Monday, June 30, 2014

On Suarez's Fangs + World Cup Recap

Been off duty for the past few days on account of my North Indian travels, trekking, drinking and making fun of Punjabi men listening to Honey Singh, while making sure that the Punjabi men can't hear me making fun of them. It won't result in a fight. It will result in a massacre. 

Anyway, onto things football related, and unfortunately, while the World Cup is proceeding entertainingly, Luis Suarez is being spoken of more than the actual matches. The truth of tabloid journalism plaguing football is that controversies take precedence over the actual game, and so if Luis Suarez bites an opposing team player, for the third time in his career, most of the news is devoted to him. 

So let's talk about that for a bit. The first thoughts that come to mind when thinking about Suarez biting Chiellini are something along the lines of 'that's pretty fucking weird'. Period. I mean this is a grown man biting someone. It's as ludicrous as it is scandalous. The fact that it was in the middle of a hugely important game, a must win, makes it all the more inexcusable. In the light of the same, FIFA banning him for 4 months from any football related activity seems quite alright. 

I get Uruguayan supporters supporting him, especially considering the way they got knocked out of the World Cup. I get Liverpool fans supporting him. He's a fantastic player, a player who almost single-handedly got them close to winning the Premier League title when people didn't think they'd even qualify for the Champions League. Football has always been a game of Gods, we worship them, love them and forgive their indiscretions. Eric Cantona kicked a fan in the stadium, Zidane headbutted a player, and these guys are still thought of as all time greats. So I get it when fans of the player want to support him. But any statements that the ban is for too long, or the scrutiny too harsh for a bite, 'it's only a bite after all' are unfounded and kind of devoid of the point. 

Luis Suarez bit someone! This is a grown man biting another man, something 5 year olds don't do normally. And he's almost made a habit of it. To put it in another context, imagine you walking into office tomorrow, under a lot of pressure, and biting someone? In what world is that acceptable? As oft-mentioned, football at the end of the day a profession, and Luis Suarez is a professional. Can you think of any profession wherein you can one fine day just bite a rival? Yup, didn't think so. 

There was an article published in the immediate aftermath stating that 'it was only a bite', arguing for some perspective on the grounds that it's not as if Suarez broke someone's leg, or injured someone in a gruesome manner. While all that is true, and my personal belief is that when a player like Ryan Shawcross breaks someone's leg the punishment should be a lot longer than the three match ban, it doesn't take away from the fact that biting is not acceptable in general everyday life, let alone in football. Suarez has missed an awful lot of football, something which could have been avoided by simply not biting another human being. It really can't be that hard. Look, a player is in front of you, all you have to do is not bite him. It's that simple. Normal adults don't do it, children don't do it, and most domesticated dogs don't do it.

The worst part about this entire affair is the only reason Suarez is even being offered any kind of support is that because he is an exceptional player. Imagine if Chamakh had bit someone, would he receive similar support? Our footballing culture is such that in 4 months time, when Suarez steps back onto the pitch, he'll be given a heroes welcome, and the sad irony is that most people would want a player of his talent playing for their team. He's a fantastic footballer, a winner, although what part of biting someone leads to a goal being scored, I'll never know. If anything is clear is that Suarez needs some form of counselling, and hopefully 4 months is adequate time to exorcise his inner Edward Cullen. 

Now speaking about actual football, Columbia and Brazil are through to the quarters, along with Netherlands and Costa Rica. Brazil beat Chile on penalties, and in a hugely entertaining game, Chile deserved to win as much as Brazil. They hit the post in extra time, and in the penalty shootout. Sanchez of course hit a lovely goal (can we please get him Arsene?), and then missed a penalty. 

