Sunday, October 25, 2015

Arsenal 2015-2016: October

Sunday October 4, 2015 Arsenal vs. Manchester United 11AM EST

After another disastrous Champions League debacle at home to Olympiakos, here come the current EPL leaders Manchester United. I so miss those days of Arsenal and Manchester United battling each other for league supremacy. Sadly in recent years, it's been Arsenal battling themselves versus an inferior United. It's almost as if Arsenal let the aura of past United teams cause them to buckle every time they meet. If ever there was a time to right this, now would be it. How LVG and his crap squad have jumped to the head of the pack is hard to believe. With Chelsea becoming a weekly joke and no one other than Manchester City presenting a challenge, now is the time for Arsenal to make a statement. It has to happen. Let's do this.

Well, that was more like it. Arsenal won the game within the first 20 minutes with three quick goals courtesy of the sensational Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. United couldn't keep up with the pace of Arsenal's attack and after taking a 3-0 lead, let United unsuccessfully chase the match. There have been so many games where Arsenal dominated the possession only to lose. Today it was different. I was actually surprised to see that United had 62% of the ball. Arsenal were in complete control and for once allowed the defensive side of their game show through.

Petr Cech was outstanding in goal and the central defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Gabriel was solid throughout the match. Bellerin and Monreal were quick on both sides of the ball and in the end it was the most comprehensive overall team performance of the season.

With Chelsea losing yesterday (again), United getting brought back down to earth and Liverpool drawing with Everton, it was a great day for Arsenal. Soon after the match came the news that Liverpool had fired Brendan Rodgers. While I have no animosity towards the guy, it's nice to go in to an international break not being the media's current "crisis club".

Onward and upward for the Arsenal.

Saturday October 17, 2015 Arsenal at Watford 12:30PM EST

After a long two week international break it's back to the Premier League for Arsenal. The pre-break 3-0 domination of Man United gave the players and fans a strong dose of confidence to carry with them through the past two weeks.

With Moanrinho and his band of cheaters and fallen stars falling off the mark and the Sheikh's oil barons looking a bit vulnerable, all of a sudden the pundits are singing Arsenal's praises. So at the moment it's Arsenal for the title (although that could change to Wenger out within a moment's notice).

A visit to newly promoted Watford is the type of fixture Arsenal should easily win. As we've come to see, however, there are always surprises and upsets throughout the campaign. Here's hoping that this one is not one of those. A dominating romp versus weaker opponents would be a much more desirable result. 

Three was the number of the day. Three goals for Arsenal and three points in the table. Following some of the less patient Arsenal fans on Twitter throughout the first half, one would have thought that the team sucked, the manager should be fired, Aaron Ramsey was useless and all sorts of other unfounded negativity. The match remained 0-0 after the first 45.

Of course the Twitterverse was a lot more positive during the second half as Arsenal put their mark on the match with goals from Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. Mesut Ozil (who could have had a penalty had Sanchez not slotted home the ball after Ozil was fouled) played provider with two assists.

With victories for ManUre, Citeh and Moanrinho's Chelsea, it was an important victory with Arsenal remaining second in the table; two points behind the Sheikh's oil barons.

Jurgen Klopp made his debut as Liverpool manager at White Hart Lane and the snoozefest produced a 0-0 draw.

Next up for Arsenal is a visit from some small German club called Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Tuesday October 20, 2015 Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich Champions League Group Stages Match Day 3 2:45PM EST

So this is it. Do or die for Arsenal and this year's Champions League competition. With disgraceful displays leading to inexcusable losses to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos in the first two rounds of the group stages this is an almost must win. While expectations are low, there is an air of optimism surrounding the club after the team's most recent league victories over Manchester United and Watford.

Most Arsenal fans have probably already accepted the fact that the team is going out of the tournament in the group stages so the tension level today is not as high as it should be. Of course the pundits talk about Arsenal concentrating solely on winning the league, but in reality, it's extremely disappointing to qualify year after year for the Champions League and then go out early year after year.

So here's to a roll of the dice and let's see what happens.

Wow. Proving why Arsenal can be an extremely frustrating club to support, the Gunners played perhaps their best game of the season and defeated the best team in Europe 2-0. After suffering spirit crushing defeats to lesser competition in Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos, no one really thought that Arsenal had a chance in hell of getting a result versus Bayern. However, something pretty amazing took place at The Emirates. Arsenal played a very un-Arsenal match. They let Bayern control the majority of the possession with tenacious defending and then caught the Germans on the fast break.

