Sunday, April 01, 2007

2001 no longer seems 6 years away...

That is how desperate the situation at High... no wait (forgive me) Ashburton Grove has become. Why do I mention a year normally associated with terrorism? That year encapsulated Arsenal's most embarrassing defeat in modern history - a 6-1 tub- thumping at the hand's of Manchester United. On Saturday lunchtime, Arsenal were treated to a another dose of an only slightly less venomous medicine, this time on Merseyside; in front of Liverpool's new American co owners - one wonders whether Liverpool's breathtaking display has left the Americans shell shocked that there just might be something more exciting than March Madness on this side of the pond?

Whatever the case, on this occasion, the terrorism is not being perpetrated by some Islamic fundamentalist, no - the terrorism is etched between the paper thin lines of Arsenal's permeable defense. These players have hi-jacked the Gunners' back line and transformed what are normal defensive rituals into Sunday morning comedy routines which only serve in aiding the opposition, not Arsenal.

All this was on a day when Arsenal were presented with a precious opportunity to cement their status as the third best team in the Premiership, hence securing another venture onto European shores next season. To say Arsenal "spurned" this chance is the understatement of the season. Suicide would perhaps be a more appropriate description. From the start, Arsenal were 2 yards off the pace, Liverpool harried Arsenal like blood thirsty wolves chasing a pack of hyenas, and the skyscraper they call "RoboCrouch" used his height to great effect. More irony for Arsene to ponder, two players the Frenchman previously rejected once upon a time played a decisive roll in this thrashing, number one being Jermaine Pennant whose spell at Arsenal was tainted with off the field controversy, and number two being Crouch - whom Wenger once described as “a basketball player who can play with his head”. I am sure messas Michael Jordon and Kobe Bryant would be equally flattered if they were on the receiving end of such a back handed compliment.

True defeats in the north of England are no stranger to the north London outfit. This season alone, Arsenal have suffered at the hands of Bolton, Man City, Everton, and of course Liverpool. And that does not account for the last gasp defeat to Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup; which extinguished Arsenal's only semi realistic shot at silverware this season. If Celtic and Rangers joined the English League tomorrow, rest assured there would be no welcome party from Arsene's boys...

So the heaviest Premiership reverse since February 2001. Accurate to point out that on that occasion the scoreline read 6-1 in Man Utd's favor, but way back yonder Arsenal were still second in the league, and were still fighting in the FA Cup and Champions League. This season's traditional northern drubbing comes at a time when Arsenal are officially annexed from every competition, so although 6 years ago Arsenal conceded two more goals, the picture still looked brighter than it does today considering Arsenal's league position and precarious premature exits in the FA Cup and Champions league (two arenas where Arsenal have flourished in recent seasons).

At the beginning of the 2005-2006 season Wenger said he was not one to look back because he harbors too many regrets on previous failures and misfortunes. One can only imagine that sentiment will have been reversed on Saturday as the Gunners provided their fans with an early, not so welcome, April fools joke of a performance!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

My Rant on Fox...

And no! Surprisingly my tirade is not directed at the political vultures at the top of the blood sucking money making tree that is FOX. My venom is not directed at the political architecture of the network which continues to serenely support the Bush administration by constantly parroting the orthodoxes handed out by the Republican party which have led us into the quagmire of Baghdad and beyond.

However, my anger is directed towards one of FOX's sister channels, "Fox Soccer Channel", and more specifically, the Fox Soccer Report, which airs on channel 613 on satellite television at 10pm eastern, 9pm central. This show has ruined the prime principle of soccer broadcasting.

This dilemma compounds, what is to me anyway, a fundamental problem entrenched in the roots of this country. American media is incensed with a fixation of advertising by the mass; cramming as much in to as little time possible in order to make the maximum profit. I'm sorry, this simply does not work when it comes to presenting British soccer.

It may work with the endless carpet commercials sandwiched between the intervals of your Sunday morning conservative radio talk shows, it may work during the non stop commercials which display legal attorneys encouraging people to sue for an arm and a leg. And it certainly may work during the infamous ESPN show called sportscenter, which successfully transforms baseball and basketball highlights into tiny two minute segments representing only a portion of the actual game. But you cannot marginalize soccer highlights into such short segments, that action represents an unforgivable sin on "the beautiful game".