The other team which really did deserve to go through was Mexico. Dos Santos scored a really lovely goal, and the Mexican defence almost did a brilliant job keeping out the Dutch-scumbag duo of Robben and Robin van Persie. It's really hard to like a team with a player like Robin in it, and when you add a disgusting player like Robben to the same team, it makes for my most hated team of the tournament. The first goal scored by Netherlands was a pretty good one actually, Sneijder shooting a scorcher, despite the fact that it was a defensive lapse. The second Netherlands goal, a penalty was one that can easily be avoided. Robben had been diving through the entirety of the match, and of course he was going to go down with the slightest of touches. The defender should obviously have been more careful since Robben's thieving reputation precedes him. Could Robben have stayed on his feet since the touch was minimal? Of course. Can anyone expect him to? Of course not. The defender really should have known better, and he is at fault for conceding a penalty in the dying stages of the game. It was a really cruel blow to the Mexican team, a team that clearly deserved much more. Alas, such is life.

And in the final match of the night (one that I kept napping through, stupid time difference), Costa Rica beat Greece on penalties to advance to the quarterfinals. This has been an absolute dream journey for this little team. Even if they don't progress any further (and I really hope they do), this World Cup will be memorable for this little team that could. Rewind to even a month back, and no one would have believed that in a group which included Italy, England and Uruguay, Costa Rica would be the team that reaches the quarters. They're not the most talented of the lot, but it's a team that's much greater than the sum of its parts. There's clear cohesion, desire and in a World Cup where players are being paid a bonus of 3 million just to play, a team like Costa Rica is heartening to see. That's really what football should be about. Of course, it does help that the Arsenal youngster is the star of the team (even if he was anonymous for large parts of last nights game). Hopefully he'll put in a great performance in the quarters.

Tonight we've got France v. Nigeria and Germany v. Algeria, the outcome of both matches not particularly hard to predict. I'll write in tomorrow on the same. Try not to bite anyone in the meanwhile. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thoughts on England - Colour Me Impressed; Joel Campbell

Since no club football is currently underway, and the transfer window only seems to affect my blood pressure (even though I'm only 23, the glorious life of an Arsenal supporter), I suppose it's quite alright to blog about the World Cup. While I am rooting for Germany (despite their lack of striker I'm still a proud owner of a 'Go Germany' t-shirt), I've been following England at every major tournament since Euro 2004. Some form of colonial hangover I guess. But anyway, after last night's match some thoughts regarding this England team need to be penned down. 

Through the past decade or so, England have been tedious to watch, a tired, ageing, boring beast which finally did what it had been threatening to do for years by putting us all to sleep at the Euros in 2012. You remember that don't you? Their football template was an eerie replica of Chelsea's Champions League winning one. Defend for 90 minutes, hope and pray that someone scores, while putting audiences in the stadium and at home into a deep slumber from which there was no awaking. By the time the penalty shootout occurred against Italy, Englishmen, football fans, and Amnesty International were all begging for the torture to end. 

So last night's starting 11 and it's attractive brand of football was surprising and uplifting at the same time. Roy Hodgson's plan was simply taking the best players of England's second best club last season and letting them have a go at it. And it worked.....well almost. Sterling and Sturridge mostly showed what all the hype was about and it's a testament to Brendan Rogers that he took somewhat raw players, and converted them into almost world beaters. England did almost everything right, except for you know, winning the actual game. 

England's deficiencies last night were the ones everyone was wondering about even before the World Cup started. The questions regarding the defense, the midfield duo and Wayne Rooney reared their ugly head once more, and England's loss was arguably down to these factors, rather than the team's attacking performance.
First and foremost, Gerrard and Henderson do not work as a midfield duo as far as the English team is concerned. It worked wonders for Liverpool, but Liverpool played a different style, a high press game against the better sides. Gerrard and Henderson are both fantastic players, but last night the central midfield seemed non-existent. I love Stevie G, but he cannot control the game by himself (like a certain Pirlo can). Henderson's game on the other hand is based on his athleticism and stamina. Constant lung bursting runs is what makes Henderson the player he is, but he is not a controller of the game. He's not someone who can pull strings in the midfield, who can be that metronomic passer who can quicken the game, and slow it down when need be. Jack Wilshere, despite his lack of form, is a much better partner for Steven Gerrard since together they can control play. Wilshere's substitute performance was largely bland, but no more so than Gerrard and Henderson. It might be time to try experimenting. 

