Thursday, April 21, 2011

An American Arsenal Fan's View on Arsenal and Being a Fan

Arsenal fans see their team beat Barcelona
Part of the reason I started this blog was to give myself a forum to vent about the teams that I follow. Since I think that I'm the only one who reads this, I feel safe in saying whatever it is that I feel. So, here we go.

Since the Carling Cup loss in late February it has been a very disappointing time for fans of Arsenal.  Rather than go in to the same old details, suffice it to say that too many draws, a weak central defense and the lack of an out and out striker have resulted in a series of results that find the squad 6 points behind ManU (and now behind Chelsea on goal differential) with 5 games remaining.  While this has left myself and other supporters sad, upset, bummed, etc. what I find shocking and don't understand is the scathing comments being hurled at the team from "fans", the press & the pundits.

The entire EPL season has seen massive changes at both the top and the bottom of the table.  The relegation battle is so tight this season that the bottom ten teams are all currently battling to stay in the league.  That is usually not the case. 

Meanwhile, both ManU and Chelsea have been sub par and at times unimpressive, yet they are currently one and two.  Then there are the "title challengers" Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool.  Tottenham have probably over achieved, yet they are still behind the top 4 fighting for the final Champions League spot and ten points behind Arsenal.  They get praised.  Okay, whatever.  Man City, for all their millions spent, have at times looked very average and everyone seems to have forgotten the horrible start to the season Liverpool had and that only their recent turnaround has saved them from total embarrassment.

The point of all this, the distance between the haves and the have nots has lessened.  Therefore I really don't understand the dire mood of a majority of Arsenal fans.  Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for 12 consecutive seasons, they are always in the battle for major trophies and they have been a consistent top team for as long as I've been following them. (mid 90's) Perhaps it's a cultural thing.  I did not grow up in England, I don't have a family history of Arsenal supporters and without living there I can honestly say I am not as informed on the culture of English football fandom as those based in the UK probably are.

However, coming from an American sports fan perspective allows me to look at the Arsenal situation in a much different way.  We are spoiled for sports teams and leagues to support in New York.  There are 10 professional sports teams within 25 miles of downtown Manhattan and outside of the free spending Yankees, they have consistently delivered heartache to their fans on a regular basis. (I'll give the Red Bulls a pass on this category as they are still a work in progress and are definitely heading in the right direction; THIERRY HENRY).

The Knicks have been horrible for 7 years and the butt of so many jokes; the Nets are a non entity without a fan base; the Islanders are just plain sad, the Rangers finally won that Stanley Cup in 1994 and have broken their fans' hearts ever since; the Devils have fallen on hard times after a very successful period; the Jets, while getting closer to being possible contenders, are still remembering the glory days of Joe Namath and the 1969 Super Bowl win; while, the Giants go from bad to good and then good to bad.

Mets fans see their team get off to the worst start in baseball
Of course that leaves my first true sports love, the New York Mets.  If you want to talk horrible, you've come to the right place.  They have started the 2011 season in pathetic style and officially have the worst record of the 30 teams in baseball. Rather than rehash the annual collapses and ineptness of New York's "2nd baseball team", all you need to know is that they have consistently screwed up and put their fan base through torture and agony.  We live in the same city as Yankee fans.  We constantly get grief from them at work, from neighbors, from total moronic strangers.  Yet, we keep coming back for more.  Why, because we are FANS.  It would be real easy to just jump on the Yankee bandwagon, become a Pittsburgh Steelers fan or pledge allegiance to Kobe and the Lakers.  Why do we stick with the Knicks, Rangers, Jets, Mets or whomever?  It may be because we are crazy and gluttons for punishment, but the reason is we are fans.  We win with the team and we lose with the team.

So, long story short, I'll keep supporting the Mets and hoping that things improve (although I expect to see fans with bags on their heads throughout the season) and I will definitely stick with Arsenal and give them the respect they deserve as a wonderfully run club that competes at the highest level EVERY season and consistently gives their fans a reason to believe.  If the Mets performed like this season after season, the fans would be THRILLED.

Yes, I'm just an American girl, but that's how I see things.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kroenke and the Wilpons - Owners Going In Different Directions

Mad Jens was back in goal
Wow, what a crazy week it's been both on the field of play and at the upper level of team management.  It's always best to start with the positives so I'll begin with Arsenal.

