Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chambers Arrives at English Prices

Arsenal.com finally confirmed what Arsene Wenger had already confirmed a day or two ago, with Calum Chambers completing his transfer to Arsenal. This is now our fourth signing in what has possibly been our most productive transfer window ever. Chambers is essentially a backup for now, to cover the positions of right back, centre back and central midfield, and knowing our ever continuing romance with injuries, he's bound to get more than a few games this season. 

A fee rumoured to be around £11 million, potentially rising to £16 million has been mooted, and while that's definitely steep for a 19 year old with limited top class experience (which I shall get to in a bit), we're paying more for potential rather than performance. Chambers has played against us and in that game he seemed like a pretty solid right back, and his versatility means that he provides both competition and backup at several positions. This is actually a typical Wenger signing. The first two signings this season, Sanchez and Debuchy were full internationals with a wealth of experience in top flight football (not very Wenger-esque) . Ospina was a typical, bargain gem, but with Chambers, Wenger has once again spent big on potential rather than on experience. 

Case in point, take the two former Southampton youngsters on our books, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Walcott came in as a 16 year old, for a cool £9.1 million, while we coughed up roughly £12-15 million for Chamberlain. Walcott of course has more than justified his transfer fee, and is a guaranteed starter when fit. And although Chamberlain has yet to justify a high transfer fee, he's only 20 and the potential he has shown thus far suggests that he's going to follow in Theo's footsteps. Of course it's going to take time for Chambers to start playing regularly, let alone performing regularly. It took Walcott a good 4-5 years before he started contributing regularly in terms of goals and assists, and as a defender, it's naturally going to be a while before see young Calum perform regularly. What his final position is going to be is anyone's guess, but it has been mooted that he could be a future centre back or a holding midfielder. 

Of course, Chambers coming in means that Jenkinson's game time is going to radically be cut short. It has been mooted that Jenkinson will go on a loan, rather than sold, and West Ham seem to be ahead of the pack in achieving his transfer. It's a shame really. While he hasn't been a failure, not even close to one, he hasn't shown enough to be a regular starter. With Debuchy being the first choice right back, Jenkinson would only be a backup and with the arrival of Chambers, perhaps not even that. At his age he needs to be playing regularly and that's why a loan move might do him a lot of good. It hasn't been suggested that he's going to be sold, and this maybe a make or break season for him. If he performs regularly, at a level required while out on loan, he'll definitely be called back to his parent club. Wenger trusted him enough to give him a long term contract in December 2012, and if Chambers does end up playing in a position other than right back, as has been suggestion, Jenkinson may go on to become our first choice right back for years. I'd definitely like to see that happen. 

Now onto two things not exactly Arsenal related. One of course is about the mass exodus at Southampton. Lambert, Lallana, Shaw, Lovren, Chambers have all left Southampton, with potentially a few more on their way out as I type this. That's almost an entire team! One decent season, and teams above them have pounced like vultures to rip apart a good team. One can't help but feel bad for Southampton supporters. By all means they have a lovely set of supporters, and had a good team filled with home grown players, who played nice football. Southampton are unfortunately a victim of their own success. Usually teams unable to compete at top financial levels, are robbed of their stars (something I've witnessed first hand as an Arsenal supporter) but this is a baffling case where an entire team has been dismantled. If the club and the manager's policy is that they don't want anyone who doesn't want to play for them, it's courageous, daring and stupid all at the same time. Hopefully, Southampton will bounce back. They have a good academy and they've managed to get top level prices for every player they have sold. If all the money in is put to transfers, that's a massive £100 million the manager has at his disposal. 

Which brings me to my final point about the ludicrous prices for English talent. We bought Chambers, a 19 year old right back with very limited League experience and no European experience whatsoever for £16 million. Shaw, a left back was bought for £30 million. In comparison, Debuchy a right back, a full French international in the prime of his career was worth only £10 million. Lallana, a 26 year who scored 9 goals last season, never started for England in the World Cup was bought for £25 million quid. Sanchez scored 19, got his country to the Round of 16 and cost a mere £7 million more. Toni Kroos cost £5 million less than Lallana. The strangest bit is that English players have always been outrageously expensive, and sometimes it almost feels like they're simply bought at silly prices just by glancing at their nationality. Ashley Young and Stewart Downing both cost £20 million, while a player like Andy Caroll has raked up roughly £52 million in combined transfer fees (£35 million: Newcastle to Liverpool + £17 million: Liverpool to West Ham). The entire thing becomes a farce when you look at England's rubbish performance at the World Cup. These players, bought at huge prices all contributed to a grand total of zero win in three games and two goals. Enner Valencia, a £12 million buy for West Ham scored more than the entire English team. Tim Cahill and Gervinho scored as much! 
Premium prices for not so premium players seems to be the order of the day in English football. And the worst part is that it doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. 

