Showing posts with label Thierry Henry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thierry Henry. Show all posts

22 December 2022

Thierry Henry on Nketiah: "If that guy plays, he scores. Simple".

Now, there has been a lot of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing and, I'm made to understand, garment-rendering over the fact that Gabriel Jesus jetted off to Qatar, barely played, and got injured anyway. Our entire season is falling apart before our eyes. First this. Then, the loss to Juve. Then, the loss to Luton Town. They'e a Championship side. Clearly, Arteta's been exposed as a fraud, and it's all going to get worse when we return to Premier League action against West Ham on Boxing Day because we have only Nketiah to play striker. Hold that thought. No less an expert on playing the position has a few words.

06 December 2022

PSG will prevent Mbappé from eclipsing Henry. Prove me wrong.

Well, it's official. Olivier Giroud is now a better striker than Thierry Henry ever was or Golden Boot wintter Karim Benzema ever will be, at least for country if not for club. That's the only rational, sane conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Giroud has now overtaken Henry as the all-time leading scorer for Les Bleus, courtesy of his goal in France's 3-1 stroll past Poland and into the World Cup quarterfinals. Anyone doing a spit-take with their coffee, tea, or scotch will do well to note that Giroud scored his 52nd goal in just 116 matches. It took that tosser Thierry 123 to score 51. You can't spell "over-rated" be honest, I expected more of letters from Henry's name to appear in "over-rated" and have painted myself in a bit a of a corner here.

23 November 2022

Apparently, Giroud was the striker we needed all along...

Oh, how wrong we were, those of us who slated Olivier Giroud. We hated on him. We doubted him. We insulted and derided him, and now comes our comeuppance. Surely, we will line up dutifully to eat our slice of humble pie or crow or whatever it is one does when one is caught out being so thoroughly wrong. Wrong we all were then, when we blamed him for his goal drought that allowed Leicester to win the Prem. What other conclusion is there to draw from the fact that he's now equalled Thierry Henry for goals scored for the French national team? For those who still doubt his bona fides, he's done it in eight fewer matches than Henry needed. This proves clearly and unequivocally, throughout the space-time continuum, throughout the multiverse, that Giroud is the best Frenchman to play for Arsenal or the French national team. Full stop. End of.

20 November 2022

Poor Pep clutches his pearls as Arteta considers poaching more players...

Okay, so it's an unsourced report, but Football Insider claims that "it is now believed that Guardiola’s side will reject any potential further offers from Arsenal for players who would go straight into their team." It has all of the outward appearances of being complete common sense dressed up as a scoop, but it does conjure up some delicious images of Guardiola furrowing his brow as he wonders who among his current squad see the playing time their former teammates are getting at Arsenal and might start to feel a bit restless at being accessories rather than actual players. Whatever Guardiola and others at Man City have or haven't said, it would be more than a bit rich for either to whinge about Arsenal poaching their players.

18 October 2021

At long last, Vieira returns to Arsenal!

It's true, and not for the first time. Some are saying that he may soon be here to stay. Not me, though. That's a bit of madness, but it's understandable, such is Vieira's legendary status, Arsenal's difficulty in finding his "heir", and the fact that we find ourselves mired midtable, just three points clear of Monday's visitors. Of course, on Vieira's first return to Arsenal, his erstwhile friend, colleague, and compatriot Robert Pirès greeted him with a somewhat impertinent tackle that left Vieira frustrated as Pirès launched a counter that saw Henry feed Fabregas for the opening goal in a 2-0 win, taking us one step closer to that 2006 Champions League final. Ever since Vieira left, we've hungered for someone to fill the role from which he dominated and domineered. Ever since Wenger left, many have wondered if Vieira could return as Arsenal's manager. Come Monday, we have have more (or less) to wonder about.

12 July 2015

The Heir to Henry? Arsenal move closer to signing French striker...

He's French. He's (potentially) undervalued. Plenty of face, solid finishing, room to grow. Hell, he's the next Henry. The only asterisk to append to that claim, apparently, is that he's already delivered one massive season, scoring 27 goals in 31 Ligue 1 appearances, offering a strong comparison to Henry's delivery at the same age when he scored 17 goals in 31 (or 35) Prem appearances. Let's set aside the nonsense, though, shall we? He's not the next Henry, and it's time to stop billing him as such. As it currently stands, he seems to be a very good striker. Last I checked, we could use one of those.

05 June 2015

Thierry Henry's Hand of God, Arsenal, and the FIFA crisis...