The breakthrough came in the 77th minute when substitute Olivier Giroud scored on a Santi Cazorla free kick which goalkeeper Manuel Neuer misplayed.

Then in stoppage time, the sensational Hector Bellerin sent in a cross which Mesut Ozil slotted in as Neuer batted the ball away. The ball was judged to have crossed the line and Arsenal had their 2-0 victory.

Of course the win brought out the usual questions of why couldn't Arsenal put away their lesser opponents in the previous two matches. In the end, it wasn't a time for negatives, but a time to enjoy a hard fought victory over tough opponents that just may have kept Arsenal's Champions League dreams alive.

Saturday October 24, 2015 Arsenal vs. Everton 12:30PM EST

Arsenal head in to today's match on a great run of form and full of confidence. A midweek defeat of Bayern Munich when no one gave the team a chance was just what the doctor ordered. With Chelsea floundering, Liverpool proving no threat and the Manchester teams battling each other this weekend, this is a great opportunity for Arsenal to put some distance between them and the rest of the pack.

Before Arsenal took to the pitch to meet Everton, the specialist in ego and his oil money team Chelsea, were humiliated once again and Moanrinho was event sent to the stands to watch his team lose after being reduced to ten men. It was an enjoyable prelude to play at The Emirates.

In what could only be described as a torrential downpour, Arsenal and Everton kicked off in monsoon weather.

Despite the conditions, Arsenal dominated the possession and never really looked in real danger. The breakthrough finally came in the 36th minute when Olivier Giroud headed home a Mesut Ozil cross. The second came just moments later when Laurent Koscielny met a Santi Cazorla pass with his head and Arsenal had a 2-0 lead.

Arsenal have a habit of scoring in bunches and it was starting to look like it may be an easy day at the office. Unfortunately the weather conditions and a bit of bad luck brought Everton back in to the match just before the half. Ross Barkley's shot was deflected in to the Arsenal goal off of Gabriel Paulista who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was one of those fluke goals that happens and the defender was at no fault for the bad bounce.

Arsenal held strong in the second half and showed their newly found more defensive side. Both teams had scoring opportunities and Petr Cech made a couple of great saves to ensure that the points went to the home team.

The victory left Arsenal top of the table with the Manchester Derby not being contested until the next day. Not bad for a club that was in "crisis" several weeks back according to the pundits.

Tuesday October 27, 2015 Arsenal at Sheffield Wednesday League Cup Fourth Round 3:45PM EST

After a string of good results Arsenal return to action in the League Cup. Having defeated Tottenham in the last round, Arsenal head to Sheffield today for a meeting with Sheffield Wednesday. As usual, Arsene Wenger is expected to give some of the youngsters and fringe players a chance to play and show what they've got.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out on the pitch, they should be capable of beating Championship side Wednesday and moving on to the quarterfinals. 

Shocking, pathetic, sad....these are just a few of the words that come to mind after watching this debacle. Arsenal had 71% of the possession but they never looked close to getting on the score sheet.

Whether it was the ridiculous third kit or the fact that a large number of regulars were not playing or both, this Arsenal side were a shambles. What makes it even more shocking is the fact that fringe players given the chance to prove why they should be playing regularly didn't take advantage of the opportunity they were given. Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs didn't do too much to force Arsene Wenger's hand.

Arsenal had 71% of the possession but only managed six shots on goal. This stat proves that all the possession in the world will not win you a match unless you are capable of putting the ball in to the back of the net.

In the end, it didn't seem that too many Arsenal fans, including myself, were too upset about heading out of the League Cup. Often referred to as the "Mickey Mouse Trophy", it's true that Arsenal have bigger goals this season such as the Premier League and retaining the FA Cup for the third year running.

Saturday October 31, 2015 Arsenal at Swansea 11AM EST

After the midweek blip that was the League Cup it's time to get back to league action. Arsenal face a tough road match against bogey team Swansea City. It's still difficult for me to get the image Bafetimbi Gomis celebrating his goals versus Arsenal last season out of my mind.

Arsenal are flying high in the league and with Chelsea, United and Liverpool all under par it's looking like it may be an Arsenal versus Manchester City fight for the title based on recent form. A win over Swansea City will let ghosts of past seasons disappear and make a statement about Arsenal's title credentials.

