Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Hairy Affair - Gervinho VS Barton. Premier League Opener

Before we get to the match, an important update - the Cesc Fabregas saga is now over. I have already articulated on his merits as a player (see post #1 - first time I felt the need to write about Arsenal, even with the multitude of Arsenal blogs out there) he will be missed, and I wish him well at Barca; win your trophies and come back to The Arsenal, you have some unfinished business. There is some interesting parallels between the Cesc saga and the Brett Favre Saga…let me explain:

Brett wanted to retire, but waffled every summer and the Green Bay Packers were left scrambling every offseason. The Packers finally decided to break ties and move on with Aaron Rodgers.

2 BIG differences though - Brett was mulling retirement NOT moving to another team (although eventually after being thwarted by the Packers he went to the Jets, and then Vikings) and the Packers cut ties with Brett, whereas Wenger pretty adamantly said today "We have been clear that we didn't want Cesc to leave and that remains the case."

Some might say the other big difference is that Brett was not at his peak and Cesc is - I disagree, Brett actually put up career numbers in Minnesota (after his stint in NY) - yes he won the trophy with GB but we are talking about personal peaks…and Cesc is not yet at his peak - he is still 24.

But Green Bay couldn't continue to endure Brett's waffling and jeopardize losing Aaron Rodgers…they needed to move on. And the fact is, we needed to move on - he was never going to not want to go back to Barcelona and we were only delaying the inevitable.

It still sucks though.

I wanted to see how these group of players would respond post-Cesc…although with Wenger's comments pre-match and post-match, I wonder how much players actually knew 100% (especially with similar media reports last summer). We might not get a proper gauge on their mentality until Liverpool and even then, we can't properly assess THIS team until the transfer window closes; we were due reinforcements BEFORE the departures of Cesc and Nasri - now we are still due some reinforcements AND replacements. I know we have made some signings - Gervinho, Alex Oxtail Curry Chicken, etc. and you can even count Ryo as a "new signing" with his new visa and if you listen to Wenger Vermaelen is a new signing as well. But let's face it…the situation with the fans is not cozy, and IF Wenger doesn't splash his new cash before Sep. 1st the Emirates isn't going to feel any cozier.


St. James Park

It didn't look like we missed a beat - even without the "creatives" we still bossed possession, Rosicky looked good, and even with Ramsey looking somewhat off, we still looked very comfortable with the ball. We just couldn't find that final ball (which was a problem at the tail end of last season as well, especially in the 2nd half when Nasri went MIA) even RvP couldn't continue his away streak - and Arshavin supplied him with an excellent opportunity. Gervinho seemed to personify Arsenal's match - excellent movement and fluidity but just missing that finish. Kos, Verminator, Sagna, Woijech, and Gibbs looked solid at the back - clean sheet #1 for this group.

Song stamped on Barton, should have seen red - will most likely see a retroactive red - hopefully we get lucky like how ManU and Rooney got lucky with his flying elbow last year…but maybe Song misses the next 3 games and Wenger finally realizes we have no cover at DM and that probably should be a position he keeps in mind with this new influx of cash.

There was another talking point in this scoreless affair, the Barton incident:

According to Barton, he saw Gervinho dive* and got upset and grabbed him - he was yellow carded for this offense. One problem - the ball was in play and Gervinho was in the box for Barton's yellow card foul - A penalty right? I would normally mark this up as Arsenal Robbery #1, but since Song stamped Barton and was NOT given a red - MAYBE we don't create that scoring chance with 10 men. I dismissed Sir Alex's complaint at the Emirates last year because of a similar circumstance…you cannot complain about Clichy's penalty foul when it was CLEAR that Vidic handled the ball in the box and not only should have been a penalty but ManU should have been reduced to 10 men - and possibly would have never created that chance. So, while it is not robbery #1 for the season, it is definitely another example of a bad call against us - and why can't more fouls be retroactive? It is clear that the ref never saw the onset of the melee that induced Gervinho's red.

*Gervinho didn't dive (MOTD comments by former Newcastle boy Alan Shearer explains and shows video evidence to the contrary) but EVEN if he did, was this the first time somebody dived against Newcastle? I don't ever remember Barton going berserk for somebody who dived…will he act this way if one of his teammates dives? The Newcastle manager seems to validate his actions by saying Gervinho dived, like this is acceptable behavior for a deplorable act - when has this EVER been done - that is what the referee is for, it is not up to your player to "punish?" even an obvious dive…much less a legitimate contact foul.