And the pirates that run this show Fox Soccer Report are complicit in this act. They have this wild idea of compiling all the soccer highlight reels from 4 or 5 different countries into a brief one hour segment. This leaves the viewer with a somewhat less than full filed taste in his or her mouth. Showing one clip from a game that lasted 90mins and declaring "the game ended in a tie game" is not the way to report a game of soccer.

Even on the few occasions when analysis is permitted (and believe you me, this is rare) the main correspondent, Bobby McMahon, is only provided with 15 seconds or so to either summarize, or preview a game. He often ends up saying "This is gonna be a close game but I see it going this way..." This is simply not nearly enough time to explain the tactics, players, or sheer mental psychology that surrounds international soccer. You have to allow your viewers to understand the emotional pysche of the respective players before a match, and what sort of tactical masterpieces the managers will employ during the match to win the game. Furthermore, I do not think Americans have grasped the concept of "derby matches", these are games which take place between local rivals where the seed of hatred between the two clubs age back 10s, if not 100s of years. Rivalries which make the Packers - Bears rivalry look like a tussle between two spoiled toddlers on a playground!!!!!!!!!!!!

So to conclude, Soccer is not Baseball. It does not deserved to be presented as if it were a commercial itself, no, this game deserves more respect. I hope Fox Soccer Channel changes its ways and adopts a more rounded approach when it comes to Soccer coverage. I can only hope that Fox allows Fox Soccer Channel the same adequate analysis time they allow Bill O'Reilly on "The Factor". Hopefully with less advertisements, and a more comprehensive analysis of the games at hand, the Fox Soccer Report may one day enter "The No Spin Zone".

(Highly unlikely in our lifetimes, however...)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Three of the Premiership's finest

1. Ronaldo. Simply, without question, the best player in the league right now. Scoring goals and providing assists for fun, terrorizing defenses across the country with his trickery and skill... simply brilliant. This is coming from an Arsenal fan, so believe you me this is hard to swallow; accepting the Mancs have the best player in the league. Nonetheless, nobody can question that fact. When Ronaldo first joined Utd, people accepted the sheer brilliance of his tricks and flicks, but many questions his end product. Too often, his crosses would go astray, or his shots would be miles off target. He was thus nicknamed a "show boater" in the media circles. Despite the rocky start, he has proved everyone wrong this season and could be in line for the Ballon D'or....

2. Dider Drogba. Some People might raise eyebrows here, but I think he has been Mr. Consistency for Chelsea since day one. I vividly remember his last gasp winner at Everton, where he half volleyed an impossible strike into the top corner from nearly 40 yards, as his best (and most important) goal of the season. Time and time again he has come up trumps for Chelsea. I also feel he had added more to his game this year, he tracks back and completes defensive duties for Chelsea, heading away dangerous balls from set pieces and corner kicks. But more importantly, this year Drogba has grown mentally ; it's not just the physical side of his game that has reaped rewards for Chelsea. People have short memories, but I have not yet forgot his "quit threat" last year on Chelsea when he was being lambasted in the newspapers for diving - that explosive confrontation between Mourinho and Bryan Robson might jog your memory! Back then, Drogba gave serious thought to leaving Chelsea, he was emotionally distraught, and people were questioning the $25 million tag he was carrying around with him. But now, few could argue that the Ivorian has set the league on fire, and scored some crunch goals for the blues as they are in pursuit of a record equaling third successive title.

3. Tomas Rosicky. Some people might say, "why not Fabregas?" Or possibly Adebayor - who in turn has had a prolific season. Nonetheless, I selected Rosicky because he has blended an attacking pulse into Arsenal's play which was missing last season. Fabregas is incredible, don't get me wrong, but Rosicky has the ability to inject urgency and a lethal streak into Arsenal's attacks. He is also capable of playing anywhere across the midfield, and behind the striker as an advanced attacking midfielder. He also, like Drogba, is not afraid to fulfill his defensive commitments and this was typified in his epic display away to Bolton in the FA Cup where the Czech was simply on fire ; playing a key role in engineering the opening goal. The highlight of his Arsenal career, so far, came at Anfield. Liverpool had not faced defeat there, domestically, for nearly 6 months. But Rosicky tore Liverpool's porous defense to shreds with his movement, passing, and shooting accuracy. His two goals that memorable night summarize his importance to Arsenal, the ability to get forward from midfield, reek havoc, and score spectacular goals which devastate the opposition. He really is Robert Pires in disguise.....!!!!!!!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"Czech Mate" for Liverpool and Benetiz...

