Monday, September 15, 2014

A Reality Check For Manuel Pellegrini

This morning I read an article where Manuel Pellegrini was complaining about Manchester City's group draw in the Champions League versus that of Arsenal. His basic point is that since Manchester City won the EPL last season, they should be rewarded with an easier draw than Arsenal, who finished 4th and qualified through the playoffs.

Without saying Arsenal by name, Pellegrini alluded to the club when he said, 

"I don´t think it´s good that the teams who play qualification because they finished fourth in their domestic leagues are in pot one (top seeds), where the strongest teams should be.
‘In our group we have three domestic champions, the English champions, the German champions, and the Russian champions (CSKA Moscow). So our group seems a bit unbalanced.
‘Maybe in the future there will be a system for the teams in the pots which goes according to their position in their leagues and the points won in Europe.
‘I think we need to find a modification whereby, for example, all teams who play qualification go into pot four, and all champions of their respective leagues and have a lot of points in Europe (a high coefficient) go into pot one. 
‘There is a need for some modifications to not let something like what happened to us happen again, while the teams that play preliminaries appear to be the most important ones in Europe.

To be fair, he has a point. Clubs that do the best should be rewarded as such. However, the more I thought about it, the more I completely disagree with Pellegrini. Yes clubs that perform the best should be rewarded, however, when a club simply purchases success that takes away from clubs such as Arsenal and yes even Manchester United, Liverpool and others that have a long history of domestic success, trophies and European experience.
Arsenal team in the Champions League 2006 final
I have been following Arsenal and the EPL since 1998 and I seem to remember Manchester City as a club that bounced around between the EPL and Division 1, including a stop in Division 2. Meanwhile, during this 18 year period Arsenal won three EPL titles and finished no lower than 4th every season. As for Manchester City, until Sheikh Mansour purchased the club and infused it with his oil money in 2008, Manchester City was rather irrelevant and players such as Shaun Goater were their "stars".

Here's a look at the finishes over the past 18 years for Manchester City and Arsenal. Perhaps Pellegrini should take a look at these statistics as they are quite telling.

1997-98       Manchester City      22nd relegated from Div 1     Top scorer Paul Dickov
                     Arsenal                    1st in EPL                                Top scorer Dennis Bergkamp

1998-99       Manchester City       3rd in Division 2 promoted    Top scorer Shaun Goater
                    Arsenal                      2nd in EPL                              Top scorer Nicolas Anelka              
1999-00       Manchester City       2nd in Division 1 promoted   Top scorer Shaun Goater
                     Arsenal                      2nd in EPL                             Top scorer Thierry Henry

2000-01      Manchester City        18th relegated from EPL       Top scorer Shaun Goater
                    Arsenal                       2nd in EPL                             Top scorer Thierry Henry

2001-02      Manchester City         1st in Division 1 promoted   Top scorer Shaun Goater
                    Arsenal                       1st in EPL                              Top scorer Thierry Henry

2002-03      Manchester City         9th in EPL                            Top scorer Nicolas Anelka
                   Arsenal                        2nd in EPL                            Top scorer Thierry Henry

2003-04      Manchester City        16th in EPL                            Top scorer Nicolas Anelka
                   Arsenal                        1st in EPL                              Top scorer Thierry Henry

2004-05      Manchester City         8th in EPL                             Top scorers  Robbie Fowler/                                                                                                                    Shaun Wright-Phillips
                   Arsenal                        2nd in EPL                             Top scorer Thierry Henry

2005-06     Manchester City         15th in EPL                             Top scorers Andrew Cole/                                                                                                                         Darius Vassell
                   Arsenal                        4th in EPL                              Top scorer Thierry Henry                                                  
2006-07     Manchester City          14th in EPL                            Top scorer Joey Barton
                   Arsenal                        4th in EPL                              Top scorer Robin van Persie

1997-08    Manchester City           9th in EPL                             Top scorer Elano
                  Arsenal                         4th in EPL                              Top scorer Adebayor

2008-09    Manchester City          10th in EPL                            Top scorer Robinho
Sheikh Mansour purchases club 9/2008
                  Arsenal                        4th in EPL                               Top scorer Robin van Persie

2009-10    Manchester City          5th in EPL                               Top scorer Tevez
                 Arsenal                         3rd in EPL                               Top scorer Cesc Fabregas

