Sunday, May 26, 2013

Arsenal 2012-13 - A Random Post Mortem

My favourite season review is by Yogi's Warrior on A Cultured Left Foot. The heading - Praise and Concern in Equal Measure is quite apt. When we began the season, like many others - I was myself not sure about how well or badly we would do - given the loss of Robin van Persie and Alex Song. In the end, I was left with the feeling that we got ourselves out of jail, by sliding above Sp*rs into 4th, but we are still a fair way from competing for the league again. So here are a some of my thoughts:
Per-fect moment
  1. Giving the captaincy to Thomas Vermaelen was a mistake: Arsenal needed a new captain at the start of the season, given that their previous one left the club and Arsene Wenger's decision to appoint the previous vice captain was a mistake in hindsight. What it meant was that previous season's best defender Laurent Koscielny struggled to get sufficient game time as he was left on the bench more often than not. Vermaelen's form progressively got worse and was finally dropped for good sometime in March. It is quite possible that it was his status as captain which resulted in The Verminator staying in the team for a longer time. Going into the next season, this needs sorting.
  2. Slow start, but good at the back-end: You could take almost any match that Arsenal played - at least till February or March and you would find that Arsenal rarely started well - but eventually got better. Arsenal improved significantly in the second half of the season and scored plenty of goals in the final 15 while conceding very few. I think this pattern of slow starting but finishing pretty well also summarized how the season went - Arsenal got 26 out of the last 30 points and every one of them was needed to sneak into 4th place. 
  3. Improved defence - Arsenal improved significantly since the last year - ending with the 2nd best defensive record in the league. In fact, the way Arsenal defended with the Mertesacker - Koscielny partnership in the final stages of the season was terrific to watch. Kieran Gibbs and when he came in Nacho Monreal were good on the left back position, but the right back position is a concern. Bacary Sagna had a poor season by his own standards. Goalkeeping wise - Wojciech Sczeczny improved in the later part of the season and Fabianski played well when asked to do. Perhaps, Steve Bould's appointment as Wenger's deputy has had a positive impact. 
  4. An improving midfield - Abou Diaby's injuries aside - Arteta (generally), Ramsey (2nd half of the season), Wilshere and Rosicky - both in spurts did quite well. Santi Cazorla - has been a revelation - and while he has been part of both the front 3 and the back 3 - he has done well in both positions. The defensive discipline of the midfield was commendable.
  5. A curious forwardline - Theo Walcott was far and away Arsenal's best forward player. He improved significantly and his goals were crucial. Giroud and Podolski had mixed first seasons - there is plenty of scope to improve for them. Gervinho disappointed except in a few patches and Oxlade Chamberlain has  plenty of scope to develop. Arsenal lacked that one world class player who could make the difference in big games and it is an area they must strengthen for the next season. The positive to take away from all this - no longer reliant on one main man - goals and assists well spread out.
  6. Injuries - I don't have the statistics - but it just felt that Arsenal were less hamstrung by injuries than many of the past seasons.
  7. Diabolical in cup games: Probably for the first time in Arsene Wenger's time were Arsenal beaten - and not once but twice by lower league teams in the two domestic cups. Massive disappointment that.
  8. Poor vs the top 5:  Other than the 2nd 5-2 win vs Sp*rs at the Emirates - Arsenal did not win any other match vs the top 5 sides and probably lacking that world class player(s) who could be decisive in these sort of contests was the reason.
  9. The "British core": Arsene Wenger used to maintain that he did not care about the passport of his players and Arsenal have been much criticized in the past for not fielding enough English players. Interestingly enough though, now we have 6 young players who are all going to be in the first team squad - Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson and Theo Walcott, who are on long term contracts and who happen to be British. If nothing else, this should help keep some continuity in the squad for the foreseeable future. 
  10. A more pragmatic approach: Arsenal were rarely fluent this season when in attack - this was a very un-Arsene Wenger-like team. Yes, there were spurts such as vs Newcastle game at the Emirates where everything seemed to click but overall - defensive solidarity came at the expense of attacking fluidity. And eventually - enough One - Nils to the Arsenal at the end of the season were crucial in gaining Champions League qualification. The search for the right balance still continues as we enter next season.
This is going to be a long and arduous break from football with no major tournament in the summer as a distraction. Whether Arsenal will fare better next season will depend a lot on how much strengthening is done during the summer. Probably the end of August will be a good time to look ahead as to where we are.
What I really want is to start being competing in the league again. And perhaps sometime soon a match, a moment like this - May 26th, 1989.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Is the towel clean enough anymore ?

Today is May 25th. The day - the entire universe celebrates as Towel Day - or in other words the most important day of the year, in the history of days.
The importance of the towel is quite simply summarized in the wholly remarkable book - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. One of the latest version carries the below description.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta Greater Noida; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V Gokarna, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon Rajasthan; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River  Hoogly Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the  N Srinivasan Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost." What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
As you can clearly see - there is and there has been nothing more useful than a towel in the entire history of mankind, robotkind, and every other kind there has been and will be. It is a universally respected symbol of utility, greatness and moist dryness. But there has been one particular country on the 3rd rock from the sun, which has in recent years displayed a penchant for some most unorthodox and inelegant usage of the towel. Some of their film actors, in various stages of undress, have been using, putting on and removing the aforementioned towel in a variety of irresponsible ways. Exhibits displayed below. 

Yes, these were all truly unorthodox and inelegant uses of the towel, but no real damage was done by them. But what really broke the back of the camel, I mean, made the towel dip in shit was its use for spot fixing in the curious game of cricket supposed to be played by a group of humans called gentlemen. With headlines like ‘Sweaty’ Sreesanth’s towel trouble and damaging news coverage like this - one fears that the glory days of all towel users are over. 