Okay, enough ranting about the ills of English football. Since I didn't start the post with this, I should at least end with it:

Welcome Calum Chambers!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Transfer Reflections

So Arsenal played New York Red Bulls and I have no comments to make except that Titi's still got it. Playing a slightly more withdrawn role, and without that legendary pace, Henry still had a telling contribution to make and is evidence of the fact that class is well and truly permanent. He played a role in the winning (and only goal) against us in what was otherwise another, slightly dull (you know it was, even though Henry was there) pre-season friendly. There was some form of negative reaction on twitter, but that's sort of the expected reaction on twitter anyway. The smallest of things get a negative reaction on a twitter. I suppose realising the fact that it's a meaningless game, simply to improve player fitness, and improve the Arsenal brand, isn't meant for a lot of people on twitter. Oh well, we live in a world where Piers Morgan is allowed to speak. 

In actual news, Arsenal officially confirmed the signing of David Ospina from Nice (what a cool club name, OGC Nice. If someone asks you what club do you support, the response could be: 'I like Nice'/ 'I support Nice'/ 'You know Nice? It's a nice club'). With Fabianski departing some time back, we needed a back up keeper, and in David Ospina we arguably have an upgrade. Szczesny will of course be the No. 1 keeper at the club, but in bringing Ospina, Wenger has added some great competition to the goalkeeping position. Ospina is a year older than Szczesny, and he and Szczesny can fight for the keeper's job for years to come. Some may say it's harsh on Szczesny, but I think it's harsh on David. He's joining the club in the prime of his career, after a great World Cup, and he's going to compete against a player who in my opinion is at his best when competing. We've seen this before. In the 2012-2013 season, he had several underwhelming displays, was dropped in favour of Fabianski, and returned in magnificent fashion. He also had arguably his best season in an Arsenal shirt last season, and the genuine competition is going to make him a much better keeper in my opinion. 
Plus, after Chelsea (with Cech and Courtois), Arsenal arguably has the best set of keepers in the Premier League. My, have we come a long way from the days of Almunia and Fabianski. 

The transfer of Ospina is another definite sign that this season, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger mean business. Thus far we've brought in Sanchez, Debuchy and Ospina, and it doesn't seem as if we're done with our dealings in the transfer market. When you look at the fact that we've already bought a genuine world class star, an upgrade on the right back position, and an upgrade on the backup keeper position, it's hard to not be excited as to what maybe in store for the fans. It was only 3 years ago, that we brought in players like Park Chu Young, Benayoun and Andre Santos on deadline day. 3 years later, it's only July and we already have 3 brilliant signings, and to say that the club has come on in leaps and bounds, would be quite an understatement. Our transfer season isn't quite over as yet, and a holding midfielder and a defender would be ideal. But an FA Cup winning team and one which finished 7 points behind the title holders, has already been improved to a great degree. Even if we were to buy no more (which I doubt), we'd still have a fantastic squad. 

Sanchez of course is the player we're most excited to watch in action, and while he may start on the flanks, it's almost guaranteed that he's bound to play up top at some point in time. Arsene Wenger's comments hinted that he saw Sanchez as a striker, and hopefully he will make as much of an impact as our illustrious former strikers. 
I haven't written much about Debuchy simply because I haven't seen as much of him as I would have liked. But from what I've seen, and what I've read, he's quite a solid right back. He may not be as consistent as Sagna, but he's got better stats, is better from an attacking point of view and clearly Deschamps thinks he's better than Sagna (although Deschamps also thinks Sakho is better than Koscielny). A lot of our play over the years has initiated with Szczesny kicking the ball long, and Sagna winning the subsequent aerial duel, and Debuchy is a player who can do the exact same kind of thing. 

Coming to transfer rumours, David Ornstein of the BBC is reporting that the Calum Chambers deal is expected to be announced on Monday. I wrote earlier about Chambers, and while there seems to be no doubt that he would constitute an exciting signing, I can't help but worry about Jenkinson. There's a lot of teams who want him on loan, and we'll just have to wait and see what happens. 