Arshavin missed an easy pass and so did Johan at the death that would have been a magnificent scoring chance for Theo - and that is what worries me. It is easy to emulate greatness when you are surrounded by it and constantly amongst it - Cesc was surrounded by Messi at La Masia and was nurtured by Viera, Henry, Bergkamp, etc. at Arsenal…maybe some of the reasoning for Aaron and Jack blossoming was because of Cesc's influence. Hopefully the missed passes was an aberration and the bossing of possession was more reflective of the only asset left at AFC that has any link to silverware the club has earned, a person who is the most influential person left, Arsene Wenger.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Torn between two clubs

Palermo got €43 million from PSG for Pastore. In all likelihood, Arsenal will get less for Francesc F├ábregas i Soler from Barcelona and it will be astonishingly bad business, especially in this market (, especially since he is under contract until 2014 (conflicting reports have it as 2015?), especially since Arsenal do NOT need the money and would prefer to keep him, especially since he is the Captain (El Capitan) of the side. But the fact is - he ONLY wants to leave in order to go to Barcelona and has no interest in going to any club other than Barcelona - and Barcelona KNOWS this.

But there is a growing sentiment in Barcelona that Cesc should stay at Arsenal - partly because its good to see a Catalan performing outside La Liga (an advertisement in the Premiership of the "Golden Generation") and partly because he left...!/BarcaGooner/status/97083375701073920

Its said that Cesc wears #4 because of his boyhood idol Pep - but it is also common knowledge that Fabregas was given the number 4 shirt once Viera left - these 2 things can both be true and just a matter of convenience for Cesc - but right now, Thiago is wearing #4. Cesc might feel pressured that if the transfer doesn't happen this season and Thiago becomes even more of the phenom he already is, Barca will be even LESS inclined to sign sign him (citing that Sandro has already said the 27m bid was because he is one year older and one year less has run down on his contract).

And then of course there is the constant quotes from Pique, Xavi, and Iniesta clamoring for the services of Fabregas and even the mayor of his hometown claiming that Arsenal kidnapped him ( which is completely contradictory to what some Barca fans are saying. The saga has been going on for 2 years now and despite the growing sentiment from a contingent of fans that he is unneeded - Barcelona, the team definitely want him to come.

Of course Iniesta wants his World Cup teammate that provided him the pass to score the winner in the 2010 World Cup - the celebration afterwards with the Barca players putting the jersey on Fabregas is probably the image seen a thousand times.

Probably the best piece on WHY Barca want Cesc when they have Xavi and Iniesta -

Plus, Cesc injects some Catalan back into Barcelona - where the rivalry with Madrid is tenser than ever. Evidently there seems to be a superiority complex with the Catalan club and players like Pique are known to exude their "nationality" ( Unfortunately for Pique, Barcelona are a little Catalan-lite - some of its main contributors (Messi, Alves, Iniesta, Villa, etc) are NOT Catalan and once the 31 year old Xavi steps away the midfield will be led by Iniesta and Thiago (neither of which are Catalan). Which is not a problem in of itself, most of Arsenal players are NOT from London - but Barcelona (the city as well as the team) as stated above have a serious superiority complex.

*A side note...
Its kind of weird being an Arsenal/Real Madrid fan - very hard to watch Henry in a Barca shirt finally winning the Champions League with the team that beat us that one night in Paris and its very strange "rooting" for CRYstiano Ronaldo in the Clasico, a player I despised when he played for ManU. Most of my Arsenal friends and Uncles are Barca fans and it seems natural to be fans of both sides as both sides play the "beautiful football." And there is mutual respect between the two clubs - especially in the build up of a Champions League draw. Barcelona is known to say in circles that IF they had to lose, they would rather lose to a side like Arsenal, a side that plays football the way its supposed to be played. But it is VERY easy to root against Busquets and Alves - and to tell the truth, Cristiano looks right at home in La Liga, where diving is thought of more like a tactic and "cheeky" rather than cheating. But for me its therapeutic to follow a club like Real - a team that prescribes to the Galactico philosophy is the perfect contrast to a team that is led by Professor X and his school for gifted children. Also, I think its important to point out that while I believe Cesc Fabregas is Arsenal's best player, he is not my favorite Arsenal player…because of stupid reasons (I always liked fast players, and his Jamaican lineage) my favorite player on Arsenal is Walcott…favorite is subjective, so is best I guess - but ask any Premiership fan who is the best/important/most valuable player on Arsenal…85% chance its Fabregas.