Perhaps no footballing moment breaks my heart in as many ways as the controversial goal that France scored over Ireland in the 2010 World Cup qualifier play-off, the goal in which Thierry Henry, as quintessential a Gunner as there may ever be, handled the ball twice before squaring a pass to William Gallas, who scored a crucial goal that allowed France to advance on aggregate over Ireland. My family are from Ireland, and I'll always root for the boys in green. Seeing them miss a chance at a World Cup appearance, seeing them miss that chance through Henry's hand of god, has to stand as one of the most gut-wrenching moments I've experienced as a football fan. To learn that the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) accepted a  £3.6m settlement to stop legal action very nearly breaks my heart.

25 January 2015

Tomáš Rosický, Arsenal legend? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Perhaps no sequence better sums up Tomáš Rosický than that which led to his sumptuous goal. After an innocuous pass that launches an attack deep in Brighton's defensive third, Rosický watches as Giroud's too-cute flick is scooped up, and he pounces on the Brighton defenders too-tame side pass, side-steps a clumsy tackle, and delivers a deft look-away pass to Giroud just inside the area. As three defenders converge (more or less) on Giroud, Rosický floats to the top of the area and awaits Giroud's well-weighted chip, which he coolly volleys home, slicing and swerving around a defender and under the keeper. It's the kind of sequence that Rosický has delivered time and time again—but has he done so often enough to earn a spot among Arsenal's legendary players? Could he enter the hallowed antiquity currently inhabited by the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, and Adams? Why not?

18 December 2014

Grooming the King to be the Manager: could Henry succeed?

Tuesday may have delivered the most-welcome news any Gooner could have heard: the retirement of Thierry Henry from competitive football. Though he may already put himself out to pasture by playing in the MLS for the last four years, he finally made the news official, bringing to an end one of the most illustrious careers in modern football. He goes into the books as Arsenal's most-legendary player, perhaps also topping the list of the Prem's best-ever, and carries a CV that would be the envy of footballers in any league or country. His retirement should be bittersweet, as it closes the book on such a storied career. However, Gooners, always with an eye for an angle, interpret the news as just one more step towards an inexorable reunion—this time with Henry as manager.

14 October 2014

Thierry Henry, Mesut Özil, and the "La Liga" effect

The interlull is very nearly gone, and with it, any fears of fresh injuries to our precious, precious players. Germany face Ireland on Tuesday, but Özil came into the lull pre-injured as it were, and Per has retired from international duty. Oh, and Podolski. Well, maybe he'll get some time on the pitch. Poland face Scotland, but there's a bigger risk of Szcz seeing red than being felled, to be honest. From that, it seems like smooth sailing—almost too smooth if rumours around Welbeck not being injured, Giroud returning to fitness earlier than expected, and Walcott and Gnabry training with the first team are to be believed. Still, despite the bounty of good news, lingering in the back of my mind is Özil's apparent diffidence and ineffectual performance up until the interlull arrived. Set aside the 4-1-4-1, 'why's he playing wide?' whingeing. Don't blame Wenger or Özil; blame La Liga.

01 September 2014

Danny Welbeck= Thierry Henry 2.0. There. I said it.

So, the transfer-window has closed and we have the center-forward we need. He's been signed in Arsène's favorite transfer-fee range, £16m or so.  He's been van Persied into irrelevance, if not oblivion, forced to play wide when his strengths and instincts clearly indicated that he should play through the centre. No, he's not Falcao or Cavani or Costa, but he brings with him buckets of potential that have been left to languish at Old Trafford while he carried water for the likes of van Persie and Rooney. Rather than do so for Falcao, he's seen the writing on the wall and come to a club that can make the most of his prodigious talents. No, he may not boast the stats that other transfer-targets could, but I seem to remember that the same was true of a certain Frenchmen who came into the club and went on to accomplish a feat or two.

26 July 2014

Chambers, Ospina, and my terrible weekend...

Ugh. What a lost weekend. Not only did everyone I know fail to buy me a plane-ticket to New York City and match-day ticket to watch Henry's assist to Wrighty's son, no one else I don't know also failed to buy me the same. Worse, or better, depending on how you slice things, the match itself was a bit tepid, ending in a 1-0 win for the hosts. If there's a silver lining, it's in the fact that Henry showed us all that he still has something to offer, and no Gunners got injured. Whether that counts as two silver linings is too much for me to contemplate, as I'm still recovering from the Tottenham invasion of my hometown, an invasion that culminated in Spurs actually defeating a team in red for once. To top things off, we still don't quite know what if anything is going on with Chambers, Ospina, or anyone else we're apparently pursuing. What a life.

