The Arsenal looked better in yesterday’s game against Napoli than they have in years. The first half they played brilliant attacking soccer, in the second they played intelligent, patient defensive soccer, and were so confident that they actually looked relaxed- not a sensation recently twinned with Arsenal defense.
Napoli took the suckerpunch of the first 20 minutes hard, and looked disconnected and limp for the duration. This was an excellent side comprehensively outplayed… and the particular flavor of delight this brings is something I haven’t tasted as a fan in quite a while.
Özil was phenomenal. Ramsey, playing in the wide role in which he struggled a year ago, kept on being Ramsey, the guy announcers feel moved to describe as “swashbuckling” at least once a game. Flamini and Arteta were fantastic… actually everyone was good. It was, I think, a revelation of a performance, and while I doubt its heights will be reached frequently by the team, I was desperately happy to see where I’d been wrong in appraisal of certain players.
I always thought Ramsey would come good, but I never thought Giroud would be as good as he’s been lately- I thought he was a solid player, a good second choice, a guy you could rely on to put in consistent hard work, but his all-around game has made a massive leap from last year. He’s a bully, he has finesse, and he scores. It’s awesome. And despite the good streak at the end of last season, I didn’t think the defense, particularly the center backs, were capable of such an assured performance in the face of an attack like Napoli’s.
And the team isn’t near full strength: Cazorla, Walcott, the Ox sidelined, and Gnabry, a player everyone expected to be totally peripheral, has already begun to prove himself.
Wenger must be over joyed. More wins are on their way.
There were pics going around twitter today of a girl in the away section of the Tottenham v Tromso Europa league game: she put on an Arsenal shirt to taunt the home fans, she was cute and very Norwegian-looking, Arsenal twitter nerds really dug it. As they naturally would. I’m going to keep this meta and not find and repost the picture as really it was kinda unremarkable in and of itself and I’m lazy. It’s the idea that counts, and this was a nice idea, worthy of a little infatuation.
I looked up Tromso on a map and it is quite ludicrously far north, even in Norwegian terms. I’ve toyed with pretend-following a Norwegian team, as that’s where so e of my family is from. Tromso, I guess, could be a candidate…
Arsenal signed Mesut Özil a week and a half ago and I’m still high on it. I would like very much for this feeling to last.
Arsene somehow turned it around. After a summer of uninterrupted embarrassment in the transfer market, in the last hour of the last day, he managed to sign Mesut Özil, one of the best number 10s in the world. There had been rumors that something like this was afoot for the week prior, as Real Madrid had to get rid of someone to make space for Gareth Bale, but it never seemed likely that they’d part with the most creative member of their midfield, who also happened to be a well-loved fan favorite. Why not sell Angel Di Maria, a talented winger, but not a lynchpin? Why not sell sullen Karim Benzema, who has been getting booed off the field by the fans? Or, what seemed most likely to me, why not just keep them all?
Well, maybe Madrid just couldn’t afford to keep them all. They’re going to get a cut of Gareth’s custom jewelry money, but perhaps at the end of the day his pendants won’t be a smash hit. But still, why sell slick Mesut?… I don’t get it, but then again I don’t care, not really, as Madrid’s loss is clearly Arsenal’s gain. Big clubs run by megalomaniac gazillionaires sometimes make mistakes. At such a late hour I didn’t think Wenger would, or could, capitalize on such a mistake, but boy am I glad to be wrong. The buy changed the narrative of the club’s summer, and indeed may change the narrative of Wenger’s Arsenal career.
The immediate reaction of much of the press was a combination of “Holy Cow! That’s actually exciting!” and “Arsenal need someone expensive, but not an expensive number 10. Now allow me to explain which expensive other person would have made more sense…” Obviously I agree with the first bit of sentiment (thank God, excitement at last.), and I think the second point- that Arsenal have more need in different areas of the team- is only half-true. We need another striker, and of course it would be excellent if this additional striker was super duper world class, the best ever, etc. However, Giroud is coming along nicely, and both Poldi and Theo aspire to play centrally, so while it clearly would be better to have another body there, it’s not the end of the world. We could also use another central defender, though this is less pressing with Sagna’s recent development in that role and Flamini’s signing as cover for the fullbacks.
