mertesacker has been solid, if less so than Koscielny, but between them, it's hard to find reason enough to drop one of them for Vermaelen. There don't seem to be any compelling match-up reasons to rotate him in, either.Absent an injury or out-an-out poor performance (if not two), Vermaelen might just find himself consigned to the bench for even longer.

20 March 2013

The Problem With Two Left Feet, er, Backs

At the risk of knocking a good thing, I still find myself questioning the signing of Nacho Monreal. Back when it first happened, I questioned the move as a panicked signing forced on us by Gibbs's injury and Santos's poor form. Now that Monreal has prove that he does bring quality and with Gibbs back, my earlier objection is harder to sustain. However, I still maintain that, despite Monreal's quality, it was a dubious signing, especially considering other options and needs.

Let's remind ourselves from the outset that the balancing act is difficult. Clubs need the strongest starting XI they can find, of course, but finding second-string players who offer similar quality but who are willing to settle for coming off the bench is tough. Many such players look around and, to their credit as competitors, see that they could start, albeit for a lesser team. Once Wenger commits to Gibbs or Monreal as a regular starter, or if he platoons them, alternating them so they each essentially share 50-50, we have a dilemma in that one (or both) will be dissatisfied with the role they're handed. While this might motivate each to play to their best, strengthening the squad as a whole, it also poses risks that must be handled carefully.

Would Gibbs be more susceptible to feeling dissatisfied, seeing the position as his and sensing that Monreal was brought on due only to Gibbs's injury? Gibbs and Podolski had partnered well early in the season, but as Podolski's form wavered, the partnership itself faltered. As I've already implied, this seems be on Podolski more than on Gibbs. By contrast, the Monreal-Cazorla partnership arguably seems more stable, based on two's time together at Malaga. Again, though, this might be down more to Cazorla than to Monreal, so it's a bit of a wash. Heck, throw me on at left-back with Cazorla in front of me, and we'll partner well. More seriously, Cazorla seems at his best working as an attacking central midfield role, muting somewhat the question of who plays left-back.

In a more direct comparison, Monreal appears to have an edge, according to his and Gibbs's stats at Monreal rates a 7.31 to Gibb's 7.12. However, look at the clubs each has played against and the ratings each earned. At the risk of being harsh on Monreal, he's faced much-lesser competition than has Gibbsonly Tottenham stands out as a threat. whereas Gibbs has faced two top-four teams (Man City and Chelsea), one that is chasing a top-four spot (Liverpool), and a team favored to win the UCL (Bayern). In other words, against markedly stiffer competition, Gibbs has done well. Were it not for the boost that Monreal's three goals gives him (one against Mallorca in La Liga), Gibbs might very well emerge with a higher score.

Beyond numbers, however, Gibbs is arguably a stouter defender and tougher tackler. I suppose you know which way I lean by now. Gibbs, having just signed a long-term contract and having only lost his position due to injury rather than doubts about his form or class, should be awarded the starter's role. What his means for Monreal is harder to assess. Is he willing to accept a second-string role after having just signed? Does he see himself as Gibb's sub or does he aspire to something larger? On one hand, it's a good problem to have as far as problems go, a significant improvement over watching through our fingers as Santos does whatever he calls what he does. Neither Gibbs nor Monreal seems like the kind to turn this into a distraction, and so it just might be possible for the two to thrive through the mutual competition for a starting spot I've discussed in previous posts.

Given a choice between the two, given that they are so close in quality, I confess that I go with Gibbs. At 23, his development suggests a higher ceiling and long-term contribution than does Monreal at 27. Without promising anything permanent, putting him on threatens no drop-off in quality in the short-term and suggests greater growth in the longer term. I wouldn't be upset to see Monreal feature, but I do believe that the club's best interests are best-served by Gibbs getting the nod.

With nine games to play, it's reassuring to ponder the possibilities rather than dread them. 

16 March 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Swansea (with video): A Dish Best Served Cold

Goals from Nacho Monreal (74') and Gervinho (91') paved the way for a nifty victory at a cold and rainy Liberty Stadium. It may not have been pretty, but three points is three points. With Liverpool losing 3-1 to Southampton and Everton punishing Man City 2-0 despite losing Pienaar to a second yellow about with about 30 minutes to play, it was important to keep them at arm's length and to pull up on Chelsea and Spurs. Heck, City's loss leaves them only five up on Spurs. Whether this lends Spurs further motivation to pursue a second-place finish rather than trying to solidify a third-pace finish remains to be seen. Chelsea hosts West Ham and Spurs host Fulham, winnable games for each.

There will probably some similar talk of Swansea out-Arsenaling us again, but the outcome is exactly opposite of our first Prem match when they stole the away-victory 2-0. The scoreline shows that Swansea had 57% possession, not a stat we're used to seeing. However, they mustered only nine shots and none on-frame, while we made much-more efficient use of our time on the ball, creating 14 shots with 5 on-frame and, of course, two through the back of the net. Monreal's came on a bit of a scrum as Cazorla's pass found its way through a thicket of defenders to Giroud in the box, but the best he could do was poke at it because it was behind him (truth be told, there were two teammates behind Giroud who could have taken a clean shot, but why complain? A goal's a goal). Monreal collected it and shot through the thicket to put it home. It won't show up on the scoresheet, but Cazorla terrorized Swansea all day and could have a couple of goals. Similarly, Oxlade-Chamberlain was bright and focused and struck the woodwork twice.