That's it for now I suppose. Until next time. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On Loving Carl Jenkinson

Well, I haven't written anything since the World Cup, because there hasn't been much to write about since the World Cup. Sure, we signed Debuchy, Arsene Wenger confirmed Ospina (even if Arsenal.com) didn't, and we've been subject to photos of Arsenal players posing on Times Square, with random New Yorkers wondering what's going on. But in terms of game changing news, there hasn't been much to talk about. Of course transfer rumours and all that, but I'm really tired of Balotelli rumours. It's not going to happen! God! How stupid do you have to be to keep regurgitating that! 
Yesterday there was a rumour that we had signed Southampton's young English fullback, Calum Chambers and since it was the BBC reporting it, there's always the possibility that it could be true. Calum is a 19 year old who can play in a variety of defensive roles, but primarily plays at right back. If we do sign the player (and the fee is rumoured to be anywhere between 7 million to 16 million), it would mean that he would be a deputy to Debuchy, and that Carl Jenkinson would have no place on the team.

I love Carl Jenkinson, I really do. He's not the first choice right back, is not yet a complete player and is prone to the occasional f*** up. But he's got tons of what a lot of football players lack these days: passion and love for the club. You can see it every time he's on the pitch. You could see it when he scored against Norwich last season. A meaningless goal, in a meaningless game. It wasn't a pretty goal, it didn't change the outcome of the match or the club as far as league position is concerned. But Jenkinson celebrated as if it meant the world to him. And it probably did. 

Here's a footballer who is first and foremost a fan, and then a professional player. His love for Arsenal is visible to all, even in the engraving dedicated to is grandfather outside the Emirates. 

As an Arsenal fan, there's something endearing about knowing that a fellow fan is living the dream. He gets to don that red jersey, have a squad number, and make a small place for his name in the glorious history of Arsenal football club. Which one of us hasn't wanted that?
That's the importance of Carl Jenkinson. He may never become a truly remarkable player (I hope he does), but he is always going to give Arsenal his best. Even on the pitch, when he hasn't had a good game, one cannot fault him for not giving his best. And he does have some traits, which make him a decent footballer. A fantastic engine, he'll run up and down the right flank all day long. He's got excellent delivery, and his crosses are much better than Sagna's ever were. Add his willingness to go the extra mile for the club that he loves, and you've got yourself a player worth keeping. 

We often talk about loyalty in football. Here's a player who will never leave the club, always put in 100%, and perhaps doesn't even dream of being a Ronaldo or a Messi, since playing for Arsenal is a dream come true in itself. Any United fans reading this might curse me for the comparison, but Carl Jenkinson is a lot like Nicky Butt. Not the most talented of the players in the squad, but loyal, willing to give it his all, and a club man through and through. Nicky Butt is held in great esteem today by most United fans. And that's why I hope the Chambers rumour isn't true. Even if it is, I hope that Wenger is doing the ole positional switcheroo, and won't make him play as a right back. Because CJ is the epitome of Tony Adam's famous words about playing for the name in front of the jersey, and I for one would like the name at the back of his jersey to be remembered. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

World Cup Finals!

Good evening ladies and gents.

It was pointed out to me that despite my apparent promise of writing a short post, the previous one was rather long. This time I can happily promise that it will be a short post since there is literally nothing Arsenal related going on at the moment. The Sanchez news seems to be dying down, and since there's nothing real to report, there are endless rumours being processed with increasing speed. For example, why is Jackson Martinez being linked to us anyway? The bigger question being, who cares?
There's a nice interview that the Mirror posted with Arsene Wenger, and he talks about all things football. It's great to see the manager talk about football with such a neutral perspective , and you can see the great love that he has for the game. He talks about coaching methods, how to deal with young players, even compliments Louis Van Gaal and you really should check it out. 

Coming to the World Cup, it couldn't get any worse for Brazil last night. Despite playing much, much better than what we've seen of them, they still ended up losing 3-0 to that disgusting Dutch team, meaning they finished fourth at home. It's a wonder that the Brazilian supporters haven't rioted yet (and on the basis of the booing in the stadium one could tell that they really wanted to). To take a cricket parallel, it's like India hosting the world cup and finishing fourth in the most humiliating manner ever. There definitely would be riots in that case. Robben of course was at his diving best (as he has been throughout this world cup), and was the main reason for the first two goals: a soft penalty, and what seemed like an offside play. Oscar was carded for simulation when it seemed like he should have gotten a penalty, and by the time Netherlands scored their third goal, the Brazilians were almost begging for the torture to end. You can't help feel bad for the Brazilian players and the supporters, since the latter have really been the heart of this world cup. Then again, conceding 10 goals in two matches is not going to win you jack.

In a few hours the World Cup final is going be played, and while I'm not sure if I'm watching it at home or not, I really am quite excited. Of course I'm going to support Germany. I've been supporting the German national team since 2006 and more importantly, it's got three Arsenal players in the form of Per Mertescker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski. Argentina have none, and I'm not particularly fond of Messi. He's always seemed to me like that brilliant but whiny kid in school who deserved a kick every so often. Besides, it's really hard to not support a team with Per in it, whether he's playing or not. What I'd really like is that Ozil takes a corner and Mertesacker heads the ball in as the winning goal, and our BFG running around with that expression of glee I saw after we won the FA Cup. That would be something. 

