Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Finally the New York Mets Are Operating Like Winners

For us life long Mets fans losing and embarrassment have been two things that we have become accustomed to. Losing...because the Mets have done an awful lot of that over the years. Embarrassment...because in addition to losing the Mets have made bad business decisions, blown playoff chances and operated as a small market team in the country's biggest market.

Things started to change last summer when General Manager Sandy Alderson made what turned out to be some brilliant trade deadline deals. Blessed with strong pitching but a lack of offense, the Mets were in desperate need of some pop in their lineup.

Wilmer Flores was the catalyst for what will go down in Mets' lore as one of the greatest two months in Mets history. Thinking he had been traded from the only MLB organization he had ever been with, Flores was seen visibly crying at the news during a game. In the end, the trade never went through and Flores remained a Met. However, his tears earned him the respect of fans. In addition to showing a human side to the game, Flores displayed loyalty and passion that are rarely seen by professional athletes.

After that, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard and Yoenis Cespedes were brought in and it was off to the playoffs from that moment on. It was an amazing turnaround in fortune and a lot of that was due to Cespedes and his bat. Finally the Mets had a beast in the middle of their lineup. Most Mets fans must have thought they were dreaming after watching the team struggle to score runs through the first four months of the season.

The Mets went on to win the National League Pennant and a trip to the World Series. Suddenly the Mets weren't a joke anymore. They actually became the toast of New York and took the headlines from the Evil Empire. Mets fans finally had the chance to be proud rather than embarrassed.

Then came this off season. The Mets are built to win now with their young pitching staff but they need to be supported by a solid offense. Since Cespedes joined the team last summer, fans have been making it very clear to Mets management and the Wilpons that they wanted the Mets to sign the free agent and have him become a permanent member of the team.

Reports were that the Mets were not going to offer Cespedes a contract and instead they went out and signed journeyman Alejandro DeAza to platoon with Juan Lagares in center field. The Mets did make a couple of decent signings for the infield with the addition of Neil Walker and Asdrubel Cabrera. However, with the departure of the club's most reliable hitter, Daniel Murphy, the lineup was once again looking a bit weak.
I usually don't put a lot of importance on social media, but I actually think that it had a major impact on Mets management. Twitter was awash with the hashtags #SignCespedes and #BringBackCespedes while the anti Wilpons tweets were frequent as well.

Then, when the reports that the Nationals were offering Cesdpedes a deal the fan base went NUTS!

In the end, when the news broke that the Mets had indeed signed Cespedes Mets fans rejoiced and actually sang the praises of Alderson and the much maligned Wilpons.

Of course championships aren't won on paper, but the Mets are heading in to the new season with the intention of completing unfinished business. For us fans that have been taken for granted and tortured for years, it's a great feeling to actually feel confident that Mets management is truly trying to win.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Arsenal 2015-2016: January

Saturday January 2, 2016 Arsenal vs Newcastle 10AM EST

Arsenal kick off the New Year at the top of the table and as the current favorites to win the league. As we've learned in the past, titles aren't won in January, but a visit from Newcastle is the perfect way to start 2016 and keep these thoughts alive.

Of course no team should be taken lightly, as we've seen at West Brom and Southampton for example, but on current form this should be a no brainer for Arsenal. Newcastle currently sit in the relegation zone with a high negative goal differential. Giroud, Walcott, Ozil and Ramsey should be looking forward to adding to their scoring tallies at the Emirates today.

Arsenal are still without a number of key players, including Alexis Sanchez. The good news on the Sanchez front, however, is that he should be back by next week when Arsenal host Sunderland in the FA Cup 4th Round.

So here's hoping to a happy new year and a great start to 2016 for Arsenal.

Not a vintage performance from Arsenal. In fact a rather pedestrian performance overall. However, the three points went to the league leaders when Laurent Koscielny hacked in a corner that had rebounded off of the head of Olivier Giroud in the 72nd minute.