10 January 2014

Thierry sits down with Theo, Ox, and Gnabry [fiction]

     "Serge, Theo, Alex, thank you for meeting me here."
     "Any time, Mr. Henry!"
     "Easy, Alex, you can call me Thierry."
     "I already do!"
     "Yes, yes, Theo, I know. We share a jersey number as well. This is all very good. But listen. We need to talk, and this is why I have brought the three of you here."
     "Where are we sir?"
     "Serge, I'm glad you asked. I—"
     "Dude! Serge! He called you Serge! You're already, like buddies!"
     "Hm? Ah, yes, Alex, we are all friends here. I may have started at Arsenal before any of you were even shaving your chins, but we are all Gunners. This is why we must talk."
     "What about, sir?"  
     "Pffffft! 'sir'? Serge, you muppet, he just said we're friends. I call him Thierry, you call him Thierry."
     "Easy, Theo. He is younger than you; Unlike you and Alex, he and I have never been on the pitch together. It is perhaps natural for him in this moment to be more courteous, is it not?"
     "I guess."
     "Good enough. As I say, we are all friends here, and I believe that part of this comes from the love we feel for this club, does it not?"
     "Yes, sir!—I mean, Thierry!"
     "Hm? Oh, yes! Sorry."
     "This is okay. I want to speak to each of you in turn, but the others must listen, for what I say matters to you all in different ways."
     "Got it."
     "Serge, I will start with you because you are the youngest and newest of the three to play for Arsenal. Calm down, Serge. Exhale."
     "I'm sorry sir—er, Thierry—it's just that, well, you're him. Thierry Henry. You're a legend around these parts, and I—"
     "No, this is not how to think of it. I am like you, a man who loves football and wants to do his best for his club. Is this not true?"
     "Oh, yes!"
     "Very good. Now, you are 18, is it?"
     "And a half!"
     "Yes. Here is what I want you to remember. People are saying many thing good and great things about you. They are saying you could be the next this, the next that. Have you heard these things?"
     "Yes, of course. But I know it is just talk."
     "Good. Do not listen. The best way to become good, which is necessary before achieving greatness, is to ignore what they are saying—do not think about rumors, do not think about the other players they compare you to. These are traps. When I came to Arsenal, I struggled, and they said I wasn't good enough for the Premier League. If I listened, I might have believed. Then, when I proved them wrong, the same people, they said I was the best to ever play. If I believed them, I would have lost my focus, my passion. I would have believed that I was already great. Do you understand?"
     "Yes, but it is hard. I want feedback, support, advice, yes, even criticism. I want—"
     "It is for these things that you must go to Arsène."
     "You mean Mr. Weng—oh. Yes. Arsène. Thank you, Thierry."
     "You will thank me through how you play. Show me that you have listened. You may go. Alex? Alex, where are you?"
     "Here! Here I am, T!"
     "Um, yes, very good. Alex, stay calm. How long have you been with Arsenal?"
     "Two years, five months, three days, 13—"
     "Okay, okay, settle down, now. Your passion for the club is clear. However, you must understand how to balance this passion, this panache, with also élan. Do you follow?"
     "No. What do you mean?"
     "It is one thing to charge in aggressively. I have seen how well you change pace, how you cut inside and go at and blow past defenders. But there is more."
     "What? What more? Tell me!"
     "Yes. You must learn the smoothness, the cunning. Learn when it is to show a je ne sais quoi, as if you are tired or bored so as to lull the defender to sleep. There is sometimes about you a sense of urgency, a sense of NOW! that you wield always when it is better to conceal this so as to seize the moment."
     "How will I know this?"
     "This, my friend, it may only come with time, time on the pitch, time in your life, time with the club. You will learn it when the time is right, and when it is, you will seize it. The words to put it in are hard to find. It comes from loving the game. From loving the club. When you feel it, you will know."
     "I think I see."
     "Do not think. Sense it. Let it flow through you."
     "Got it."
     "Make sure that you do."
     "You may go. Where, now is Theo—ah. Theo?"
     "Theo, you're fast."
     "You noticed."
     "Sorry, mate."
     "As it always is with you, speed is your first choice, but there is more to this. There is a time to run, a time to pause. Too often, you try to simply outrun your mark, but in this you also outrun your own touch. How often have you poked the ball forward only to see the keeper—or the endline—foil you?"
     "A few times, I'll admit, but it's just that these through-balls, sometimes, they're—"
     "It is you whom I have waited the longest to speak, and it is for me you must now wait to hear from. You have been anointed as my heir, but, now, sadly, you must wait. Cruelly, I must say, for you have shown that you know and love this club moreso than others who pretended to. You will come back when the time is right."
     "Again with the time. I sat through this when you lectured Ox. I get it. I—"
     "I'm not so sure that you do. I expect great things from you. So too does Arsène. He sees it in you, as do I. However, do you see it in yourself?"
     "Of course, I do. Player of the Month for December, right?"
     "True, but ask yourself why you play. Is it for these monthly, personal honors, or do you crave something bigger?"
     "What, like a Golen Boot? Absolutely."
     "No. Theo. Please listen to me. If you want Golden Boots and Player of the Month, there are other clubs to play for. Here, at Arsenal, there is a team. It has a story, a culture, a tradition. If all you want are personal honors, you may have to go elsewhere. However, if you want actual glory and honor, you must look deeper within yourself to ask, 'why do I play this game? what gives me joy?' The answer, Theo, must be larger than yourself. Look around you. Bergkamp. Rice. Pires. Brady. Adams. Wright. Vieira. Seaman. Jennings. You played alongside or watched them and others. They taught you."
     "I know these things, Thierry, I do. But—"
     "I understand. There is a balance to strike between personal and shared glories. I know that this unfortunate setback will make you stronger, both on the pitch and inside yourself. For myself, I will see you in August, in September, not as the next Henry, but as you, yourself. As Theo. You have been blessed with great talent, Theo. Blessed. This is a blessing, but also a curse. You have a chance to balance these forces. Use the time you have been gifted. In time, if you use it well, it will both glorify and humble you. Use it well."
     "I will—but, Thierry, I—Thierry? Where did you—Serge? Alex? Did you see where he—man. Heavy..."