 2010-11    Manchester City          3rd in EPL                             Top scorer Tevez
                  Arsenal                          4th in EPL                             Top score Robin van Persie

2011-12   Manchester City            1st in EPL                              Top scorer Aguero
                Arsenal                            3rd in EPL                             Top scorer Robin van Persie

2012-13   Manchester City            2nd in EPL                             Top scorers Carlos Tevez/                                                                                                                       Sergio Aguero
                Arsenal                            4th in EPL                              Top scorer Theo Walcott

2013-14   Manchester City            1st in EPL                               Top scorer Sergio Aguero
                 Arsenal                          4th in EPL                               Top scorer Olivier Giroud

                          Trophies and Champions League Participation      
                          EPL Titles /FA Cup /League Cup/ Comm. Shield             
Manchester City     2                   1                   1            1               

Champions League History -  3 entries 2011-2014/Group Stages 2x, Round of  16 1x

Arsenal                    3                    5                  0            5              

Champions League History - 18 straight entries 1998-2014/Runners Up 1x, Semis 1x, Quarters 4x Round of 16 6x, Europa Cup Runners Up 1x

Yes Manchester City are currently one of the toughest teams in the EPL. However, this is a recent phenomenon that was not truly earned by the organization through recruitment and player development. Instead, they have spent untold billions to buy some of the best players in the world while also purchasing "feeder" clubs in New York and Melbourne. They are basically operating as the New York Yankees did under George at all costs and buy championships. 

If Manchester City want to be in Pot 1 of the Champions League draw every year, then they should earn that right by creating some history and a legacy both domestic and in Europe. So far all they've done is purchase the right to be in the tournament.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Arsenal 2014-2015 - September

Saturday, September 13 2014 7:45AM EST Arsenal vs. Manchester City

The international break is finally over and all the transfer window gossip is now officially over (until January that is). Arsenal's new striker Danny Welbeck was the star in England's 2-0 win over Switzerland in the EURO 2016 qualifying match this past week which gives him extra confidence heading in to his Arsenal debut.

The fact that Arsenal are facing Manchester City makes this match even more significant. As all Arsenal fans know, the clubs' frailties against the top teams last season was a big reason why the club's title run came up short. It is important that Arsenal show they can compete with the big boys and not be pushed around as in the past.

Going in to the match, many Arsenal fans would be lying if they didn't admit they were afraid that we might get beaten badly. Arsenal were the stronger side in the first half, but still found themselves behind 0-1 when Aguero scored in the 28th minute. After we dominated the first half and still went behind 0-1 on an Aguero goal.

Wilshere scored a beauty to even the score in the 63rd followed by an amazing goal by Alexis Sanchez in the 74th minute. The Emirates was rocking and Sanchez ripped his shirt off in celebration. It was looking like Arsenal were going to pull off the win.

Unfortunately the defense once again proved fragile and City equalized on a corner kick in the 83rd minute.

A 2-2 draw is truly a good result against last year's champions. However, the fact that Arsenal led with just 16 minutes left and were unable to hold the lead was definitely a disappointment. Of course those negative fans that complain about anything and everything were spewing their anger on Twitter and Arsene Wenger was once again in the path of criticism. 

The real negative from the game is the fact that Mathieu Debuchy was taken off on a stretcher with what looked like a very serious ankle injury.

Next up is a trip to Dortmund for round one in the Champions League group stages.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 2:45PM EST Arsenal at Borussia Dortmund Champions League Game 1

Arsenal travel to Germany to kick off the group stages of the Champions League. The clubs are familiar with each other, having played several times in the past few years. Unfortunately, Arsenal are without Debuchy, Chambers and Monreal for the match and Hector Bellerin is being promoted from the youth team to fill in. That's like taking a first grader and putting him in high school calculus. Hopefully the team will get off to a good start.

I am one of the most positive Arsenal fans around and get annoyed at all the negative whining and comments on Twitter every time something goes wrong for the club. Today, however, I have to join in.

This was without a doubt the worst collective team performance from Arsenal that I've ever seen. At times it looked like Dortmund were playing with 25 players as every time an Arsenal player was on the ball, they would be stripped of it by 2 or more Dortmund players. When Dortmund had the ball, we couldn't defend and their players were able to run straight at goal without any of Arsenal's midfielders of defenders causing a problem.