Secondly, and this part is laced with irony, Ashley Cole was missed. For all of Leighton Baines' attacking talent, for large parts of the game there seemed to be no left back whatsoever. Italy's two goals came from the left hand side, a flank which was criminally left undefended. If England have any chance of progressing, the the left flank needs to be sorted out.
Which brings me to the final problem of Wayne Rooney. Despite his sublime assist last night, he was practically useless and a defensive liability. His work rate was poor, and for the most part he seemed as if he was struggling to keep up with the younger attackers. The left wing isn't his preferred position, and while behind the striker maybe, Sterling did a brilliant job in that position. Although, hope can be found in the fact that Sterling was at his best when drifting on to the right hand side. So perhaps Wayne Rooney can play centrally, because he was damn near garbage on the flank. All sorts of lovely questions Roy to answer. 

However, the most curious aspect of England's performance last night was that I was impressed by their fun, vibrant, attacking play. I wanted them to win, want them to progress and genuinely want to watch more of them. When was the last time anyone could say that about the English football team?

Joel Campbell

Onto things related to Arsenal, our Costa Rican player who has never donned an Arsenal jersey was the best player last night, and arguably thus far in the still nascent competition. Full of energy, technical ability and running, Joel Campbell almost singlehandedly provided for the spanking of Uruguay which no one could have predicted.

A beautiful goal, an almost audacious attempt at goal from 30 yards out, and a sublime assist made up his man of the match performance. Most people assumed that when Wenger sent him out on loan last season to Olympiacos, it was because he wasn't highly regarded and was probably not going to cut it in the Premier League. I mean, Ryo Miyaichi was preferred over Joel Campbell. But a brilliant season for the Greek champions, including a terrific performance against Manchester United in the Champions League means that he has fought his way back into contention.

Last night was another reminder that Joel Campbell brings his A-game to the big matches. While all Arsenal transfer talk surrounds a new striker, perhaps a left winger and squad depth, it's interesting to note that we do have a player on our books who can perhaps prove to be a valuable commodity in the said positions. Joel Campbell has announced his arrival with a bang and he's one player I'm excited to watch more of. The fact remains that another one or two performances like last night, and we're going to see him in an Arsenal jersey by the time the 2014-15 season is underway. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

It Hurts, But Cesc Fabregas Wasn't a Priority

I was made aware of the much dreaded event yesterday, when the Cesc Fabregas page on Facebook was updated with him wearing that hideous blue jersey (as seen above). By now it's common knowledge that Arsenal had a first refusal clause in the event that Fabregas leaves Barcelona, and we decided not to utilize it. 

Of course, as is normal these days, anything and everything leads to internet outrage, so while there were random news articles where disgruntled Arsenal fans were burning his No. 4 jerseys on one hand, #WengerOut started trending on twitter on the other. And while I don't condone the irrational, melodramatic morons plaguing social media, I understand the outrage for the most part. 

Here was a player who joined us at 16, played for us for 8 years, became our Captain, and left apparently to 'go home'. He was a fan favourite, and a lot of what he did on the pitch left supporters awestruck. To see him move from Barcelona to a club like Chelsea, park the bus instead of playing football, that too for the douchiest bus conductor in town (I'm looking at you Jose), it's all too painful for any Arsenal supporter to handle. It doesn't require too much creative thinking to picture Mourinho instructing Fabregas on the pitch, and this coupled with the knowledge that WE could just as easily have bought him, well it's enough to make a person sick. 

I suppose some of the outrage also arises from the fact Chelsea lost Lampard, and quickly and decisively replaced him with a world class player, showing the kind of incisiveness in the transfer market that Arsenal have never shown. At time of writing, Chelsea has already bought two of the most coveted players in world football, while Arsenal is being linked with every footballer, non-footballer, sweeper, etc. under the sun. This coupled with the fact that we never did get over Fabregas, leads to justifiable anger and frustration.