19 September 2013

#Henrying and the clarity of Arsène's vision

A bit of mischief was afoot today as all over twitter were different versions of Henrying, taking Thierry Henry's latest goal celebration—coolly standing with one hand on the post, the other on the hip, and just, well, enjoying what it's like to be Thierry Henry. You can find images ranging from the silly to the sublime, whether it's Henry  hoisting the American flag at Iwo Jima, intercepting Maradona's Hand of God goal, or making contact with E.T. It's worth a good laugh or two, as some of the images do put Henry in some silly
situations, but I'll leave it to you to track down your favorites. Yours truly tossed off a few, such as the one to the left in which Henry snuffs van Persie's dive with a palm to the face. His smooth nonchalance stands in stark contrast against van Persie's awkward tumble, not that I'm trying to make any deeper points here.

Actually, come to think of it, I am. For as thrilling as it has been to secure the signing of a player like Mesut Özil, this #Henrying stuff, along with the recent performances of some of the squad's best and brightest, should serve as a reminder that our manager, more often than not, knows what he's up to. Therefore, as his contract-talks heat up, this writer ardently hopes that we'll see Arsène, puffy coat and all, prowling the sidelines for years to come.

The Özil signing, as we all know, was a breath-taking statement of intent as we brought in one of the world's best players. As we've discussed, what is perhaps more significant is less attention-arresting if how well he suits Arsène's vision of how to play football. This technically-gifted, positionally aware, and insightful midfielder possesses all of the traits needed to play the stylish, possession-based football that Arsenal has come to be known for over the last twenty years or so. Also of note? His age. At 24, he joins a core of Gunners entering the prime of their lives. For as much as we might have pined for a Gonzalo Higuain or a Luis Suarez to lead the line, their arrivals might have upset the balance of the squad, not in any dramatic way, but enough to force some adjustments. Özil, by contrast, arrives already understanding, nay, believing, in the movement, the passing, the verve of Arsène's style.

Just as important as his on-field contributions this season will be his influence on the other up-and-coming Gunners with whom he plays, whether it's the service he provides and understanding he develops with Theo Walcott (also 24) or the technique, vision, and methods he shares with Aaron Ramsey (22) and Jack Wilshere (21). Perhaps less directly but no less vital is his relationship with Kieran Gibbs (23), with whom he's already forged a solid tandem as demonstrated by Gibbs's pass to set up Özil's assist against Sunderland or by the constant exchanges between the two against Marseille. Interestingly, Özil has drifted towards the left in the last two matches, giving rise to that Özil-Gibbs partnering.