Arsenal cultivated Cesc and the Wenger "experiment" will never come to fruition if our young players leave when they are 24. Wenger has a history of flipping his players for exorbitant fees at just the right times (Hleb, Adebayor, Toure, Henry, etc.) Some would put Viera in that category, but I feel we could have kept him a little longer - but I would concede we got his peak years and performances and in the end a player we bought for 3 million we sold for 20 million…not bad at all. Even players like Flamini, who we lost prematurely, diminished greatly after leaving Arsenal. This is going to be the first bonafide "special" talent since Ashley Cole to leave the club before his "peak" years. We lost Cole because of Russian money and the player's greed, we are going to lose Cesc for far more virtuous reasons - he wants to go home, to the club he feels he will win trophies with.

Arsenal were rocked by the sudden emergence of a Russian billionaire skewing the market (Chelsea/Cole) and the emergence of the Spanish "Golden Generation" (Barca/Cesc) - something that was impossible to foresee at the time. When Wenger plucked Cesc from La Masia at 16 he had no idea that Leo Messi would be Leo Messi, Pique would leave and then reunite with his fellow classmate - naturally they would seek out the 3rd star pupil of that La Masia class to return to Barcelona. No way to envision that at 16, Cesc Fabregas would be your future captain and the most integral part of your squad, the maestro of the midfield.

Some have said that Nasri can play the Cesc role - he can't, not the way Arsenal are currently shaped. Arsenal would most definitely change formation to better suit a Nasri-led midfield but that's not the point; they are inherently different players - both creative playmakers but vastly different. Nasri is better in the box, or just outside the box where he can use his twinkle toes to evade defenders and either score or provide the short pass to the goalscorer. Cesc gets the ball into the box for a player like Nasri - perfect example of how these 2 players complement each other is the Emirates winner against Barcelona. Cesc makes the majority of his plays from midfield, supplying Nasri, RvP, Arshavin, Walcott, etc. Jack Wilshere is molded more for that type of role (getting the ball into the right areas from midfield) than Nasri; but he does it in a different fashion - Jack is brilliant but his style is more direct and industrious and less sublime and creative when compared to Cesc. Some circles compare Fabregas to Beckham and Wilshere to Gerrard - distribution-wise - its a little too simple for me, but probably the best "English" analogy. There will be a lot less overhead passes and thru balls at the Emirates without Captain Fabulous.

And that's the point, it's not just that we are losing a great player - we are losing a great talent that was fun to watch, a player who imposed his style on the team, and a player who embodies the "beautiful football mantra." Maybe its for the best - many were surprised at how the team responded when Thierry Henry left and it looked like it would just be a matter of time before Arsenal's abundance of talent would mature and wreak havoc. We saw an example late in the season of how a Wilshere/Ramsey led midfield took apart Manchester United - it was a great victory, but it was a different victory - it was boring, it wasn't your typical Arsenal game. It's premature to say that Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are incapable of creating overhead passes, quick one-twos, and perfectly paced thru balls - they can and they will, but it is unlikely that they do it at the rate that Cesc did.

But that's the future of Arsenal Football Club, at present we have our Captain torn between two clubs. Arsene Wenger used the word unsettled - but I am pretty certain that the situation settles itself this week…definitely this month. With the departure of Clichy and the likely departure of Cesc there are no more players in the squad who were part of our trophy-winning seasons - new day indeed.

Some say Cesc is overrated…stats from his injury-plagued 2010/2011 season below!/orbinho/status/38971332590964736!/orbinho/status/39013329657794560!/Orbinho/status/38362433705877504!/Orbinho/status/80629261916045312!/Orbinho/status/80629759582806017!/castrolfootball/status/97988340414029824

Its also important to note that throughout all of this Fabregas expresses deep gratitude for Wenger and constantly cites him as the reason he is the player he is today - he is not without fault and has at times during this transfer saga displayed some behavior and has had some quotes unbecoming of a Captain - but it is important to remember the circumstances, players on Barca are not vetting for Torres or Reina to come back - the only player that had a Barca shirt put on him was Cesc during that infamous World Cup celebration, he spent the entire summer with Barcelona-lite (Spanish national team minus Messi, which is also the nickname some give Arsenal). Not once has he demanded a transfer request, like Tevez, Modric, and even Wayne Rooney last season. His internal talks with Wenger must have remained internal - whether Wenger made a promise to him last summer a la Sir Alex/Cristiano we might never know...

With all the constant quotes by Sandro, Peter Hill-Wood, Wenger, Pep, Xavi, Pique, etc…its kind of funny that the normally quiet and reserved former teammate of Cesc had the most accurate statement regarding his situation…

"Cesc has a place for Arsenal is in his heart, but Barcelona is in his blood" - Leo Messi (Fabregas' teammate at La Masia)