That being said, once the emotions are on the wane, it is imperative that one look at the entire situation from a logical point of view, from the manager's view of things. Before the entire Fabregas saga came into being, what would any Arsenal supporter say upon being asked what the teams biggest needs in the transfer window are? The answer is straightforward and there seems to be a broad consensus on the following: 
a) A Striker to complement and be an alternative to Giroud; b) a Right back to replace Sagna; c) a holding midfielder; and d) a back-up keeper

The availability of Cesc Fabregas does not change what the current Arsenal squad needs. Our striker woes are well documented. Giroud, despite my great love for him, isn't the type of striker who scores in the biggest of games, nor can he play every game of the season without burning out. We need another striker, a better striker, to both complement Giroud and replace him when needed. Even Giroud seems to think so. Since the departures of Sagna (with a heartwarming farewell post, I might add) and Fabianski, we need a first choice right back and a back-up keeper. And while I love Arteta, he's not getting any younger and we need a player in that holding midfield position alongside Aaron Ramsey. 
As far as getting players for essential positions is concerned, we've got our hands full. 

If we look at Fabregas, which of the above needs does he satisfy (and make no mistake, these are needs). You can make an argument that he can replace Arteta, and sure he may even do a decent job in that position. But if your biggest criticism of Arteta is that he lacks strength and pace, Fabregas isn't exactly an upgrade. Put it another way, if the question was whom would you rather have protecting your back four, a player in the mould of Lars Bender (used as an example only) or an attacking player in the vein of Fabregas, the answer in all likelihood would be the former. 

Additionally, Cesc Fabregas is first and foremost an attack minded player, and Arsene Wenger got the best out of him by building an entire team around him. And Fabregas would be back playing at Arsenal, if only we hadn't bought another player to build the team around for 42 million pounds just last summer. Fabregas leaving left a creative void which Santi Cazorla couldn't fill, but a certain Mesut Ozil can. And based on the evidence of last season, Wenger plans to build the team around Ozil's attacking talents. It doesn't make much sense to spend more money to reinforce an area of the team where you already have a world class player. 
As far as the concerns about squad depth is concerned, attacking midfielder is perhaps the one position where we have the most depth in the form of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Chamberlain and even Aaron Ramsey. All these are good players, while Wilshere and Chamberlain aren't even the finished products. Arsene Wenger may get shtick for being loyal to his younger players and nurturing them, sometimes at the cost of the team, but when the players being preferred show talent (as Wilshere and Chamberlain have), it's counterproductive to buy another player for that very position. Aaron Ramsey is the most recent example of trusting a young player to play at a top level. 

The cold hard truth is that an attacking midfielder isn't our priority this summer, even if it is Cesc Fabregas. Arsene Wenger's priorities in terms of squad improvement lie elsewhere. And in a small way, he owes it to us, the fans, to do a good job in the transfer window. We (well most of us anyway) trust him if he feels that Fabregas isn't needed, but he must buy the players that are. It's not too much to ask for. 

Additionally, I hope that Barcelona is finally seen as the two-faced, disgusting, hypocritical, club that it is. For years, the players and the club administration poached Fabregas, not missing out on any chance to get him to the club. A player whom they didn't need, a player who wouldn't really fit in was scouted and seduced with terms such as 'home' and 'Barca DNA'. Where's that Barca DNA now? You bought him because you could, then tossed him aside because you realised you made a mistake in buying him. Barcelona is just like Real Madrid wherein the club buys some of the world's best footballing talents merely because it can. At least Real Madrid isn't hypocritical about buying stars, unlike Barcelona which shrouds the entire affair in some sort of footballing values driven affair. 

As for Cesc Fabregas, I wish he had gone to some other club. It wouldn't bother anyone even a little bit if he had gone to PSG, Juventus or some other European heavyweight (and there would be offers from other clubs for a player of his calibre). But the fact that he chose to go to a rival club stings. I suppose that is Fabregas' decision, and we can scream and shout all day long, but that doesn't change the fact that Fabregas made the decision to go to Chelsea. When he returns to the Emirates he won't be welcomed like the hero he once was. I still think he's an amazing player and I wish him well, but in simple terms, he isn't our El Capitan anymore. And personally speaking, I love our current No. 4 a lot more than our previous one anyway. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

To Cesc or Not to Cesc

Apologies for the poorly worded title. Although given that the number of rumours pertaining to Cesc Fabregas' future have reached ridiculous levels, it's almost as if I feel obliged to write a Cesc related article bearing a ridiculous title.