Shortly after the three minutes of stoppage time was announced, a much prettier sequence came on a break. Giroud  pressed forward and found Ramsey on the right wing, and Ramsey had nothing but time and green space, so he played a ball across the top of the 18 for Gervinho, who did well to collect in-stride and curl past Vorm. It wasn't quite Henry-esque, but there were hints of the classic curling right-footed shot in the side-netting.
All in all, a decent game. We played well and withstood Swansea's attack. Only a Michu shot at 16' or so showed any threat, but it squirmed harmlessly wide. With our game in hand, we now sit two back of Chelsea and four of Spurs. We should know in roughly 24 hours whether this has changed. For now, enjoy a second consecutive clean sheet and strong showing.

15 March 2013

The Spanish Armada

Midway through yesterday's post, I commented on Monreal and his potential ability to negate Michu on the flimsy grounds that having the same nationality as the Swansea striker might give Monreal some kind of edge--and while we're at it, wouldn't the same logic suggest that Michu would have an edge over Monreal, creating a Fibonaccian spiral of edges, one after the other? Anyway, between that and Málaga's 2-0 victory in the Champions League, I was struck by just how dominant Spain has become, not just in international competitions, but also in the Prem. I'm not claiming that I'm onto something new or that you should be amazed at my journalistic intrepidity by any means. I may have just accidentally revealed my secret superhero identity: Captain Obvious. My sidekick is The Oblivious Kid. We're quite a team.

Anyhow, we're all familiar with Spain's performance at the international level, so I'm not going to go into any detail there. Strangely, they haven't won gold at the Olympics, but that's merely a sidenote to the bigger picture. Beyond that, there's Barcelona and Real Madrid, obviously, both still competing and among the favorites to win the UCL. We could have had a Barça-Madrid final last year, and the same could happen this year. With  Málaga's advancing past Porto, La Liga has three teams advancing in the UCL. Three out of eight teams still competing are from La Liga. The Prem, for all of its history and pageantry? None. Yes, yes, three Prem teams persist in the Europa League, but that's small potatoes, a consolation tournament for, let's face it, second-tier competitors, could-be's, and also-ran's. It's one thing to compare the Prem and La Liga top to bottom to see who's better--is it true that La Liga is dominated by two teams, followed distantly by the rest? To an extent, yes, but the same could be said of the Prem. It's a difference of degree, not of kind. The Spanish league is so good, apparently, that many of its players leave La Liga for a chance to play elsewhere. Top to bottom, the Prem is peppered with players who are key to their teams' successes: Azpilicueta, de Gea, Mata, Michu, Reina, Silva, Torres...there are others who feature for smaller clubs and whose impact I could probably do some research on, but you get my point. The influence of Spanish soccer is not confined to Spain, but is infiltrating the Prem.

The reverse--British players venturing abroad--just ain't happening. the only Brit of note playing outside the Prem would be David Beckham, playing for PSG, which even he admits is more about selling kits than scoring goals. There's a smattering of gents playing here and there, but few who register and even fewer at clubs that can claim any notoriety. Partly, this might confirm the superiority of the Prem and the natural inclination to play not just at home, but in the world's best league to boot. Sure, the Prem is also the first-choice destination for a lot of other countries' players as well, lending further evidence to the Prem's eminence. The best of the best, though, arguably either play in La Liga or hail from it: Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta, Falcao, Casillas, Busquets, Alonso, Ozil, Ramos...FIFA's World XI for 2012 consists entirely of players from La Liga. And where would Arsenal be if not for Spanish players? Between Almunia, Miquel, and--wait, I mean Arteta, Cazorla, and Monreal, we rely on Spanish players now almost as much as we've relied on French players in the past. It's not for nothing, either.

Even past the level of individual players or even of teams, the Spanish style of football is seen as far superior to that of any other league. The passing, the dribbling, the technique, the skill--we would be hard-pressed to find another source of footballing-style that matches how they play in Spain. Dispute that if you must, but do so carefully--we at Arsenal, for all of our French connections, arguably play the most "Spanish" soccer of any team in the Prem. It offers a brilliant contrast to kicking the ball very far and hoping it lands somewhere near the goal or giving it to that one guy who dribbles and runs fast and getting of his way.  The Spanish style is a beautiful way to play--motion, fluidity, passing--in American basketball, it's akin to the Princeton offense in which players and ball are constantly moving. When  comes together and all of the elements click, it's sublime. Spain may not have invented total football, but the concept seems to have reached a pinnacle there. It's as much an aesthetic as a philosophy, and it's what makes football so much better than all of the other sports of the world combined. Thanks, Spain. Thanks, Johan.