Nothing easier than a first tie away to the cup holders, at Anfield of all places. Nothing could be more simple than going to a team who had not lost at home, to a domestic side, for the better part of 6 months. Add in Liverpool's recent form, 4 wins out of their last 5 in all competitions, Arsenal could not have asked for a more simple, routine outing in their first expedition in a competition they themselves have dominated throughout the 2000's. The performance Arsenal delivered justifies my wry sarcasm.

Arsenal's defending is what impressed me the most during the match. Crouch was well contained, Xabi Alonso was almost anonymous, and Gerrard was a peripheral figure for most of the game. Liverpool had all of the ball for the first 30 mins until we ventured forward and produced and truly stunning strike out of the blue.

That is an ingredient that Arsenal have been missing this season. The patience and maturity to wait for the right moment to come forward and attack; particularly in away matches. The saying "football is like a game of chess" really is true. Teams have to wait for the right moments in a game to push forward for a goal-especially when the game is tight. This is similar to a chess player knowing the right moment to bring out his Queen, or Bishop. Some of the Gunners' defeats this season have seen Arsenal start as the dominant side in the match, Bolton, Man City, and West Ham, and the other teams have come back and hit us where it hurts with swift counter attacks and profited from costly mistakes.

I think the tactical approach to the game at Liverpool was "spot on". We allowed Liverpool all the ball, all the possession, let them shoot wildly from 30 yards, dealt with the second ball from Crouch - and suckered them on the counter attack. If only we could treat every away game this way, especially against the so called "physical teams" in the Premiership, we might even be in the thick of the title race.

Nonetheless, yesterday's performance was a strong suggestion that Arsenal can, and will win silverware this season. I have not totally written off our chances of catching Chelsea, if they continue to stumble, we could steal second place this season. And if we could win a trophy to accompany the league performance, that would spell a successful season for the gunners. Whether that be in the champions league, FA cup, or carling cup.... who knows, what is for certain is that yesterday's annihilation of a team who not only were holders of the FA Cup, but who are above us in the league, proves Arsenal are ready to re-launch their season. This coupled provide Wenger with the perfect platform to make 2007 a year to remember for Arsenal, and abolish some of the more painful memories of 2006.....
...especially that night in Paris!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The plot of the ever going Managerial Merry go round thickens...

Why does irony consistently personify itself in pure form in the footballing world? The phrase "Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction" keeps appearing in the bedazzled minds of footballing fans across the planet, the question just reared its ugly head once more. This time last year, had you placed a bet that Pardew would leave West Ham and join Charlton, and Curbishley visa versa, you would have probably been laughed at or told that you had a screw loose somewhere upstairs. But as of Christmas eve, a reality check was needed for both sets of fans of these two prestigious London clubs. Roughly half a year after his emotional, and slightly suspicious departure from Charlton Athletic after 15 years at the helm, Alan Curbishley has taken over at West Ham. And take a wild guess who has just recently replaced his tenure at the Valley? None other than West Ham's recently axed boss, Alan Pardew.

They may share the same first name, but their styles of management differ vastly, in my opinion. Curbishley is the embodiment of Mr Consistency, play it safe, a restricted... cautious approach. Whereas on the other hand, Pardew is a rip roar gung ho type of person who at one point had over six strikers on the books at West Ham last season. This dogged approach led West Ham to a respectable mid table finish last year, and a matter of milliseconds away from the FA Cup, ruined by a Steven Gerrard blockbuster.

Given this, it will be very interesting to see how both clubs respond to the man management styles of either Gaffer. There will certainly be more immediate scrutiny on Curbishley at West Ham, given their steep footballing tradition - coupled with the fact that billionaire Icelandic entrepreneur has just taken over the club (the man who showed Pardew the door with no hesitation). Despite that, there could be more long term pressure on Pardew at Charlton. The reason I say this is because of Charlton's recent antique-like premiership stability; if Charlton are to go down, Pardew will shoulder the majority of the responsibility - although his two predecessors (Reed and Dowie) haven't exactly done him any favours in the league table or transfer market. Charlton's supreme expectation of their Premiership status will keep that sand clock running in the back of Pardew's mind. His desire for attractive football and a rip roar mentality may have to take a back seat to common sense, and reality.