This World Cup has been really good, and in my opinion the most entertaining since the time I started watching the football world cup. There have been so many memorable moments, so many heroes, in general it has been so much fun. I hope the final lives up to the grand world cup that has preceded it. 
I'll maybe cover it tomorrow. 

That's it for today I suppose. I shall take leave with a picture of what I think has been one of the many memorable moments that have taken place thus far. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

New Midfielder; World Cup Preview; General Ramblings

Well hello to you all on this beautiful Saturday. It's pouring here in Bombay, and I'm listening to Cemetry Gates by the Smiths (lovely, lovely song), and while the rains might ruin my evening plans, the entire atmosphere at present is quite beautiful. 

Today is going to be a short post because there isn't much to write about at all. The Sanchez euphoria still hasn't died down (how can it?), but we must definitely be looking at other aspects of the squad by now. I have no clue what's happening as regards the whole right back situation. Most people thought that they'd announce the signing of Debuchy before Sanchez, but they announced the big one first and people have generally started assuming that Debuchy is an Arsenal player. Well, that's not the case till it's official (even though Lee Dixon says that he's an Arsenal man), and we're being linked to random right backs. One is a 20 year old Atletico Madrid youngster, the other is some 29 year old Egyptian fellow with a rather unfortunate name. What this means for Jenkinson, I'm not sure. Best to stay off the topic of a right back till there's an official announcement of some sort. 

To add to it, there is the avid rumour mongering of a new holding midfielder. Perhaps not as pressing as a right back, but an important position to complete our (hopefully) title-challenging squad. So thus far we've been linked to Khedira, Lars Bender and to a much lesser degree Morgan Schneiderlin. I've seen a fair bit of Khedira, watching the odd Real Madrid match and seen him play for the German national squad, while I'm a little embarrassed to say that I've only seen Schneiderlin play against Arsenal and haven't seen Lars Bender at all. But to figure out what we need in that midfield role, we must look at what we have. 

At present we have two players who can play as the holding midfielder, Arteta and Flamini. While we all like Flamini for what he brings in terms of his tackles and tenacity, he faded impact-wise in the second half of the season. Flamini is a good bet for a tackle, and a few broken bones of opposition attackers, but in terms of controlling play, he isn't the best candidate. Which brings us to Arteta. A lot of times Arteta was criticised last season, unfairly for the most part. The criticism itself was never consistent in terms of merit. Sometimes he was criticised for slowing down play, passing backwards rather than forwards, and the rest of the time he was criticised for not being strong, fast enough or going for those bone crunching tackles. Which essentially means that a lot of people don't really understand Arteta's game. 

Since that deadline day panic in 2011, when a host of random players crawled in (Park Chu Young, forever immortal), Arteta has been one of our most consistent and important players. His game isn't based around tackling and strength, but more along the lines of Mertesacker's play, where he's an astute reader of the game. Arteta positions himself to prevent counterattacks, and when our fullbacks push up to support the attack, Arteta tends to stay behind, almost making it a back three. Apart from his reading of the game and positional play, he's also a pass master. Metronomic, he keeps possession of the ball, and allows play to flourish. 

That being said, Arteta possesses neither pace nor strength. Several times last season (particularly those nightmarish multi-goal losses), he was outrun, or outmuscled, leading to a goal being scored against us. To be fair, there were several other factors that resulted in those losses, but the fact still remains that he is devoid of pace, and at 32 years of age is hardly going to play for a long time. So what essentially do we need? I might face some flak for this, but we possibly need a slightly quicker, younger version of Arteta. 

There are a lot of people who keep shouting for that big player, with pace and a lot of strength, where he can fly into a tackle, push players off the ball, destroy bones etc, etc. No we do not 'need' such a player. Our defense has improved a lot in the past few seasons, and that's down to Arteta. Remember when we had Alex Song? The big guy, always ready to go in for a tackle. Remember how woeful our defensive record was due to his positional indiscipline? He did get a lot of assists, but he failed in his primary job of assisting the back four. 