Since the February 27th Carling Cup Final loss to Birmingham, it's been tough times for Gooners.  Arsenal fell out of both the Champions League and the FA Cup and mediocre play produced draws with inferior teams, West Brom and Blackburn.  The English media didn't help matters with lots of negative reports and second guessing and Arsenal fans seemed to be turning on each other on social media with the Wenger out brigade vs. the in Wenger we trust army.

While all this was going on ManUre continued to find ways to win games they should have lost and Arsenal's chance at winning the EPL title seemed to be slipping further away.

Some sort of order has been restored in the last week. Gooners were treated to the site of gloating Spuds fans having their bubble burst as Madrid embarrassed Tottenham in Spain and Arsenal went to Blackpool and came away 3-1 winners (despite some nervy play).  With 7 games left, Arsenal's title dreams are hanging on by the edge of a knife, but they are still alive.

Stan Kroenke takes over
The real big news came down on Monday when it was announced that American businessman Stan Kroenke had purchased a controlling stake in the ownership of Arsenal.  Kroenke runs Kroenke Sports Enterprises which includes ownership of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and the Colorado Rapids of MLS.

The ownership model at Arsenal is quite different than what most American sports fans are used to, but by upping his stake in the club, Kroenke has essentially taken control of the team's ownership.  Both the New York Times and Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail do a good job of explaining the details of Arsenal's ownership situation.

While I am far from a flag waving rah rah American, I do take offense to some of the anti US rhetoric being bandied about by some folks.  Yes Arsenal is a storied English football team from North London.  However, by aiming for international success and importing stars regardless of their country of origin the team has become a global entity with fans from all over the world.  The Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods jokes are a bit hypocritical if you consider the fact that Arsenal play in a stadium called "The Emirates", after the airline of the same name.  Additionally, to American sports fans, it's odd to see players running around with sponsor names on their jerseys.  Some of the sillier ones that I've seen over the years were Portsmouth with Ty (makers of the Beanie Babies), Wolves with Doritos and Man. United with the disgraced financial institution AIG.  Unfortunately, sponsorship is a necessary evil, because even if we don't want to think it, at the end of the day all sports clubs are businesses.

Time will tell how the Kroenke deal turns out, but most reports are optimistic and portray a dedicated sports owner who shuns the limelight and gives his teams the necessary tools to compete at the highest level.

The Wilpons, sending out an SOS
At the other end of the spectrum are the owners of the New York Mets; Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz. The Bernie Maddoff scandal has left them searching for an investor to buy a stake in the team due to the $1 billion lawsuit being filed against them.  Whether you like the Wilpons or not, the sad fact is that the off field problems are definitely being felt on the field.  With limited resources and coming off of several bad seasons, the situation presently looks bleak.

Bobby Parnell gives it away
The team won 2 out of 3 to start the season versus the Marlins, leaving fans somewhat hopeful.  Since then however, they've lost series' to the Phillies and Nationals and the team's bullpen has resembled the Yorkville Pee Wee League that plays just up the block from me.

A sure sign that this is going to be a long season is that the Mets have had four home games so far and I've already been offered free tickets to two of them. (One I didn't accept as I had to do my laundry).  I did attend Opening Day and there were quite a few empty seats.  Those fans proved to be prophetic as the Mets blew the game and received their first vociferous round of boos of the season.

So, hopefully Arsenal can end the season strong and somehow finish atop the table.  As for the Mets, it's a long season but the signs are not looking good.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Arsenal Season Winds Down, Mets Season Starts Up

It has been a depressing month for Arsenal fans as the team has gone from being the only club in England eligible for four trophies to barely holding on to a slim chance of winning the EPL title.  The Carling Cup loss to Birmingham was gut wrenching as it was the team's best chance to pick up some silverware and it was blown to an inferior team that simply played better on the day and made fewer mistakes.  The high of beating Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 was defused easily when Barcelona made Arsenal look ordinary in the second leg.  Despite a bad decision by the ref to send off Van Persie for following through on a shot after being called offside, Arsenal were simply outplayed and frankly embarrassed.

A string of FA Cup replays to lower division opponents were a prelude to a demoralizing 2-0 loss to ManUre in the FA Cup 6th round.  What made the loss even worse was the fact that Arsenal had the majority of the possession and double the amount of shots on goal.

Sadly, that seems to be the theme of the entire season.  Arsenal put up great statistics in possession and passing, but never seem to be able to put the game away.  They have proven to be a real Jekyll and Hyde team.  Sometimes they are brilliant; other times they are quite ordinary.

