Friday, August 26, 2011

Arsenal Stars Turn on the Team, Reality Sets in as Replace-Mets Begin an August Swoon

Arsenal's disastrous collapse that began with last February's Carling Cup defeat to Birmingham has become a lingering funk that has brought about a sense of uncertainty and angst amongst supporters that has lasted well in to the summer, the pre-season and now the beginning of the new campaign.  Add to that the fact that the media and pundits have been piling on with gloom and doom scenarios regarding Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.  Suffice it to say that it was a summer of discontent for Gooners everywhere as their beloved Arsenal seemed to be under attack from all directions.

As for the transfer market, Wenger brought in striker Gervinho from Lille, defender Carl Jenkinson from Charlton and "Alex" Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton.  Outside of Gervinho, fans were less than satisfied and wondering when Wenger was going to splash the cash and land the star players that the team needs to fill in their holes.  Instead of signings, Arsenal fans have witnessed an ongoing exit of squad players...Eboue to Galatasary, Vela loaned out to Real Sociedad (I still don't understand why he doesn't get playing time with Arsenal), Clichy left to join the oil barons in Manchester and Denilson was loaned out to Sao Paulo.  Meanwhile, players that fans wanted to depart...Almunia, Bendtner and the much despised and useless Squillaci still remain.

Another troubling element of the Arsenal pre-season saw two major players depart the team following prolonged transfer sagas which played out like soap operas.  In my opinion both players were selfish and one in particular was outrageously classless. 

The Barca boys club always wanted Cesc to join them
Everyone knew that Cesc Fabregas wanted to return to his boyhood club Barcelona one day.  However, he signed for Arsenal at the age of 16 and manager Arsene Wenger brought him through the ranks to the point where he was team captain and the focal point of a major European club.  Yet, his incestuous Barcelona buddies continually courted him in the press and at Spanish team events.  It was almost as if there was some bizarre Barca love in going on. 

Cesc played coy throughout the long winded affair and instead of speaking up, hid behind the headlines.  In the end, Cesc was respectful and thankful to Arsene Wenger & the fans in his departure.  It may be just my opinion, but I have to question why a very young player who has been put in a powerful position with a major team and has the chance to become a legend, would give it up to go home to a team where he will be just another piece of the puzzle in a star studded team.  I feel that Fabregas owed more to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in particular.

Judas "It's not about the money" Nasri
The Samir Nasri transfer is probably the most ugly and disrespectful thing I have witnessed in all my years of supporting Arsenal. (that includes Adebayor, Hleb, Petit, Cashley, etc.)  Arsene Wenger gave Nasri the opportunity to shine on a large scale and in the end, he completely turned his back on the manager, the team, the club and the fans who he seems to have held the most contempt for.  Lots of players switch teams in their careers, but Nasri made his change an ugly and contentious affair taking digs at the manager, the stadium and the fans in the press.  The Nasri situation bothers me more than most would as he was a player that I held in such high regard.  I considered him the new Robert Pires which is truly a compliment.  In the end he proved a disloyal, greedy, two faced fraud.  While Manchester City are flush with money now, Nasri refers to them as a "bigger team" than Arsenal.  Richer, yes.  But bigger, hell no.  In fact as recently as 1998 they were playing in Division Two. They managed to work their way back to the top flight for the 2000-2001 season only to be relegated again.  During City's up and down status, Arsenal were only representing the Premier League in the Champions League every season (and continue to for the 14th straight year).  I hate to wish bad things upon people, but I hope Nasri gets what he deserves.

Of course with these two transfer dragging on, Arsenal did not sign needed players and the pre-season play was totally uninspiring.  This malaise continued in to the start of the new season with a scoreless draw at Newcastle and a red card for Gervinho brought on by Joey "Thug" Barton who violently pulled Gervinho up by the collar and acted as if Muhammed Ali had punched him when Gervinho defended himself from the assault.

Theo's goal sealed Arsenal's progess in to the
Champions League group stages for the 14th season in a row
Then in Arsenal's first home match against Liverpool, the team came up on the short end of a 0-2 result with yet another red card for the exuberant youngster Emmanuel Frimpong.  The press just piled it on with every negative angle they could cover.  Even a 1-0 victory over Udinese in the first leg of their Champions League play in match was picked apart and looked at as a negative result?  Yes, Arsenal won, but the press found fault in their win.  Well, Arsenal showed up all the doubters by going in to Italy and coming away with a solid victory and team performance that once again has put them in Europe's elite tournament.

The transfer window is open for another five days, so fans are hopeful that Wenger will bring in some reinforcements.  Regardless, true Gooners stay loyal while frauds like Nasri jump on the money train at the first opportunity.

As for the Mets, to be fair they have given the fans much more than anyone ever expected coming out of Spring Training.  Depleted by injuries all season long (Reyes, Wright, Niese, Santana, Hairston, Davis, Murphy, Young, Beltran, Pagan, Bay, etc.) and at times fielding a team made up of their AAA squad from Buffalo they have remained competitive and really given the fans some hope for the future.  I've said it before, but this team that was supposed to be horrible, played better, were more likable and were more exciting to watch than the Mets teams of 2007 and 2008 that were supposed to be good.

Lately the Mets have been losing more than winning, but rookies like Dillon Gee, Justin Turner and Lucas Duda look like players for the future, while old timers like R.A. Dickey and Jason Isringhausen have brought great attitudes and leadership to a team that needed it.  Of course the fact that the cornerstones of the current Mets franchise, David Wright and Jose Reyes, remain with the team is a plus moving forward.