So that brings us to the question of what we need. I reckon a player who possesses Flamini's crunch in tackle, but at the same time Arteta's game knowledge and passing skills. A player who can prevent attacks, but at the same time facilitate play. I know, it all sounds very fairytale like, but in essence that's what the requirement is.  I've heard several people say that we should get a player like Vidal, the complete midfielder who can tackle and attack. We shouldn't, period. We already have a player like Vidal, and his name is Aaron Ramsey. Similarly, a lot of rumours about Khedira. I like Khedira, I really do. But from what I've seen of him (granted, it's not every much), Khedira is at his best when he's making those box to box runs. If we assume that Aaron Ramsey's spot as the box to box player sitting alongside the holding midfielder is fixed, then a player like Khedira might not be his ideal partner. Arsenal require a player who is going to sit back, cover the two central defenders while the rest of the team is attacking. I'm not sure Khedira is that player (especially taking into account transfer fees and his astronomical salary). Since my knowledge of Bender and Schneiderlin is quite limited, I'll refrain from talking about those two (Squawka did a fairly good statistical analysis of the three players which you can find here). Hopefully the boss picks a good player. 

Coming to the World Cup, we've got the fairly pointless, third place match between Brazil and Netherlands on tonight. I don't see the point to be honest. When even World Cup runners up tend to be forgotten, third place is hardly a trophy (insert fourth place trophy jokes). In light of recent horrors, it would be quite cruel to make Brazil play again.Then again, with nothing to play for, the two teams might actually put on a show. Well, that's the hope anyway. 

On a completely non-football related note, I was left in a state of shock today morning when blogger informed me that the Sanchez post had received close to 170 views, taking the total blog views to upwards of 600. It might sound petty, but for me it's a pretty big deal and a thank you is definitely in order. I know I'm being greedy, but I hope some of you reading this may comment/follow the blog. I don't mind posting the link in the comments sections of Arseblog and LeGrove, but I'm pretty sure the owners are going to block me soon on account of spamming. You may laugh, but I'm fairly certain that the moderators at Here is the City have blocked my comments (screw them, the quality of articles is pathetic anyway). 

Till next time....

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sorry, couldn't resist. 

But LeGrove had the best vine ever. 
(Can't embed it here for some reason)

We Got Us a Sanchez

As is customary during the summer transfer season, I generally google search the term 'arsenal' and read all the news articles linking us with every footballer on the planet. In years past the narrative was something along the lines of Arsenal being linked with a lot of players, players other people have heard of, and then signing Park Chu Young. Last summer was us being linked to a lot of players, rumours of a medical, and then the player signing for Napoli. This summer, we've been linked to a lot of players, rumoured medicals, and we sign Alexis Sanchez..........WHAT?!

It's not even deadline day, and we've already bought a world class player? Doesn't sound like Arsenal at all. Of course, the Sanchez rumours had been going on for sometime now, but most people refused to believe it till appeared last night on Arsenal.com (the link has been provided for people still in disbelief). First things first, we have a great player. He's powerful, pacey, glorious dribbling ability, has a wicked shot, has played at a top level, and at the age of 25, his best years are still ahead of him. A lot was written about our attacking play last season, how we were devoid of pace without Walcott, how Giroud was our primary finisher with everyone else on the team being a creator, how we only managed to score 66 goals. Arsenal was crying out for a top class attacker, and in signing Sanchez, our attacking woes may have been solved.

From a pure footballing view, Sanchez has a lot to offer. He can play anywhere across the front three, on the flanks, as he's done for Barcelona, just behind the main striker as at Udinese, or even as a classic striker as we've seen him do for Chile. And let's face it, he was rather impressive for Chile. Where he finally plays is of course up to the boss, but he's flexible enough to play anywhere. He scored 19 La Liga goals from the wings last season, behind only Messi, and would go a long way in creating one of the best strike forces in the league, and perhaps even Europe. Furthermore, Sanchez has a great work ethic. Continuously haggling defenders, tracking back, for Chile he was the first line of defence. As far as transfer dealings go, 30 something million pounds for a player of Sanchez's ilk is pretty much a no-brainer.

Alexis Sanchez's footballing abilities aside, this transfer is pleasing for numerous other reasons. One of them is that no one is upset about Cesc Fabregas going to Chelsea anymore. Well, not as much at any rate. It was a known fact that Arsenal required a goal-scorer, and if 30 million pounds are spent on Sanchez rather than Fabregas, so be it. It was the necessary transfer, rather than the luxurious one. We had a problem in terms of goals. We addressed it. Another rather admirable aspect about this entire transfer was the efficiency of it.

Unlike the torturous summer of 2013, where we were simply bouncing from one transfer target to the other, this summer the club and it's officials settled on a transfer target, negotiated with one of the biggest clubs in the worlds for one of it's best players, and quickly signed him up. There was no dithering of old, no haggling, no endless talks. People talk a lot about the Ozil deal, but in my honest opinion, there's a huge difference between the two transfers. Ozil was a deadline day signing, after a summer of transfer dithering. I understand that he only became available after the Bale transfer went through, but it wasn't necessarily a planned one. Higuain, then Suarez, and then finally Ozil. This summer presents a different scenario altogether. It would appear that there are definite transfer targets, and the club is doing it's best to get them. Of course, the Ozil deal would have helped provide those in charge of transfers the requisite experience to conduct deals at such a top level, but the club itself deserves a lot of credit for conducting it's affairs in an efficient manner.