Arsenal's passing was horrible and at times non existent. Arteta was the worst player on the pitch and seemed completely off the pace. For the first half hour, Sczsney was the hero as he was called on to make save after save. Unfortunately, Sczesney joined in on the bad play with some horrible howlers later on; one in particular where he nonchalantly played the ball and came very close to gifting Dortmund another goal.

The final score was 2-0, but it truly could have been 10-0. I'm keeping faith with the team, but the players need a good wake up call and to play up to their abilities. Luckily it's only match day one and we have 5 more matches to get things right.

Saturday, September 20, 2014 10AM EST Arsenal at Aston Villa 

Nervous time for Arsenal fans. The team has been less than impressive thus far and after the humiliating defeat in Dortmund, fans are deservedly a bit nervous. Villa have gotten off to a great start to the season and of course Arsenal fans remember last season's opening day loss at home to Villa. Some goals and a clean sheet would be a welcome outcome.

Wow, within a span of just about three minutes, Arsenal, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck silenced a lot of the critics and restored some much needed confidence to a squad that needed a lift. Welbeck set up Ozil for the first which he took with precision. One minute later and it was Ozil playing provider for Welbeck. Arsenal were rolling and on their next attack, a Kieran Gibbs shot was kicked right in to the Villa net by Villa's Aly Cissokho. The first half ended with Arsenal on top 0-3.

The second half was a lot of Arsenal passing the ball about with little Villa pressure. While it would have been nice to see the Gunners run up the score, the win was the most important thing....followed by a clean sheet. Villa put up very little fight and Arsenal were content to keep possession. The final stats are pretty impressive: Arsenal had 71.4% of possession compared to Villa's 28.6%. Arsenal had a total pass tally of 814, while Villa managed 312.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of a great run from the Arsenal boys.

Adding to the great Arsenal victory and the vindication for Ozil and Welbeck was a weekend that was pure magic for Arsenal fans. Spuds lost to West Brom at home 0-1, Liverpool were owned at West Ham 3-1, Chelsea were denied a victory and settled for a draw with the oil barons as Frank Lampard scored against his old team for a 1-1 draw....but the best result of the entire weekend was at Leicester. After ManU defeated QPR 4-0 the press were declaring United are back and Van Gaal was in the papers saying that they could win the title this season. Well, a reality check was issued today. Up 1-3 at Leicester, ManU's weak defense shone brightly as they were dismantled by newly promoted Leicester and ended up 5-3 losers!!! 

On a side note, despite the Mets having another non winning season, they swept their onetime nemesis, Atlanta Braves, this weekend knocking them out of the playoffs. A great sports weekend it was.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 2:45PM EST Arsenal vs. Southampton Capital One Cup Third Round

Time for the league cup and Arsene Wenger usually gives the young players the chance to prove themselves in this competition. While not the most glamorous tournament, it does result in a trophy at the end. It's another chance for Arsenal to add to their recent silverware.

Everything was looking good for Arsenal to win the match and progress in the tournament. An amazing Alexis Sanchez free kick gave the Gunners a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute. Unfortunately, Tomas Rosicky gifted Southampton a goal when he fouled Sadio Mane in the box. From there Arsenal had the bulk of the possession, but were unable to make the breakthrough. 

Nathaniel Clyne gave Southampton the lead in the 40th minute with an exceptional goal. 

The second half was goalless and Arsenal were out of the Capital One Cup with a 1-2 loss.

Saturday, September 27, 2014 12:30PM EST Arsenal vs. Tottenham

This will be the first Arsenal match that I have not been able to watch live in ages. I'll be visiting my cousins in Atlanta and despite them having hundreds of channels, they do not have NBC Sports.

Of course the North London Derby is one of the biggest matches of the season as it's another chance to remind Tottenham and their fans that North London is red and that they are forever in our shadow.

Here's hoping for a victory in front of the home fans.

The good news is that they didn't lose. The bad news is that they didn't win despite dominating the game. Arsenal had 69% of the possession, 16 shots on goal to Spurs' 6 and 15 corners to Spurs' 5. Despite all this, Arsenal had to fight back for a 1-1 draw.

The first half finished scoreless and Tottenham took advantage of a Flamini mistake to take the lead in the 56th minute on a Chadli goal. The Ox evened the score in the 74th minute and it seemed as if momentum was now on Arsenal's side and that they would go on to a deserved win. Sadly that didn't happen, but the one point leaves Arsenal in 4th place and still undefeated in the league.