With just over a month to go in the season, the Mets are currently six games under .500, which in itself is pretty amazing.  They have hovered around the .500 mark all year long and if they can finish the season strong they will have achieved more than anyone could have hoped for.  In fact, Spring Training 2012 is now something to look forward to.

2011 Mets have given their fans more than was expected

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London is burning, Arsenal fans are asking questions and the Mets are surprising everyone

The footage out of London this week is truly horrifying and disturbing.  One of the greatest modern cities in the world is being terrorized by groups of opportunistic disenfranchised thugs with no regards for anyone but themselves.The images of businesses being looted and set aflame, regular citizens being mugged and terrorized and a police force unable to contain the madness are shocking.  Now it's spread to other cities in the country as lawlessness has become chic.

While I've been to London many times and know the city pretty well, I can't understand how something like this could be allowed to escalate to the point where businesses and offices are closing early, people are locking themselves in their houses and scheduled events are being cancelled.  While I am totally anti-gun, in this instance the British police force should be armed and taking control over this situation.

Obviously there are social issues that have ignited this violence, but the path chosen by these hooligans to express their outrage does not merit a dialogue.  It takes real geniuses to destroy their own neighborhoods and thus make the economic troubles they already face even worse. These idiots should be dealt with using force and heavy handed policing as they have lost their right to be treated with dignity.

Of course these morons are causing the start of the football season to be affected.  Several Carling Cup matches have been postponed as has England's friendly versus Holland at Wembley.  No decision has been made about the opening round of fixtures in the EPL this weekend, but the fact that this is taking away from what should be an exciting week for football fans is ridiculous.

But enough about these dopes.  Us Arsenal fans have other worries.  While I'll always support my team and remain optimistic, this off season has pretty much been a train wreck.  With three days to go before the start of the season (unless the rioters continue to wreak havoc), the Arsenal squad is looking thin and totally unsettled.

New signing Gervinho, proud to wear the Arsenal shirt
Arsene Wenger has not addressed a number of glaring problems with the squad; specifically the team's weak defense.  With Gael Clichy taking the money of the Man City oil barons and the less than stellar performances by Squillaci, Eboue and Djourou and relative newbies in Gibbs and Jenkinson there doesn't appear to be any improvement.  While the transfer window stays open until the end of the month, the season starts NOW.  If a defender does come in, it's going to take time for that player to gel with the team.  Why the long wait?

The no loyalty twins, Fabregas & Nasri
Then of course is the never ending Cesc and Nasri sagas.  My opinion...they are both major disappointments.  Fabregas is 24 and the captain of a major European team that made him a star. Poor baby wants to leave to go hang out with his buddies in Barcelona where he won't get to play every game and will just be another piece of the puzzle instead of the leading man.  Then there's Nasri.  I thought this guy was going to be another Robert Pires, instead he's another Adebayor.  Any respect I had for this player is gone and it's a real sad statement on the state of sport today.  To turn your back on the man and club that put you on the map and the fans that sang your name week in and week out, solely for more money than one person can spend is downright gross.  Plus, his assertion that he wants to win trophies so he needs to leave is hysterical as he was a part of the reason that Arsenal didn't win trophies.  Nasri it turns out is just another greedy mercenary.

So, with three days to go, both are still on the Arsenal roster as are Nicklas Bendtner and Manuel Almunia who should both be leaving.  It seems crazy to me to go in to a new season with a squad that is still not settled or complete.

The more pleasant surprise comes from the most unlikely of places...the New York Mets.  Going in to the season Mets fans had very low expectations and were prepared for a miserable and embarrassing season.  Since going to the NLCS in 2006 the franchise has been on a continual downward spiral.  Add to that, ace pitcher Johan Santana has been out all season, Reyes is on the DL for the second time, Ike Davis is out for the year, David Wright and Angel Pagan have both missed time with injuries and now this week Daniel Murphy goes down for the rest of the year.  Of course the trade of Carlos Beltran to San Francisco depleted the roster of another key player.

New manager Terry Collins deserves a ton of credit as he has had to use tons of minor league call ups and other assorted castoffs in order to field a team every night.  No one expected much from the "Replace-Mets" and if they had faded in to baseball oblivion no one would have been surprised.

The "Replace-Mets" pull out a comeback win
Instead, something else has happened.  This band of spare parts has been bringing fans back to the ballpark and showing fight and tenacity that better Mets teams never were able to produce.  Take Monday night's game for example; when Pelfrey and the bullpen were once again ineffective and gave away a 4-1 lead to the weak hitting Padres.  Unbelievably, this collection of misfits (like the land of misfit toys from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) overcame an 8-4 deficit in their last two at bats with Lucas Duda providing the game winning walk off single for a 9-8 win.

Then tonight, the Mets were down 4-2 in the 8th inning and again found a way to come back and secure a 5-4 victory.  Mets teams of the past few years, with better players and higher expectations rarely came through in these situations.

The Mets have been hovering at the .500 mark for weeks now, but that in itself is amazing.  While trophies may be important in sports, sometimes just playing the game hard and giving your fans something to cheer for is enough.  Despite the low expectations of fans at the start of the season and all the injuries that have continually gripped this team, the 2011 New York Mets have been fun, exciting and most of all likeable.