In my opinion, the most pleasing aspect of this entire transaction is that Arsenal is now looked at as one of the big boys once more. If Ozil's transfer was a hint as to what Arsenal's newfound financial power is capable of, then Sanchez's transfer is definite evidence of that. It means that last summer's record transfer wasn't a one off, rather the first in what can only be deemed as the flexing of the club's financial muscle. A lot has been said about the new Puma and Emirates deals, how the club could compete at a much higher level than before, and the club is putting money where it's mouth is. Ozil's transfer was pleasing as to how unexpected it was, and Sanchez's transfer is even more significant since we know what to expect now.

Of course, not every player coming in is going to be world class, or cost upwards of 30 million, but there is something comforting in the knowledge that when there is a need for a world class player, and such a player is available, the club is competent enough to buy him. At the centre of it all is Arsene Wenger. He may have come under a lot of criticism over the years for apparent penny pinching, buying bargain players, but 2014 was always going to be the year when Arsene would have substantial resources at his disposal, and thus far he has more than lived up to expectations. When you're competing against teams with unlimited resources such as Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG, and teams with resources greater than yours such as Manchester United, getting players such as Ozil and Sanchez cannot be easy. It would appear that Wenger is the difference. Despite what some supporters (and non-supporters) may say, he continues to be one of the most respected managers in the world, and getting top class players requires them being convinced of our club and it's abilities. To say that our manager has been convincing, would be an understatement.

Admiration aside, our transfer needs aren't over. We still need a Right Back (Debuchy seems pretty close), a holding midfielder and a back-up keeper at the very least. But for now, we should enjoy the fact that for the second summer in a row, a world class player has donned an Arsenal jersey. It's the dawn of a new Arsenal, and while the wait to see the actual team in action is agonising, the future is definitely an exciting one.

Welcome, Alexis Sanchez, our new No. 17.

PS: Sorry Nacho, hope you're ambivalent between No. 17 and 18. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Switzerland v Messi; Tim Howard v Belgium; Arsenal Round Up

Okay, so I'm feeling particularly lazy at the moment. Actually, I've been feeling particularly lazy for the past two days, which explains my lack of commitment towards writing a post analyzing the clashes between Argentina and Switzerland, and Belgium and USA. But since the quarters begin today evening, might as well get this out of the way. Mind you, this is going to be a short post.

So let's start with the slightly duller of the two games, Argentina v Switzerland. It wasn't the exciting match most people predicted it would be. For most of the 90 minutes Argentina tried 'oh so hard' to score against a really good defensive line. This was one of those cases where both, the defense looked grand because the attack wasn't as good as people expect it to be. I mean Djourou, Arsenal's once upon a time, 4th choice central defender was leading the back line. He had a good game against an Argentinian team that was really lacking in creativity, despite not falling short of industry. Switzerland were largely bereft of chances except for a lovely chance, presented on a platter to Josep Drmic, who somehow managed to shoot a rather tame shot right into the hands of the Argentinian keeper. Other than that Argentina kept trying, making half chances which either the defenders blocked or the keeper saved. 

Higuain didn't do much of anything, neither did Di Maria and Messi, was well Messi of last season and not Messi of old. Ponderous, running into a crowd of defenders, losing the ball, the game by and large passed by him. Except late in extra time, Messi decided he was one of the world's best players again, ran at the Swiss defence, angled a pass to Di Maria who scored. Redemption. Of course, the Swiss almost equalised a few moments later, but it was not to be and Argentina are through to the quarters.
The game highlighted all the reasons why Argentina cannot be one of the frontrunners of the tournament. Their defence is hardly convincing, the midfield can easily be overrun and for all the plethora of star attacking talent, Argentina's attack rarely seems to click apart from the few moments when Messi seems to burst into life. Any good team can see Argentina through.

Speaking of teams which can see Argentina through, Belgium made it to the quarters and are going to face Argentina. What a game that was! For the first time in the World Cup, Belgium played the attacking football everyone thought they were capable of. Chance after chance, shot after shot. Unfortunately for them, they faced off against a very, very in-form Tim Howard. Continuing his fine form from last season, Tim Howard made a plethora of saves (sixteen I think), and was generally aided by a good defense. This would probably have been Tim Howard's last World Cup match ever, and what a way to go out. The best player on the pitch that night. 
Unfortunately for him, the introduction of Lukaku changed USA's fortunes. A game which looked like it was going to penalties, became a frantic, attacking one, when the Lukaku's freshness was introduced. His pace and power was a problem for a tiring defence and he helped in creating the opening goal and scoring one. USA drew one back through Green, and despite a late chance, they were eliminated. 