The match started off well with Arsenal looking the more likely to score. Whether it was the pouring rain or the exhaustion of playing a third match in less than ten days, Arsenal started to look off the mark. The usual crisp passing was missing and players such as Ramsey, Chamberlain and Walcott all looked a bit out of sort. The Ox was particularly unnerving as he's proven he's got the skill and ability but he did very little today to make Wenger put him at the top of the team sheet for any upcoming matches.

In the end, Arsenal's best player was Petr Cech who made a number of excellent saves that kept Arsenal in the match and allowed them to eventually go on and win it.

Newcastle certainly had the better of the scoring chances, but as we've seen time and time again with Arsenal, it doesn't matter how much ball control you have or how many beautiful shots on target you have, it's about getting the ball in the back of the net. Despite playing poorly, Arsenal did just that and they remain top of the table. It's been said time and time again, championship teams are those that can win ugly and this was one ugly win. We'll take the three points.

Saturday January 9, 2016 Arsenal vs. Sunderland FA Cup Third Round 10AM EST

It's time for Arsenal to begin their quest for their third straight FA Cup trophy. With the fixtures coming thick and fast and the squad already being stretched, it's expected that Arsenal will put out a mixture of young and experience. While that's always a bit troubling, the opponent is Sunderland and their Fred Flintstone manager, Sam Allardyce, was whining during the week about how there are too many matches and he's going to have to rotate his squad.

While Sunderland is not worthy of much concern from Arsenal fans, it's never a good thing to underestimate your opponent at any level. However, the fact that Fat Sam may be putting out Sunderland's second string is definitely something to get a bit overconfident about. Sunderland's second team????? Come on.

It's time to begin the run to get our trophy back. Let's go Arsenal. 

What started off worryingly, finished in impressive fashion. In the end Arsenal easily handled Sunderland and move on to the draw for the fourth round.

Arsenal looked a bit rusty in the first 15 minutes and they didn't wake up until a rare Laurent Koscielny error gifted Sunderland the lead in the 17th minute. Koscielny's hesitation in clearing the ball in the box led to Jermain Lens getting on the ball and sending it in to the side of the Arsenal net with little chance for Petr Cech to make a save.

I purposely didn't get on Twitter at that point for two reasons:

1) All the whingers, whiners, moaners and Wenger Out folks were probably having a field day right then.

2) I KNEW they would get their act together and come back to win.

Sunderland's surprise lead only lasted for eights minutes as Joel Campbell equalized in the 25th minute.

In the second half it was all Arsenal. Hector Bellerin did his best Mesut Ozil performance with two fantastic assists to set up substitute Aaron Ramsey in the 72nd minute and Olivier Giroud in the 75th. Arsenal hit the bar and came close on a number of occasions. The final score should have been 4-1 but Martin Atkinson must have felt badly for Sunderland as a blatant trip on Giroud by American DeAndre Yedlin was ignored. Maybe it was also because of the ridiculous haircut that Yedlin was sporting.

Hector Bellerin bossed the game and there were great performances from Campbell, Giroud, Ramsey and the defense (outside of the one Koscielny mistake).  Arsenal also gave playing time to Alex Iwobi and teenager Jeff Reine-Adelaide. A great day all around and it's on to the next round.

In years past Arsenal have always gotten the hardest fixture possible while the Chelsea's and ManU's of the world would draw the last place team in League 2. It would be nice for a change to get a somewhat easy draw in the next round...but we shall see.

Wednesday January 13, 2016 Arsenal at Liverpool 3PM EST

Of course every match is important but today's visit to Liverpool presents Arsenal with the chance to make a big statement. I still can't get that 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool from two seasons ago out of my mind. (I'm still thankful that the tickets I was going to get for that match fell through.)