Lost, then, in all of the hub-bub of the transfer window, a disappointing loss to Aston Villa, signing Özil, and going on a fine run is how well this all jibes with Arsène's vision. We've come 'round full circle in a way. Yes, a dramatic signing is all well and good, but what's remarkable is how vital have been those players whom Arsène found and signed at a young age. As each of them rounds into form, whether it's Ramsey leading the team in scoring and tackles, Wilshere defining his role, Walcott tallying his first goal in thunderous fashion, or Gibbs turning in commanding performances, we're seeing a return to the days of making superstars. Add in Wojciech Szczęsny, age 23, and Jenkinson, age 21, and we're now talking about six starters whom Arsène has brought along, each of whom could become something special.

It's not for nothing that we started this post with Thierry Henry. Before coming to Arsenal at age 21, he had shown glimpses of his potential but erupted into full glory after arriving. Simply put, there is a history of young players flourishing under Arsène, and for as good as Özil had been for club and country before, like Henry, like Bergkamp, like Pirès, he looks set to elevate his game to another level entirely. Along the way, it seems that we're seeing a revitalization of Arsène's commitment to youth and development in the best of ways. It's probably too soon to suggest that this season will be a special one—the squad as it stands is still a bit callow, not to mention thin—but, on the whole, it's well-positioned to restore this club to its former glories. It feels good, to say the least.

Before we sign off, I'd like to invite you to cast your ballot in the Football Blogging Awards, in which this blog is nominated as a best #New blog. To vote via twitter, imply click the FBA image above to vote; enter Woolwich 1886 in the #New category, and you're done. To vote via email, click this link and receive the emailed ballot. In either case, thank you for your support!

21 June 2013

What Higuain's arrival would mean for Theo

We're all suffering from feverish anticipation as rumors continue to swirl around Higuain. I think we'll hear something important today, something more substantial than the stories peddled by The Mirror, Sun, Marca or other tabloid-ish sources. Without going so far as to jinx it, I think the club has been waiting to get past the anniversary of signing Dennis Bergkamp to avoid risking the "anointing" effect. If the signing had been confirmed yesterday, 18 years to the day after Bergkamp had signed, Higuain would then carry the heavy mantle of replicating Bergkamp's feats, style, and glories, and that's just too much to ask of anyone. Look at how Ramsey struggled to "be" Cesc, or how Theo has labored under the "next Henry" burden (something I'm guilty of pushing). Instead of expecting new players to imitate the legends, we'd all be better served by letting them develop their own identities and their own games.

Speaking of Theo, I look forward to signing the likes of Higuain or some other center-forward (I'm going to continue to hedge because I don't want to queer the deal) because how it disabuses Theo of the notion that he should play more centrally. I've long pushed the concept that he should play on the wing--it suits his abilities so much more than playing centrally. He's incredibly fast, largely one-footed, and small. He's at his best running onto a through-ball to finish or to fly down the wing to create chances for others. Put him in the middle, and he all but disappears. His ball-handling is not strong enough to allow him to take a ball from the air or to receive a pass with his back to goal and then dribble through a thicket of defenders.

However, in his defense, the aura of the center-forward position is not to be underestimated. When you think  of the players who have played there in the last decade, you can understand why Theo would want to: Henry. Bergkamp. Van Persie. Wright. It's arguably the most-glamorous position on the field, the one that demands the most attention and that receives the most opportunities. It's like the lead guitar in a rock-band. Theo wants to be that man, but it's just not meant to be (in my opinion). You could almost see him this year craving that role after it was vacated, even more so after each time Giroud or Gervinho squibbed or fluffed or sent one into the cheap-seats. Theo's mind probably raged, "I would have put that home! That should be meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  Makes sense. I remember a few times screaming at the set that I could have finished better than Gervinho did, and I'm a 39-year old with a torn ACL.

If we can bring in someone like Higuain, the knock-on effect will benefit Theo in the long run. No longer will he have so much inspiration to crave the center-position as it will finally be filled by someone who knows what to do and how to do it (I'm sure Giroud will improve on this year's performance, but he'd still need time to change perceptions). Like a lot of us, I've written extensively on Higuain's virtues, but one neglected quality is how he'd mesh with the team. His willingness and ability to share time with Benzema and to defer to Ronaldo suggest that he doesn't have so much of the "me-first" quality that players like Rooney carry. Maybe that's a personality flaw that drives excellence--maybe a dominant finisher needs a certain dickishness as part of the skill-set. Then again, Messi. Moving on. Higuain seems like he can come in without stifling Theo's development, and the two could then form a powerful 1-2 punch. Not hero and sidekick, necessarily, but a working relationship that gives both the space and the touches they will need to score.