One of Arsene’s old press conference saws, which grew over the years to be pretty aggravating, was how he was only looking for “top, top quality” players. Always the multiple “tops”. Always the not getting of “top, top quality” players. Instead, the getting of Gervinho. Well, now I believe we have a taste of what he meant all along, and it turns out he meant pretty much what anybody might mean by it: one of the best players in the world. It’s kind of shocking. Suddenly he doesn’t seem as intransigent. Suddenly everyone asks themselves whether, in fact, this sort of player is often available. They answer themselves with a no, not really. (The wicked ones think well, except when we sell them). This is what Wenger has been saying all along, in an increasingly annoyed manner, like a parent driving a load of tired kids to some distant delicious destination.
And boy is Özil delicious! What people miss when they say Arsenal don’t need another attacking midfielder is, well… how Arsenal have played since the loss of Fabregas to Barca. They need more creativity, they need to be quicker on the counter, and they need to create more goal scoring chances. Sure, there’s Wilshere ( no reliable form since his injury, needs more time, very well may play deep), Rosicky (alway injured, over 30), Chamberlain (injured, raw), Ramsey (excelling in a deep role), Arteta (injured, deep), and the effervescent Cazorla. Cazorla has been great, but does just as well wide as he does centrally, and the team need multiple reliable outlets. Wenger needs a couple of creative midfelders to build his team around, and he now has them, and with depth. Özil is an ideal Wenger player: quick, good vision, good one touch play, excellent through balls, unpredictable, and still young. I rate him as a better capture than any of the summer’s previous high end targets. Higuain is a great finisher, but while what he would give to the team would’ve been valuable-better conversion to than Giroud-it’s not as valuable as a faster attack and more chances created. Higuain would not have been a player to build a team around. Suarez is a goalscorer and a chance creator, but also a nutcase who bites people, and greedy with the ball. A team built around him would’ve been unstable as his ambition, quite transparently, was to play for Real Madrid. What we have with Özil is a player choosing to leave a super-elite team in order to play with Wenger.
I can’t really imagine a better scenario. Ok, fine, another striker. But that’ll come.
Arsenal might be grinding out a handful of big transfers this summer: it’s hard to tell, because they’ve been totally silent, and all we get is a bunch of tabloid nonsense. Probably the behind-the-scenes scene is depressing, and we’re better off not knowing. So, in the absence of anything exciting in a forthright manner, why not take pleasure in others’ transfer market pain? Especially Manchester United’s transfer pain! This is the most delicious kind of transfer pain, and one we don’t get to taste nearly often enough.
At the very beginning of the summer there were articles everywhere claiming Moyes had Cesc Fabregas as his number one target, and that ManU had confidence that they could make a deal happen. It was going to be a big statement of intent, blah blah blah, and absolutely nothing has come of it. May nothing come of it yet- what a nightmare. Thiago, if the media were to be believed (including big places like ESPN), was their second choice. After it became clear Cesc was unavailable, suddenly the purchase of Thiago was to be a ManU masterstroke. The midfield genius of the future for a song! Thiago would exchange the company of Xavi for Michael Carrick, and in doing so, finally get a starting berth. Alas for the Red Devils a better team in Pep’s Bayern Munich has snuck in and beat them to the punch. I think this is pretty hilarious, and I really hope it’s true. I dislike Bayern, but this United schadenfreude is a blast. It would be better, obviously, if Arsenal was the one twisting the knife, but there’s no reason to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Whether it’s a good choice for a player in search of more time on the field is a different question. Thiago will have absurdly good competition at Bayern, and there won’t be room for error or poor form. He’d have that room at ManU, which says something about the current state of the two teams’ midfields. Bayern’s is much, much, much better. Of course, Guardiola said that Thiago is his only target of the summer, and if he doesn’t get him, he’ll settle for no one. I can’t imagine he’d intend his singular choice to warm the bench. And it’s hard to imagine a player turning down the most vaunted coach in the world’s offer. Especially when the coach was also your beloved mentor.
Who is David Moyes’ third choice, I wonder? Fingers crossed it’s another banana peel.