Apart from Brazil v. Chile, this was the only Round of 16 match which lived up to it's billing. Belgium decided to show off why they were considered to be dark horses by many before the World Cup began, while USA showed that a team can be greater than the sum of it's parts. I really like this USA team, they were tight-knit group, willing to give it their all, and if it were up to me I'd have them go through instead of a boring, laborious team like Argentina.

Anyway, tonight promises the best match of the tournament, Germany v France. While every football fan will be excited to watch the spectacle, this one is particularly interesting for Arsenal fans. Mertesacker, Ozil, Podolski, Giroud, Koscielny all may be playing tonight and it promises to be a grand night for football. 

And onto all things Arsenal. We are being linked to Debuchy, which makes sense, and Sanchez which still seem like rumours as much as I'd want them to be true. 
As I've written here before, Debuchy makes a lot of sense as a right back who can straight away enter our defensive set up, and build on the defensive progress of last season. Lot of fans out there saying they want Aurier for reasons such as, he's younger, has had a great world cup, quick and a long term prospect. A lot of these people are the same ones who chided Wenger for putting kids in charge of the defense rather than experienced players. And let's face it, none of this lot watches the French League. We've only seen Aurier's attacking side at the world cup, and suddenly he's one of the best right backs in world football. This is not to say that he's bad, I can't make a judgment on a player I've seen in two games. But if we're going to realistically challenge for trophies in the coming season, then wouldn't you rather have a right back who's in the prime of his career, has played sufficiently long enough in the premier league so as to not require a settling in period and will probably fit right in with our current back three. Logically speaking, if Sagna had renewed his contract would we even be looking for a new right back? Of course not. But since he's gone, it does make sense to replace him with the man who replaced him in the French squad. 

Then there's the Sanchez rumour, and make no mistake it's only rumours right now. Apparently Liverpool want him in a player plus cash deal for Suarez, but Sanchez doesn't want to leave Barcelona, and if he does leave, his preference is Arsenal. Headlines that can be made by anyone and no one is actually going to deny them. But it is clear that Barcelona don't value him as much as they should, and have begun their usual antics of publicly wooing a player by screaming sweet nothings to Suarez in press conferences. 
I might have mentioned this before, but I really detest Barcelona. All their talk of being a 'proper' club, with values and what not, is at best hypocritical, and at worst, vomit inducing. Especially when it comes to buying players. Forget the entire Fabregas affair, they didn't even pay taxes on the Neymar deal. And now they want to bring Suarez in, a man who clearly doesn't fit the bill of a 'model footballer' which Barcelona go on and on about. On top of that, for a team plagued by defensive frailties, they have to be remarkably stupid to buy a striker. Plus everyone knows that Messi is going to be leading the attack, and he's too much of a moody douche to play well anywhere other than in his preferred position, so I really don't see any sense in going after Jaws.  

Anyway, all this Barcelona talk makes my blood curl. If it does result in Sanchez being sold, I'd really like for Arsenal to get him. Our 66 goals (despite missing Ramsey and Walcott) last season is testament to the fact that we need an attacker. And Sanchez does fit the bill in terms of a player who can play alongside Giroud and replace him when needed. He's remarkably flexible in terms of his position and can play anywhere across the front three. He can slot in as the central striker, or as the left winger, and in a team already consisting of Walcott, the possibilities are endless. In my head they're already combining like a certain Pires and a certain Freddie, and Ozil behind them making those passes, and oh my god it's like a Disney fairytale! 
So yes, I'd really like for this rumour to be true, although I half expect it isn't. We get linked to a lot of players and if last week was Balotelli, then next week might possibly be Reus for all you know. Best to forget about transfers altogether. 

Anyway, I'm all giddy and excited about tonight's match. Hopefully it will live up to expectations. 
Till next time. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

France v Nigeria; Germany v Algeria; Random Arsenal transfer rumours

So the two World Cup matches that were supposed to have predictable outcomes, did have predictable outcomes, but the narrative was anything but predictable.