Freed from always hoping to play centrally, no longer tempted to drift in to "prove" his superiority over Gervinho or Giroud, could encourage Theo to accept his position as a destiny rather than a fate and would allow Theo to focus on redefining the position. It's not for nothing that he scored so many of his 21 goals from the wing (17, I believe). There are few sights more breath-taking than seeing him bolt down the wing past hapless defenders and curl in through the corner of the box. I've argued that this looks to be a break-out season for the lad, and I believe that pairing with a more-dominant center-forward will help that prediction to bear fruit.

30 May 2013

Theo Walcott, clinical finisher?

Theo Walcott's emergence this year, while hardly a break-out of the kind that former teammate Bale had with Tottenham, has many Arsenal fans drooling at what he might have in store for the 2013-14 season. Playing his first full season out of the long shadow cast by Robin van Persie, he led the team with 14 Prem goals, including three in Arsenal's final four games, each one vital to the team securing maximum points to close the season (he scored the go-ahead game winner in the 4-1 win over Wigan). His 21 goals across all competitions seems to have further strengthened if not secured his status as an elite scorer, but he'll have to show greater consistency and incisiveness if he's to climb the ranks of Prem league scorers. His Prem total, promising though it may be, still sees him in the mixed company of subs, injury-hampered players, starlets, and has-beens.

However, a quick review of his goals and assists on the season, courtesy of XavierGooner14, shows that many of Theo's goals have shown a clinical, even delicate touch, an array of dinks, curlers, and others that float just past a keeper's outstretched fingertips into the back of the net. While they may lack the ferocity or intensity of the howitzers that other attackers unleash, Theo has shown that he has this weapon available and is not afraid to use it. A quick view of the video shows that roughly a dozen of his goals came on well-placed shots rather than power-shots, as Theo looked to put the ball out of the keeper's reach rather than blasting it past him. As gratifying as those cannon-blasts are from a highlight-reel standpoint, a goal is a goal, and nothing is more deflating to a team than to see the ball in the back of their own net.

While it's true that Theo hit a dry-patch, failing to score in eleven matches from February to late April, van Persie, for example, was scarcely better across the same span, scoring once in eleven matches. In fact, according to, Theo still managed to contribute during that patch, tallying four assists to van Persie's one. Of our 12 goals from set-pieces, Theo assisted on four, showing great placement on these and on crosses, putting the ball reliably just outside the six, freezing keepers on the line for the likes of Mertesacker and Giroud to head home. Again from, Theo features in their "Best English XI" on the strength of his 7.4 rating playing from the right.

Further, Theo is developing a signature-move that echoes that of no less a scorer than Thierry Henry--sprinting down the flank, running onto a through-ball, and curling one in off the far-post as a helpless keeper splays and clutches in vain. The more proficient Theo gets at this, and the more renown he claims, the more-lethal he'll be in other ways. That is, as keepers learn to fear that curl to the far post, the more Theo can shift gears, going to the near-post or dinking over a keeper who's committed to stopping that curl.  This might even allow him to build on his 66% shot-accuracy (from squawka).

None of this negates or eliminates lingering concerns over his reliability. Until he can eliminate (or at least reduce the length of) the dry-spells, he won't join the ranks of the Prem's best scorers. He's 24. Van Persie didn't deliver more than 14 Prem goals until he was 27. I don't think we'll have to wait three more years in Theo's case. I think that when we revisit the issue a year from now, we may just be celebrating his break-out season. I, for one, would love to see a pantherine #14 loping down the flanks, terrorizing opposing defenses at the mere thought of what he's going to do next.

09 May 2013

Van Persie predicted 20 goals for Walcott. Walcott has 20.