Colleague Ivancho pointed out this column out to me on Arsenal cult hero/villain Andrey Arshavin. He’s finally leaving the team, possibly for pastures new, possibly for retirement. In broad strokes, I think the piece gets it right, though I still haven’t watched the clips it insists upon. It’s an interesting assertion that a career could have such a particular turning point, such a distinct moment when someone’s talent and drive went off the rails. Does life work like that? Novels do.
I think most of the Gunner flock have a soft spot for this lovable misfit. And I mean, how couldn’t we? Lovable misfits are hard to come by in professional sports. I don’t really understand how he became so peripheral and apparently lost. The guy has boatloads of natural talent… and so the conversation veers into cliche: it’s as though we’re talking about a teenager who’s smoking too much pot. I suppose this sort of decline happens all the time, in all sorts of people, in all sorts of situations. He barely saw the ball this past season, but I remember one moment, though I suppose it might be a mismash of several moments, in a Cup game, how in midtsride he brought the ball down with a single touch, then let it bounce, and scored on a half-volley.
So, hypothetically, this should be a less painful transfer season for Arsenal fans. There’s no superstar to lose, no talismanic captain going rogue. What could go wrong? What grapes are left to sour?
Well, what if Cesc Fabregas decamped from Barcelona to Manchester United? So they could have two world class ex-captains? UGH. Their fans are talking about how nicely the two of them could “link up together.” ARRGGGGH.
And, what if on top of that, the Gunners bought one of the most annoying footballers on earth? From United?
That is a nightmare scenario, and why I shouldn’t look at these stupid transfer stories. The Fabregas to United story doesn’t make much sense- I mean, it makes sense that Moyes might pursue Fabregas, but I’d be surprised if Barcelona were ready to sell him. He was bought to replace Xavi, and has barely had a chance to play in position. And Arsenal has right of first refusal if Barca choose to sell, and I’m pretty sure they’d bring him back into the fold, especially if United were the alternative. Still… what a nightmare. And the Nani thing is just dumb. He’ll go to some megabucks oil team and waste away.
The Spurs game was in the corner of left eye. Arsenal was in front of me, of course. Across the bar Chelsea fans could be heard but not seen, which was almost, but not quite, perfect. No one cared much about the United fans, who were sitting smug somewhere, watching their team let West Brom to score five meaningless times. And there just aren’t that many Everton fans in the States, and certainly no Sunderland fans.
I could barely eat my breakfast I was so nervous- it took me the entire first half to finish my bagel, and I couldn’t quite down the home fries. Which is ridiculous, but I’m not about to change. I found this season- as an Arsenal fan- even more excruciating than the last. And last season was really rough, excepting a few lofted Alex Song through balls and RVP volleys. But now that it’s all done we ended up three points higher than last, and the team looks more… teamy. The back four works together, the midfield actually defends. The forwards score, a little. There’s no transcendent talent, but the glue holding it all together now appears to be stronger. We had the second best defense in the league, and a better goal differential than the best defense (City’s), and that’s pretty much completely due to the last dozen or so games, which is cause for optimism.
And so we celebrated coming in fourth because it felt good. When Bale scored in the eighty-eighth minute I think we were all pretty sure something terrible was going to happen in our game. I mean the carpet was so perfectly set up to be jerked out from under us. The aesthetics of the day almost seemed to demand that we crumble; I’m sure the hacks had a truckload of punny headlines all set to go. Walcott hit the post, there was almost no time left, and the law of averages suggests that one of these times Spurs are going to get lucky. Sometimes I wish I didn’t like Arsenal so much, because it’s been a bit of a miserable past time, but then I think of Spurs…
Bale scored, and a Spurs dude turned to us and yelled “Let’s go Papiss Cisse! Put one in!” and nobody responded. Four minutes passed, Newcastle didn’t score, and suddenly the Spurs fans were gone, probably locked in the bathroom, and we were singing “One nil to the Arsenal.” Yes!
The day left me calm and looking forward to a summer spent daydreaming about transfers, a moronic but pleasant habit that beats thinking about real news. It’s a great thing to do on the el.