Both African countries restricted their European counterparts ones admirably till the dying moments of the games. The France game was a little disappointing to be honest. Both teams cancelled each other out for large parts of the match. The first half was virtually a snooze-fest, with Pogba doing a rather good imitation of Patrick Vieira, and looked like the person most likely to break the deadlock. Were it not for some good keeping, and sometimes wayward decision making in the final third. Giroud and Benzema were running all over the place to no effect, while I'm not really sure what Matuidi was up to. The Nigerians did try to break on the counter to no avail. In the second half France created more chances, despite the Nigerian defence being rather good. Giroud was substituted for Griezeman (He's got such a fun last name, 'Grease-Mun') injected some more creativity in the French attack. While Pogba's influence decreased, the general French attack became much better with a goal-line clearance from a Benzema shot being the closest the French got to scoring. The Nigerian keeper made some lovely saves, so it was kind of ironic that it was his error which lead to Pogba putting France ahead, only in the 79th minute, with a header. A late own goal (even though most of the credit should go to Valbuena and Griezeman) sealed France's win, a win which Koscielny was a huge part of the clean sheet. 

Germany's game against Algeria was more entertaining, even though I was really struggling to stay awake. These late night matches are really destroying my sleep cycle and are solely to blame for any dark circles, sleepy demeanour and general sloth in my disposition. Anyway, there was a lot of sloppy finishing the Germans were guilty off, and it looked increasingly likely that the game was going to go to penalties. Algeria for their part did a grand job in keeping the Germans out of their box. The players harried, broke up play and were generally a thorn in the German side. Their keeper, like the Nigerian keeper excelled for most of the game. A word here about the German style of play. If you're going to play Mertesacker, do not play a high defensive line. For all of our BFG's amazing qualities, pace isn't one of them. Keeping Neuer as a sweeper also doesn't cut it. This was the kind of game which Bayern played against Real Madrid in the Champions League, and got completely destroyed in the process. While Algeria couldn't capitalize on the Germany's defensive shortcomings, a better team might. Another problem with the German side last night was that not enough players were running into the box while attacking, a problem which was only solved when Schurrle came onto the pitch. Thus it wasn't surprising when he was the one who broke the deadlock in the 92nd minute, and what a great backheel that was. Some lovely play between Schurrle and Ozil, resulted in Ozil scoring at 120 minute mark. Djabou scored a late consolation goal for Algeria, but by that time Germany was already through to the quarters.

The narrative today has been all about how Germany and France played badly, but I think that is rather unfair on the two African sides. Both teams played their socks off, and in a World Cup where defences have been leaking goals, their defence was sound. Sure, Germany and France weren't at the top of their respective games, but full marks to Nigeria and Algeria for coming to match prepared to compete at the highest levels. Last night's results mean that France will face Germany in the quarterfinals, while the other games will be Brazil v Colombia, and Costa Rica v Netherlands. Tonight we have Argentina v Switzerland and Belgium v USA, with the promise of both matches being extremely entertaining for the neutral viewer. I shall of course be watching them both in my sleep deprived state.

As far as Arsenal related things are concerned there really isn't much to talk about at the moment. Arsenal.com officially announced that the partnership between Puma and Arsenal has begun. The same is accompanied by photoshopped images of Arteta, Giroud and Cazorla wearing what I can only describe as Arsenal and Puma branded vests. Why the site had to do that, I'll never know. Although I suppose I can't really be unhappy about the fact that we'll be receiving an additional 30 million pounds a year. Whether we spend that on transfers remains to be seen, although the press are making it sound as if we're going to spend an amount equivalent to the GDP of some small island country, what with all the transfer rumours and all.

We're officially linked to every Tom, Dick and Harry who is available, not-available, dead, and so on. It makes me cringe rather than feel excited. Tabloids do what it takes to sell papers, and we can read them if we like, but it's probably wiser to dismiss it them as garbage. Despite all the ludicrous transfer rumours (Vidal for 44 million? Really?), the rumour linking us with Debuchy is the only which feels somewhat legitimate. We need a right back of course, and Debuchy fits the bill. He's 28, in the prime of his career, is well versed with the Premier League and would slot in quite easily with our squad. Oh, and did I mention that he's French? Since Sagna has moved on, it does make sense to buy his replacement in the French national team. I know we've been linked with Serge Aurier, and his attacking performances have lead many a call from Arsenal 'fans' to sign him up, but I really haven't seen enough of Aurier defensively to be completely, head over the heels in love with him. Indeed with today's rumour that Tottenham want to sign him too, several of the Arsenal fans have stated that they'll be really angry with Wenger if he fails to sign him and Tottenham does. Because Tottenham makes the best transfer dealings doesn't it? (Soldado anyone?)
I'm not sure if Arsenal interest in Debuchy is concrete or not, but he does fit the bill in terms of what we need in the squad, and that's possibly the only reason why I think the rumours might be genuine.

Anyway, I'll be back tomorrow with a recap of tonight's matches, and Arsenal news, if any.