It would be a stretch to say that Theo Walcott has flourished since the departure of Robin van Persie, but he has had the most-productive season of his career thus far with two games still to play, and he might be emerging from a months-long drought that saw him go eleven appearances without scoring. However, he might just have broken the drought, scoring in consecutive games for the first time since the end of January, when he scored in three games in a row (Chelsea, West Ham, and Liverpool). With Giroud out, Poldi limping along with an ankle injury, and Gervinho, well, Gervinho, we need Theo at his best to get us over the finish line. Even when he wasn't scoring, he has been creating chances for teammates, whether it was in the form of actual assists or in the form of creating space for others to flow into. He did both against Norwich, for example, coming on for the last 30 minute against a team that had parked the bus to defend a 1-0 lead. He used his pace intelligently to stretch their defense out of shape, opening and exposing that back-line for others to exploit. If he can continue to score, he'll offer a lethal three-pronged arsenal to our attack, the likes of which Wigan and Newcastle will be all but helpless to repel. A strong finish this year might propel Theo to a higher level next year.

No-less an authority on scoring goals than Robin van Persie had this to say about Theo in February last year:
I love Theo, I honestly love him. I don’t understand the criticism he gets. He was sharp, he was playing fantastically, and, like anyone, he misses chances. But I miss chances, Cristiano Ronaldo misses chances and Lionel Messi misses chances. It’s life. If you look at his assist rate, it is unbelievable. And trust me, he will score. He will get 20 goals at least every season. Have faith in him. I do.
The references to Ronaldo and Messi are a bit much (even including himself in that class is a bit much), but his point is still valid. Van Persie's hit the nail on the head, at least once. Depending on who you ask, Theo scored his 20th against Man U or against QPR ( credits him with 20 goals, ESPN with 21). Whichever way you slice it, he's scored 20 goals. His last two have come in a classic style reminiscent of the legend many hope he might emulate more often, receiving a through-ball on the wing that he plays back across to the far-post. Henry trademarked this from the left; perhaps Theo will soon do the same from the right, taking advantage of the natural curl a left-footed shot has to put the ball inside the far-post just beyond the keeper's reach.

Theo is still a ways away from making this a signature-move, and it's of course going to be a while before he can pull it off with the frequency or panache of Henry (these last two goals squirted under the keeper instead of curling around him), but how brilliant it would be to see him do so! With Henry's MLS contract set to expire, perhaps Arsenal could convince him to come back to Arsenal as a coach to work more closely with Theo and our cadre of other strikers. In fact, I'd go so far as to ask for this to happen as quickly as possibleas one more inducement to strikers looking for a new home: "Join Arsenal. Contend for the Prem League title. Play Champions League football [ahem]. Learn from Thierry Henry." We could do worse than that, and if the flashes (and occasional stretches) of brilliance are anything to go by, Theo's on the verge of doing quite a bit better.

With error-prone Wigan on the horizon and free-falling Newcastle just beyond, let's see Theo get his first multi-goal game since his December evisceration of the Toon. While we're at it, is there someone out there who can come up with a nickname for Theo that's better than "the Newbury Express"?  Too many syllables. For someone known for his speed, it seems like his nickname should also be fast. One word, one syllable. Flash. Dash. Something.

24 March 2013

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.

09 March 2013

Everton's Tim Howard Broke His Back...

In news that is just terrible for Tim Howard, if not for Everton and U.S. Men's National Team, it's being reported that Howard has fractured several bones in his back. It's apparently not serious but enough to knock him out for at least four weeks, and his return depends more on pain thresholds than it does on threats to his back or spine.  In any case, this of course throws a wrench in Everton's designs on a top-four finish, but that's as much as I'm going to say on that score. I don't ever want to overtake or defeat an opponent through due to injuries; I want to beat teams at full-strength. At a minimum, no one can then say we didn't "really" win because so-and-so wasn't available blah blah blah. At a higher level, wishing harm on an opponent might be good for idle trash-talk but should certainly not become strategy.  It's probably to blame in no small part for Everton's surprising 3-0 loss to Wigan in their FA Cup match. However, Tim doesn't score goals, so his absence really only offers an explanation for part of that score. With their loss, our match with the Toffees is now set for April 16th, right around the time that Howard might be available to return.

As an American, I pray for his speedy recovery. I'm proud and excited to see our boys making news in European soccer, whether it was John Harkes joining Sheffield Wednesday in the 1990's, Jozy Altidore scoring his 24th European goal this year, or Clint Dempsey moving to a bigger club (yes, even though it's Spurs, it matters to this writer. Would I like to see him at Arsenal? Sure. For now, I have to content myself with progress in any form it takes). It's a been a long, slow climb for true football to gain traction in the United States, and I'm excited any time I see one of us making some noise where the sport really matters. I don't think we're ready to claim a spot among the big boys; instead, I think we have to spend a lot more time paying dues so that, if we ever do achieve something, we'll know we've earned it without having to worry that we seem like, well, American tourists or something. As exciting as it is to have former Gunners like Ljungberg or Henry come to the States to play in our league, we're still very much a second- or third-tier league, if that, and I know full-well that these and other chaps come to MLS because they've lost a step but can still run circles around our talent.  We'll get to a point someday when we produce a player good enough to put on an Arsenal jersey, and that will be a proud day for me indeed.

