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.


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