In Arsene I Still Trust - A True Arsenal Legend
The saddest thing is that many fans are now turning on the players and most upsetting of all, many are turning on Arsene Wenger.  There is a definite need for improvement but the negativity being directed at a man who has spent more than a decade making Arsenal so successful, is really sad and makes things even worse.

It could be a cultural thing, after all many New Yorkers have come to expect little or nothing from the teams they support (Knicks, Jets, Mets, Rangers, Islanders), but I don't understand how supporters can turn on a man who has guided their team to a top 4 finish for 15 straight seasons. (Barring a disastrous meltdown this year).  He is the only Arsenal manager to have won the FA Cup more than once and the only manager to take the Club to a Champions League Final.  Plus, as all Arsenal fans know, he is the first (and still only) manager in English league history to complete an entire 38-game season unbeaten (2003/04).

There are 20 teams in the league.  Obviously 19 will come up short each year.  Of course I want my team to win competitions, but I also want them to be consistently good.  Arsene Wenger has ensured that.  I look at fans of clubs such as Portsmouth and Leeds which have seen both very good and very bad times in recent years.  I'm sure they've been upset many times, but they stay loyal to their teams.

So, my hope is that common sense will prevail and Wenger will remain to reshape the squad to be that much more competitive and able to withstand the long grueling season.

Defensive frailties were the main issue all season long.  Vermaelen's absence along with the lack of solid and tough central defenders and a true top class keeper were the team's biggest weaknesses.  Every set piece was a potential disaster on defense.  Also missing were both a proven motivator on the pitch and a true world class striker.  Van Persie was hurt too much to play that role and since Henry's departure, the team has lacked a true finisher.

That being said, these are the games that truly put dents in the team's chances to win the EPL title:

Sunderland 1-1 Arsenal      September 18th
Rosicky missed penalty, Sunderland equalized in the last minute of stoppage time on a defensive screw up.

Arsenal 2-3 W.B.A.           September 25th
West Brom went up by 3, Arsenal came back but it was too little too late.  Defensive problems showing.

Arsenal 0-1 Newcastle       November 7th
Fluke Carroll goal and no solid Arsenal finishing.

Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham       November 20th
Up 2-0 after 27 minutes, Arsenal embarrassed themselves by giving up 3 in the 2nd half to their
most hated of rivals.  Most painful loss of the season.

Man United 1-0 Arsenal     December 13th 
A lucky Park goal and the inability to score.  It seemed as if Arsenal were waiting to be defeated.

Wigan 2-2 Arsenal             December 29th 
A terrible Squillaci own goal in the 80th minute gives Wigan a draw soon after a great win over Chelsea.

Arsenal 4-4 Newcastle       February 5th
A complete horror show.  After going up 4-0 after 26 minutes, the team implodes and the ref gifts Newcastle a phantom penalty.

Arsenal 0-Sunderland 0      March 5th    
Terrible play coming off a demoralizing Carling Cup defeat due to terrible defensive play.

W.B.A. 2-2 Arsenal           March 19th       
A total defensive screw up left Arsenal down 2-0.  A late come back comes up short.

Arsenal 0-0 Blackburn       April 2
Controlling their own destiny, Arsenal again put in a pedestrian performance to an inferior team. Luck will now have to come in to play if Arsenal are to win the league.

As the EPL season winds down, the MLB season has just begun.  While the Mets are back to being the butt of every late night comic's jokes, it's a very liberating feeling to not have the anxiety of the high expectations. Finally nothing is expected of the teams as the Mets are supposed to suck.  If they do suck, then they are meeting expectations.  And if they don't, that's a bonus.  That makes it much easier to watch as no one (especially cocky Yankee fans) can really hurt you with wise ass comments about the Mets.  We've already heard it all.  In fact, by dumping the GM, manager, hitting coach, gimpy Castillo and crappy Perez there's a sense of actual optimism amongst fans.  While the Wilpons are embroiled in the Madoff scandal and the club continues to lose monetary value, the team is becoming more like the Mets of the early '60's...lovable underdogs.

Things started off as they ended last year.  Pelfrey began the season by surrendering the first grand slam of the year to the Marlins before the Mets even had a hit.  Adding to the plot line was the fact that Josh Johnson was working on a no hitter in to the latter part of the game.  The Mets didn't get no hit and didn't get shut out.  They lost, but they lost without embarassing themselve.  That's progress.  They then went on to win the final 2 games of the series and have started a respectable 2-1.