In more-immediate news, there are only two matches that concern us in any way--Spurs at Liverpool, and Chelsea at Man U for their FA Cup match. I'll be hoping for a tie in the first (more on that later) and for a Chelsea victory in the second. You gotta pick your poisons, and spite might be a bitter draught, but I'd love nothing more than for Man U to crash out of two cups in one week and for Chelsea to keep slogging through a congested schedule. Still lots of time for thumb-twiddlin' as regards Arsenal matches, though. Sigh...

14 February 2013

Glory Days

Just kidding.
It was Bruce Springsteen or perhaps Soren Kierkegaard who once said, "time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of...glory days, well, they'll pass you by, glory days..." which brings to mind Thierry Henry's comments about returning to Arsenal some day. For those of whose hearts go all a-flutter at the idea of a pantherine Henry loping down the left wing to once again terrorize defenders and keepers, I have two quick comments: one, he'll be 40 before he finishes his Red Bulls contract. Two, stop living in the past.

Sure, when we compare Arsenal v.2013 with Arsenal v.2004, the differences are glaring. The names roll of the tongue, leaving behind a honeyed ambrosia of nostalgia and wistful longings: Henry... Bergkamp...Pires...Tour...Ljungberg...and the images float before the mind's eye, men in red flitting and galloping , balls darting and rocketing past hapless keepers. It was a heady time. But it's also nearly a decade behind us. The men themselves have receding hairlines and ever-growing paunches. It's sad, but true. However, sadder than that is the fan who talks and thinks only of those glory days. We all know at least one. Hell, we've all been that fan at various points. I remember at one point assembling a roster that we coulda had if only certain players had stayed. The mouth waters at the prospect, and--look!--we only need a few players back! And there are even a few more I left out to consider--Adebayor, Nasri, and Cole may sound like a villainous law firm in a Grisham movie, and I can't quite explain why--but if we could just get the ol' gang back together, we'd be #1 all over again! Feh.

Look. I understand why we talk so much about the Invincibles and the last trophy we've won, the 2005 FA Cup. Those were some great times. However, the good times can't--and shouldn't--last. Part of being a fan is sticking with the team in good times and in bad. If your team is always in first place and wins championships each year, it gets a little less thrilling, and the fans become more and more insufferable, like those who root for the Yankees or Man U. I'm not saying teams should just fall apart once in a while just to keep things interesting, but success and failure rise and fall like [insert poetic metaphor here--tides?]. On that note, if 4th place in the Premier League, 5th round action in the FA Cup, and Round of 16 Champions League qualification 13 years in a row all add up to "failure" to you, I would like just a few of the mushrooms you've been noshing for my salad. The fact that we're in this position, while losing the players we've lost and chasing the bankrolled teams ahead of us as well as we have, without prostituting our club to the first sleazy oil tycoon to ogle us is a testament to Wenger's management and philosophy. Quit your whingeing (did I say that right? I'm a Yank, not a Brit) and enjoy it for what it is (most of the time--stylish, enjoyable footballing.

I'm a Chicago Bears fan--they haven't won Super Bowl since 1986. My St. Louis Cardinals did win back-to-back World Series in 2005 and 2006. The Bulls haven't won a championship since 1997. I cherish those days--and, like Arsenal, those teams are chasing better, wealthier teams while looking anxiously over their shoulders at hungrier teams chasing them. However, there's a limit. I don't sit around waiting for Michael Jordan to unretire or for Mark McGwire to pick up a bat again. It was truly wonderful to see Henry come back last year to score one more vintage goal. I still get a little teary when I see it, but that's more of a curtain-call than a strategy for winning. I hope Henry joins the team in some kind of coaching role, but I digress.

We have a solid team that seems to be getting better at the right time. For all intents and purposes, Giroud, Cazorla, Podolsky, and even Wilshere are still adjusting to a new team. They are gelling well even if they don't offer the same verve or flair of others ahead of us (at the moment). Relax. Enjoy. We are still Arsenal, after all, and we play some of the best football in the league. Trophies will come.