With Chelsea losing for the sixth time in 11 matches today in Jurgen Klopp's first EPL victory as Liverpool manager, Arsenal have a great chance to show the specialist in being a narcissistic egomaniac how to get the job done.

The first half was frustrating with both teams looking a bit disjointed. Despite Arsenal's lack of pressure on the Swansea goal, the defense held up well and kept Swansea from getting an early lead. Maybe it's down to recent form, but I never felt worried that Arsenal weren't going to come away from Wales without a victory.

The second half proved me right as Arsenal took the lead in the 49th minute when Olivier Giroud headed home a Mesut Ozil corner. This goal was the 2000th for the club under manager Arsene Wenger.

Former Arsenal keeper Lukas Fabianski made a mess of a save and set up Laurent Koscielny to score the Gunners' second goal in the 68th minute.

With Arsenal's injury crisis being what it is, Joel Campbell was given his first Premier League start and was pretty much told by Arsene Wenger "it's now or never" for his Arsenal career. The striker made a statement with some strong defensive work and by scoring Arsenal's third from an Ozil cross in the 73rd minute.

With Manchester City edging Norwich, Arsenal remain level on points with the Oil Barons but with a four goal deficit on deferential.

Next up...a small trip to Munich for a meeting with Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

From Rags to Riches: The 2015 New York Mets Have Gone From the Basement to the Penthouse

As a lifelong Mets fan I can honestly say that this season has been the most unexpected turnaround I have ever witnessed. I was there when Carlos Beltran struck out looking with the bases loaded in 2006. I was there when Tom Glavine gave up 7 runs in the first inning during the last game of the 2007 season to put the final nail in the Mets' epic collapse. I was also there in 2008 when the Mets once again completed another season ending collapse in the last game of the season. That one was even worse because immediately after the Mets held a special ceremony to say goodbye to Shea Stadium. Only the Mets would plan a celebration and then have it follow a demoralizing loss.

I have sat through doubleheaders where the Mets were crushed in both games and I remember very clearly arriving to a game in time to watch clean up hitter Brandon Phillips of the Reds come to bat with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning and immediately deposit it over the fence for a 4-0 Cincinnati lead.

Us Mets fans have become used to losing and desensitized to all the ribbing we regularly take from Yankee fans who are forever bragging about the Yankees' 27 rings. Yet Mets fans are the true definition of fans. We stick with our team no matter what; and that includes a whole lot of losing.

That being said, it's very enjoyable to now be the only New York team in town playing October baseball and having the New York media kiss the teams' ass. The Yankees are Marcia Brady to our Jan like New York Mets. We never get the headlines, we never get the respect and we never get the glory. Well that's all different right now! The Yankees went down like wimps in their one game wild card playoff and the Mets are currently playing in the World Series after defeating the Dodgers and their aces Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke in the NLDS and then sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS.

While it's annoying to see "fans" jumping on the bandwagon, it's hysterical to all of a sudden see Mets caps, t-shirts, jackets and jerseys all over town instead of Yankees gear.

No matter where the rest of the playoffs takes them, the 2015 New York Mets have given us loyal Mets fans a chance to be proud, to believe and to be the only baseball story in town! However, this all seemed so improbable up until late July.

When the season began back in April we all knew that the Mets were loaded with great starting pitching. The worry was going to be the offense with journeymen like John Mayberry being relied upon to provide power and runs.

The Nats were the heavy favorites to win the division so it was a good omen when the Mets defeated the Nationals in the season opener in Washington. That was just the beginning as the Mets went on an eleven game winning streak in April and finished the month with a 15-8 record.

From there, the punchless Mets arrived and offense became a nightly problem. The team went 13-15 in the month of May where they were shut out four times. This included two straight 1-0 home defeats to Detroit. There were also five other games where the Mets scored just one run.

June was more of the same with another 13-15 record for the month, four shutouts and a seven game losing streak. In addition, there were 9 other games where the Mets scored three runs or less.

In July the Mets record was 13-12 and they were shutout three times while suffering eight losses where they scored three runs or less.

The end of July is when everything changed and the Wilmer Flores effect took over. The Mets were staying afloat and were several games over .500. The trade deadline was approaching and if the Mets were going to make a playoff push it was obvious that management would have to do something to improve the offense.