This Liverpool side is no where near as intimidating as Liverpool squads of the past. The club's reputation is perhaps more intimidating at the moment than the actual lineup. If Arsenal are going to win the title, matches like today's are ones that they must win. On paper Arsenal have the stronger team. It's on the pitch where they need to prove it. Arsenal cannot let the crowd and the reputation of Anfield get inside their collective heads.

Liverpool are suffering a large number of injuries at the moment. Of course that's no excuse as Arsenal have had their own share of injury problems. 

This will be Arsene Wenger's first match against a Jurgen Klopp side since the German managed Borussia Dortmund. Wenger and Klopp have always shared a mutual respect so there's been no pre-match trash talking as you sometimes get when big clubs play.

Here's to three points and Arsenal proving they are worthy of the EPL title.

To the neutral this was a great game. To Arsenal fans, it was another frustrating afternoon where they should have walked away with all three points but in the end had to settle for just one.

The first half was crazy. Roberto Firmino gave Liverpool the lead in the 10th minute and it was looking like it was going to be another one of those days for Arsenal. The scored was leveled four minutes later when Aaron Ramsey got one back. Firmino was at it again in the 19th minute with a beautiful shot that was impossible to save. Just six minutes later all was even again as Olivier Giroud connected from a Ramsey corner. 

There was no further scoring after that and the teams went to the half all even at 2-2. The breakthrough came in the 55th minute when Giroud gave Arsenal the lead. There was more than a half hour left, but if Arsenal could keep the lead until the final whistle it would be a massive three points in their quest to win the league.

Unfortunately, Arsenal seemed to play less like Arsenal and more like a team under siege. Instead of controlling the ball, Arsenal allowed Liverpool to have the majority of possession and the Arsenal goal was under attack for long periods of time. It was a dangerous plan and in the end, the Arsenal defense broke down and allowed substitute Joe Allen to even the match in stoppage time. 

Normally a point away to Anfield would be seen as a good result, but this year's Arsenal team is definitely better than Liverpool' the points were there for the taking and then snatched away.

Sunday January 17, 2016 Arsenal at Stoke 11:15AM EST

It's that time of year again...that time when Aaron Ramsey gets booed vociferously for having had the nerve to get his leg broken by Ryan dare he? Arsene Wenger will get a lot of stick today as well. Yes folks, it's Arsenal's annual trip to the Brittannia Stadium and the cavemen of Stoke.

Things have changed a bit at Stoke....Rory Delap and his amazing towel are gone, Tony Pulis, the head caveman, is gone and some of the personnel has changed. What remains the same is the fact that Stoke is still a pain in the ass too play, the crowd is hostile and there are still thugs among the ranks....Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross are just two.

Things have changed a bit at Arsenal as well. There's more confidence, more experience and Arsenal are genuine title contenders this season. It's time that Arsenal silenced the crowd at the Brittania and put this Stoke hex to bed. Stoke is a mid table team at best and Arsenal seem to have had a psychological block in years past. Visiting Stoke has become a problem fixture for Arsenal...however, most of that is down to the players lacking confidence and letting past visits get inside their heads. Enough is enough and if Arsenal is going to win a title, it's time to end the Stoke jinx and come away with the three points.

First the good news....Arsenal are at the top of the table. They are level on points with second place Leicester with a +3 goal differential. Now the bad news...Arsenal were unable to walk away with all three points after playing a goalless draw. Some might say it was a great point as Stoke have always been a bogey club for Arsenal. However, the talent that Arsenal had on the pitch should have been able to produce a win.

Of course the cavemen crew known as Stoke fans exhibited their usual brutish behavior. Arsene Wenger was the recipient of much of the vitriol and even worse was the abuse that Aaron Ramsey had to take throughout the match. How the victim of a potential career ending leg break inflicted by a Stoke player can be vilified for more than five years is beyond me. The logic defies any explanation other than the fans displaying this behavior are truly an embarrassment to the game.

Mesut Ozil sat out the match with a slight knock and despite having a number of good scoring chances, Arsenal came up empty. Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland made some great saves and in the end Arsenal were unable to produce a goal and make the breakthrough.