With such disturbing use of the most useful and entirely harmless towel, one fears for its future. I am afraid that the towel may never be completely clean enough again. 
Nevertheless, wishing you a very Happy Towel Day. Again.

What sort of fan are you ?

So what sort of a fan are you ?

1) The totally outraged fanatic: - part of the so called "Betrayed Billion". You know the billion that is currently just angry at everything. You are a die-hard cricket  IPL fan and hashtag your tweets with things like #WhistlePodu #ApneMunde #AkhaMumbaiKhelega #Towel-laga. The "billion" which was rudely tripped while it was doing its Jumping Jhapaks. I am told that you are being hunted but not being found.

2) The disappointed cricket fan. You think - you are a sensible cricket fan. You like cricket in all formats - perhaps you have a slight soft spot for test cricket, but you don't mind watching the IPL too. In fact you enjoy watching talents like David Miller come to the fore with their skills here.  You used to like how IPL gave a chance for young Indian players to play with global stars, but are disappointed that all that might be ending now. You think the system needs a clean up - in fact has been needing one from a long time. You are disappointed now and are forced to go retweet and comment on Sidvee's posts.

3) The slightly naive cricket fan: You are as disappointed as the next person about what is going on, but are still hopeful that things will be fine. You know, you like what Harsha Bhogle speaks and writes.

4) The slightly smug snobbish cricket fan. You have been calling IPL a sham, a scam for the longest time. Whether you have problem with the format of the game or the economics and principles behind it,  it looks like you are now enjoying it all unraveling before you.

5) The I knew - it type troll on a roll: You really like things like this. And you are really enjoying this. Right now, you don't mind retweeting articles asking for cricket to be banned, but basically you claim with the benefit of hindsight that you saw this coming and how.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Real Oviedo Story

It wasn't really a great season of football fandom for me personally as an Arsenal fan. Nothing much to write home about - and whatever that has to be written will be written a little later. But I thought of sharing here a story which most probably you have heard of, but nevertheless,I wanted to keep here - for posterity - if nothing else. And it is probably the football story, which will stay with me when I look back on the season of 2012-13.
Real Oviedo, a football club in Spain which used to play in the La Liga once - as recent as in the early 2000s, but had fallen on tough times, got relegated several divisions and this year - they faced extinction due to bankruptcy. A story, not too dissimilar to numerous other football clubs around the world - who have run out of funds after spending beyond their means.
But something wonderful happened here. Through social media, thousands of people - football fans around the world got to know of this club, their story and how there was a fans-led effort, a campaign to get people around the world to buy shares of Real Oviedo to help pay their debts and save the club. Sid Lowe (who in my humble opinion is the best football journalist going around), got involved big time and he was instrumental and getting lots of people really interested in saving the club and eventually - enough money was generated (with some decent help from one of the world's wealthiest men - Carlos Slims) and the club still exists today. This interview of Sid while the #SOSRealOviedo campaign was happening gives an idea of what was going on in the time that this event happened.
Three of the premiership's finest players - Juan Mata of Chelsea, Michu of Swansea and our very own Santi Cazorla have come through Real Oviedo's ranks or at least played for that club. The incredible story of how the club got into trouble and then came out in Sid Lowe's own words here is worth a read. Here's another fine read from the New York Times on the Oviedo phenomenon.
All this happened in last November. So why am I writing this blog now ? Well, I came across this short film on my twitter TL last weekend and it is worth watching.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Disappointed Love ?

After last Sunday's match against Manchester United, where as expected the returning Robin van Persie got a little bit booed by the Emirates crowd, Arsene Wenger described it with a typical Wengerism - calling it a case of "Disappointed Love" instead of "real aggression. The nature of sports and fandom is such that some people will be disappointed all the time. So here are three incidents - that could be termed cases of Disappointed Love. Maybe - may be not.

1) India vs Sri Lanka, World Cup 1996, Semi -final at Eden Gardens, Calcutta. India were chasing 252 for a place in the final, but once Tendulkar was dismissed, the team completely capitulated in the Calcutta cauldron and the match ended prematurely with rioting in the stands. This was a case of immense disappointment on the spot from an expectant crowd as their dreams were dashed on a crumbling pitch.

Rioting in the Garden of Eden

2) Luis Figo's transfer from Barcelona to Real Madrid. Football transfers between rivals are always contentious and and create far too much hate and vitriol. As an Arsenal fan, I have looked at both sides of the coin, the signing of Sol Campbell from Tottenham generated incredible hatred from that lot, but Arsenal fans have recently been plenty aggrieved in the cases of the transfers of blokes like Cashley Cole and Robin van Persie. However, nothing quite like this.
Luis Figo was a bonafide hero and legend at the Nou Camp, but then Real Madrid came with an offer that he could not refuse and he went on to join what became known as the galacticos. This betrayal by the Portuguese superstar was not taken kindly as he was greeted with a pig's head on his return to the Nou Camp. The galacticos and the pig's head are all part of history now.

You know it's serious when severed heads of pigs are flying

3) Lebron James leaving Cleveland for Miami: I was a NBA fan, but way back in the 90s. I stopped following it regularly a long time back and my interest in the NBA had waned as  I had become a casual, occassional onlooker. However, when  hometown hero Lebron James decided to make his announcement of his transfer of taking his talents to another franchise, the whole world was made aware of it - s o much so that they created a pseudo reality show out of it. Not surprisingly, the folks in Cleveland, Ohio did not like it much, with this photo summing it up in one word.

Gone Baby Gone

So come on then, let me know of more cases of Epic Disappointed Love ? Or a little bit - real aggression. With the handbrake off.

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