That reality is, in fact, that both managers are under immense pressure to reverse the fortunes of their respective clubs. The pair go head to head in February, we should have a clearer picture by then of the pending fate of Curbishley and Pardew who have just exchanged a totally unexpected round of musical chairs.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Bald Eagle, Iain Dowie, is en route elsewhere

The debate will rage on and on throughout the 21st century. Will air travel become more, or less expensive. That is the question Charlton left themselves with today with the "hasty" sacking of Iain Dowie. Critics may suggest that putting the Bald Eagle, Dowie, in an opposite "flight path" (aka - unemployment) from the London club may prove a costly decision. Others, like myself, may argue "au contraire". I think Charlton have done the right thing by clipping this bald eagle's wings...

Animal analogies aside, the case for and against sacking managers early leaves us with a relatively evenly balanced scale, on either side, with positives and negatives galore! If you, the club, are thinking about the "long term" future and security of the football club - many suggest that "sticking it out" with managers is the best way to go. A la Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, par exemple. But some recent examples prove that it is not always the worst idea to play a little cloak and dagger. Newcastle could point to their upturn in fortunes last year, when they axed the vastly unpopular Graeme Souness. Additionally, Liverpool could point to their Champions League campaign of 2005, after the slightly controversial sacking of the hit and miss Gerrard Houllier (although he had been at the post, full time, since 1998). The irony of those two examples are, that both supporters of - Liverpool and Newcastle - are starting sing those deadly chants of "We want ..... Out"! That fateful chorus usually spells the end for MOST Premiership managers, time will only tell if either of those two lambs are sent to the slaughter house.

But back to Charlton, specifically, I think they have made the wise choice. Charlton Athletic have looked a distant, pale shadow of their former selves this year and their performances have matched their run of results ; deplorable. The defending away to Wigan was like watching the Faroe Islands (dare I say it!). The supporters, somewhat ironically, have been right behind Dowie - but all those years of mediocre consistency, and typical sonic the hedgehog like starts to campaigns, with Alan Curbishley at the helm - have led the Charlton board to yield the all too familiar premature axe. So Dowie is the first casualty of the Premiership campaign. Who will be next... Roeder or Benetiz... cheerio or adios... I wonder....???

Friday, August 25, 2006

Arsenal must hold on to Reyes and Cole

With the transfer deadline looming, Arsenal FC have only bought one player - Tomas Rosisky. The Czech international joined for an undisclosed fee, thought to be in the region of around £7 Million. This is a notable capture for Wenger; the 25 year old was a star performer at the World Cup... scoring a memorable goal against the USA (YESS!!) in one of the opening games.
Despite this high class snag, Arsenal have lost no fewer than 3 first team squad members this season. Sol Campbell, Robert Pires, and Dennis Bergkamp have either called it a day (the non flying Dutchman) or moved on to pastures new. Add this to the significant loss of Patrick Veiria last year... along with the other notable departures in recent seasons... the likes of Ray Parlour, Edu, Wiltord, Keown... Arsenal have lost the majority of that great side which dominated the early 2000's era with 2 Premier League triumphs... and 3 FA cups. The word "EXODUS" (yes note the capitol letters) springs to mind as if it were a Sheppard exercising a massive cull on a herd of diseased Sheep whose wool was no longer good enough for processing...

Fancy analogies aside, I'll get right to the point. Arsenal need a stronger squad in order to compete with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, and least of all... Manchester Ung a good example. Add that to the departure of Sol Campbell, the injuries to Senderos, Lauren, and Clichy... only the World Poker champion himself would wage with such odds of offloading such a prized commodity like Cole to one of your biggest rivals... As for the young Spaniard, Reyes, it is true he has not quite found his feet at Arsenal, but he is merely 22 years old. Thierry Henry is 28 and the Arsenal Boss is speaking about him as being Arsenal's future... if that is the case, Reyes must be a figment of Arsenal's imagination - he has the potential to be as good as Henry, international experience, can play in multiple positions, is 2 footed, and he has many more playing years on his side compared to Henry. To sell Reyes would be 4 steps backwards... and we cannot afford that right now, that really would be "going back in time".

Your move, Monsieur Wenger.
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