Despite moving in to first place, it still feels more like 2 points lost than 1 point gained.

Sunday January 24, 2016 Arsenal vs Chelsea 11AM EST

This has to be the day that Arsenal finally rid themselves of their Chelsea demons and prove on the pitch that they are the superior team.  

When I first began following Arsenal, Chelsea were a pain in the butt but they were always second best. In recent years it's been the other way around. Now, with Chelsea in free fall and the egotistical one gone it's time to reestablish the proper order.

A victory will see Arsenal remain atop the table, level on points with Leicester. The last time the two teams met, Diego Costa and his scumbag teammates basically stole the points. Costa got Gabriel sent off only to see Gabriel's red card dismissed and Costa charged with improper conduct. Of course the punishments were doled out after Chelsea were given the victory.

Today's match is about revenge and pride. It's revenge for the match earlier this season, revenge for all the BS that Mourinho has thrown at Wenger and Arsenal over the years, revenge for embarrassments and defeats and revenge for the Roman Abramovich era. As for's been the one thing perhaps missing most from recent Arsenal teams. They have the quality and the ability, now it's time for them to display it and show it for 90 minutes and get the three points that they need to continue their title march and put Chelsea further in the rear view mirror.

I cannot stand Chelsea! Once again that cheat Diego Costa was at the center of everything and once again he was the reason that one of our defenders was given a red card early in the match. Last time it was Gabriel, this time it was the BFG, Per Mertesacker. 

While Mertesacker was the creator of his own downfall with a bad challenge, it was Costa that put in an academy award performance as if he had been hit by a Mack truck rather than brushed by BFG's leg. Regardless, Mertesacker saw red and the match was pretty much over for Arsenal at that point. Five minutes later, the detestable Costa scored and Chelsea parked the bus. Down a man it was an uphill battle.

In 180 minutes of football this season between Arsenal and Chelsea, Arsenal have played 117 minutes without a full 11 man lineup. I'm not sure whether it's psychological or what, but Arsenal always seem to screw up when playing against Chelsea.

The only real highlight of the match was the return of Alexis Sanchez to the lineup in the 57th minute. 

All in all it was another wasted opportunity for Arsenal.  The loss leaves the club in third place 3 points behind Leicester and level on points with Manchester City. With just 2 points out of a possible 9 from the team's last three matches, it's clear that Arsenal are running out of room for error if they do intend on winning this year's title.

Saturday January 30, 2016 Arsenal vs Burnley 10AM EST FA Cup Fourth Round 

Time to turn from the league to the task of retaining OUR trophy for the third year in a row. Burnley is the competition and as always they can't be taken lightly. They are currently sitting third in the Championship table.

With a league match coming in three days Wenger is giving starts to Ospina, Chambers, Iwobi and new signing Mohamed Elneny. Perhaps the most important name in the lineup today is Francis Coquelin who returns from a spell on the sidelines. He has been sorely missed and his return to action is great news for Arsenal moving forward.

This should be an easy victory for Arsenal...but we've thought that before. Here's hoping Arsenal are in the hat for the fifth round draw.

It's on to the next round for Arsenal after a 2-1 victory. Arsenal took the lead in the 19th minute from an unlikely source. In a rare start, Calum Chambers scored a sensational goal from distance. It was impressive and it looked like Arsenal would be off to the races.

Instead, the match was a closer affair than most fans would have wanted. Burnley equalized in the 30th minute and the match went to the half even at 1-1.

Alexis Sanchez scored the game winner in the 53rd minute and despite a number of chances, Arsenal were unable to add to their tally. In the end it didn't matter as Arsenal held on for the win.

It was great to see Sanchez back on the pitch and the Arsenal debut of Elneny was a good one. While time will tell if he is a difference maker in the Arsenal squad, the midfielder looked comfortable and even took some shots on goal.

So it's on to the 5th round and another matchup with Hull.