So here's all what has been said thus far. Sky reports that Cesc is set to leave Barcelona and return to the Premier League, and the news article begins with a dubious 'Sky Sports news understands that Cesc Fabregas is pregnant'. Okay I made the last word up. But anyway, the gist is that they 'understand' that Fab is to leave Barcelona this summer, and the Premier League is his preferred destination. The Telegraph reports that Chelsea is going to offer the chance for him to return to London, while also reporting that Arsenal have no plans to sign up despite having a buyback clause. Meanwhile, Mirror reports that Manchester City is going to rival Arsenal in a bid for him, while in another headline it also reports that Manchester United and Chelsea are leading the race to sign him. Oh and to top it all The Independent states that Liverpool are leading the race to sign up. No wait Cardiff are in pole position to sign him since Vincent Tan has a huge crush on him (sorry, couldn't resist).

It seems that crazy season has already begun. The sheer quantity of articles pouring from every tabloid is mind boggling. For instance, the Barcelona President very publicly came out and stated that Fabregas is not for sale. But who cares about actual sources when there is fun to be had and papers to be sold to excited club supporters by telling tall tales, typing them out while coolly sipping on beer (in my head at least tabloid writers drink a lot of beer at work). I suppose I shouldn't be negative since news items like these give us football fans something to do while waiting for actual transfers to happen and the World Cup to begin.

First and foremost, why would Barcelona want to sell a player of Fabregas' calibre anyway? As any Arsenal supporter will tell you, they spent years poaching him in the most insidious of ways. After several seasons of the 'will-he-won't-he' drama playing out, much to the heartbreak of Gooners everywhere our El Capitan left back in 2011. It seems rather odd to me that Barcelona would want to sell one of the best players in the world (despite a few lacklustre performances) merely three seasons after purchasing him. Especially since Xavi is at an age where he's closer to a walking stick than a new pair of studs. Wasn't Cesc supposed to be his heir anyway?

I suppose there can't be smoke without fire, and assuming that Barcelona are willing to sell him this summer, I have a few thoughts about a potential return to Arsenal. If Arsenal do have that buyout clause, I'd walk right up to Arsene Wenger and say 'Get him back!' It's Cesc Fabregas! The main reasons are mostly emotional. He may have been a Spaniard from Barcelona, but he is an Arsenal man. In his first season at Barcelona, where his license to roam was greatly diminished, there were broad statements that he had become too 'Arsenal' to play in Pep Guardiola's system. Simply put, Arsene Wenger allows his players to express themselves, and there is no greater example of a player truly expressing himself than that of Fabregas. What he did on the field, was at times, no less than magic. He was our Captain at the age of 21, he lead the team even though he was essentially a child, a year younger than my current age. You could see the passion he played with, and nearly every Arsenal supporter was on the verge of tears when he decided to finally leave.

So yes, most of the reasons for bringing Cesc back are emotional. It would kill us to see him playing for a rival. But more than that, there are footballing reasons as well. This might sound slightly un-Arsenalish, but when you do have the opportunity to purchase a world class talent, you simply must make the most of it. If the transfer of a Mesut Ozil could raise the positivity levels to around the club to ecstatic last season, then the return of Cesc Fabregas would receive no lesser than thunderous applause. There's no doubt that he'd improve any team he played for, so why should our prodigal son not improve our own team. The questions of 'where would he play' are too premature. A player like him would find a way in our team, and he's versatile enough to play in a variety of positions. Think about it, he's played on the wing, in central midfield, as the classic No. 10 attacking midfielder with a license to roam and even as a False 9. There's also the problem that he might usurp another player's position, I mean it's not as if we have a lot of injuries throughout the season, and our Ramseys and Ozils keep playing game after game after without tiring or getting injured.


You can never have too much of a good thing. Granted, our team is filled with midfielders. But at the end of the day the only question that needs answering is whether he would improve the team? The answer in my opinion is undoubtedly so.

Isn't it time our El Capitan returns home?