During a July 29th home game versus the San Diego Padres, rumors began to swirl on social media and from reporters covering the team that Wilmer Flores and rehabbing Zack Wheeler were traded to Milwaukee for former Met Carlos Gomez. (Personally I thought that was a TERRIBLE trade). Despite the news, Flores remained in the lineup and even Gary Cohen and the rest of the TV broadcast crew were questioning why Flores was still in the game if had indeed been traded. By the time the rumors had been passed along to Flores himself, television cameras caught the lifelong Mets player visibly wiping away tears in the field.

In the end, the trade never went through, Flores became a fan favorite and the story became a national one. Of course the Mets organization received a ton of negative press and the mood around the club was not helped by the story.

The next night was the icing on the cake of negativity as the Mets lost a game that only the Mets could lose. The Mets had a 7-1 lead over the Padres in the 7th inning. Bobby Parnell came in to cause drama and loaded the bases. Hansel Robles was called on to get out of the mess and ended up giving up a grand slam to make the score 7-5.

But wait, it gets worse. Jeurys Familia was in to close out the game and with two outs in the ninth something that can only happen to the Mets happened. In the you can't make this up category, it was then that the rain started pouring down and the umpires ridiculously decided to call time and cover the field.

44 minutes later play resumed only to see two straight Padres get on before Justin Upton homered to give the Padres an 8-7 lead. Before the Mets could come to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the rain came again and the tarp came out again. This time the delay was 2 hours and 52 minutes. Finally, the Mets went down one, two, three and the demoralizing loss was complete.

From there, the Wilmer Flores effect took over and the Mets' season turned around. On July 31st it was announced that the Mets had acquired power hitting Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit. That night the Mets and Nationals went to extra innings before Wilmer Flores hit a walk off home run in the 12th and the Wilmer Flores fairy tale was complete.

The Mets owned August and went 20-8 with a nine game winning streak. The Mets weren't shut out once and scored five or more runs in 14 wins; including five wins with double digit runs. The Mets all of a sudden had an offense with the addition of Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and rookie Michael Conforto.

In September the Mets were 16-11 and scored five or more runs in 17 games. The month included a three game sweep of the Nationals which gave the Mets a 7 game lead with three weeks left.

The Mets officially won the Eastern Division on Saturday, September 26th with a 10-2 win in Cincinnati. There was no late season collapse and instead of the Mets choking, this time it was the Washington Nationals that did the choking.

They dispensed of the Dodgers last Thursday, October 15th after defeating both Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke; despite Chase Utley stealing a victory while breaking Ruben Tejada's leg.  

Next they made easy work of the suddenly unstoppable Chicago Cubs. Harvey was the winner in game one versus John Lester 4-2 with Familia getting the save. Chicago's ace Jake Arieta was the losing pitcher in game two with Noah Syndergaard picking up the win with relief help from Jonathan Niese, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Familia.

Back in Chicago the Mets took games three and four as well. DeGrom pitched seven innings while giving up just two runs and Bartolo Colon, Reed, Clippard and Familia pitched in to back up Steven Matz's 4.2 innings of one run ball.

Daniel Murphy was named the series MVP with an amazing six straight games with a home run and some very impressive play both on the base paths and on the field!

The Mets have now reached the hallowed land and a place that no one in their right mind could have imagined the Mets would be back in mid July. The turnaround has been truly amazing and a just reward for Mets fans that have stayed loyal through years of futility, collapses and embarrassments.

No matter what happens from here, the Mets have arrived and this is just the beginning of things to come!

A season in 10 games: Tracing the Mets’ incredible seesaw year

How the New York Mets built the World Series team that's shocking baseball

Post Script:

In the end, the Mets came up short in the World Series losing to Kansas City. It should not be lost that early season problems returned; great pitching performances wasted by lack of offense. Defensive problems also appeared as well as mental errors on the base paths. Hopefully Mets management will address these problems in the off season as the arms that got the Mets this far are all coming back. Considering the fact that Syndergaard, Matz and outfielder Conforto all started the year in the minors and Zack Wheeler will be coming back from Tommy John surgery next season, the future couldn't be brighter.

In the end the 2015 New York Mets over achieved and proved to themselves and their fan base that the future is bright. The past three months have been an amazing experience that energized a fan base that's been desperate for a team they could be proud of. Well done 2015 New York Mets. Bring on next season!