Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Arsenal Roundup – Man City, Arteta, Vermaelen and More

With the triumph in the FA Community Shield against Manchester City yesterday (see player ratings from the match here) and with the Premier League season kicking off in under a week, there is an abundance of Arsenal news to discuss this morning.

Let’s start with yesterday. And what an awesome day it was. Anybody and everybody wants to point out that the FA Community Shield is only a preseason match, or that Manchester City wasn’t really trying. While both of those things might be true on some level, it was still meaningful that Arsenal won another trophy so convincingly. My favorite quote I’ve read comes from Arsene Wenger, who said, “If you lose it, they say you lost a trophy. If you win it, they say it’s only the Community Shield.”

But even if you don’t believe the trophy is meaningful in and of itself, consider this victory as important in other ways. For me, beating another top-4 side at the start of the season should boost Arsenal’s confidence levels tremendously. A year ago, when playing top opposition, Wenger’s men often played on the back foot, looking at times like they lacked belief. But yesterday’s result will bring that belief back into the squad. No team can win a title without believing. And no team will believe until it can beat the top sides. And Arsenal ran a top side off the field yesterday. It can only be a good thing.

On an individual level, lifting a trophy of any sort is good for morale in the dressing room. Winning not only will keep players around and attract new ones, but it will inspire those on the fringes of the team. Trophies boost the spirits of the entire squad, not just those on the field. And from yesterday’s game, a lot of players can be happy with how they played. The new boys especially should be pleased with how they fit directly into the team. That Calum Chambers was voted man of the match by the fans is a deserving welcome that should hopefully inspire him to continue on the way to great things.

And who doesn’t feel better about the team after yesterday? Chambers definitely looked like a player capable of playing center back, and playing it quite well at that. Even Nacho Monreal played well at that position in the second half. And in the midfield, Mikel Arteta’s performance should do a lot to alleviate any worries about the defensive midfield position. Going up against the power of the City midfield, Arteta held his ground, and distributed the ball as accurately as ever going forward. He may not be a flashy international, but he does the little things right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger leaves that position alone in the transfer market the rest of the way.

The biggest indication that Wenger has no desire to spend big on William Carvalho or Sami Khedira was given yesterday when Arteta was officially appointed Arsenal’s next captain after the match. Had Arteta not been a big part of Wenger’s plans going forward, he would not have made that choice. I’m sure nearly every Arsenal fan will have wanted a splashier choice for the captainship, be it Per Mertesacker or Aaron Ramsey, but none of us should be surprised at Arteta’s appointment. He is a thorough professional and a good leader on the field. He won’t be burdened by the job, and unlike many others, he doesn’t play internationally, meaning he spends more time around the club than almost anyone else. Arteta won’t be captain forever. But he’ll do the job admirably.

At vice captain, Mertesacker was the obvious choice. A year ago, he wore the band often, and I think that will happen again this year. He is a fantastic leader, and has the respect of everyone in the dressing room. Areteta has a terrific right hand man in Mertesacker.

I’ve yet to address the confirmed departure of Thomas Vermaelen. The now former Arsenal captain left this weekend for Barcelona on a £15m deal. This move was a long time coming, and it should satisfy all involved. Vermaelen gets a fresh start on his career and a chance to reestablish himself as a top class defender. Arsenal gets their wish of moving him abroad, and for a substantial fee at that. And Barcelona gets an experienced center back capable of playing their style.

There are no hard feelings on this one. Unlike the other high profile departures in recent years, Vermaelen stuck around even when it wasn’t in his best interest. He doesn’t leave for Barcelona seeking more money or more trophies. He goes seeking playing time. And we can’t fault him for that after he spent more than a full year quietly accepting his role behind Mertesacker and Koscielny. It can’t have been easy to have had to give pre-game captain’s notes every week knowing he wasn’t going to play, but Vermaelen was extremely professional throughout.

I really liked the Belgian. His marauding style of play was always fun to watch, and you could tell how much the games meant to him. When he scored a goal, he had an infectious smile. And his celebrations were always displays of pure joy. It was hard for me to watch him waste his career on the bench, and I’m glad he’s getting a chance elsewhere. My lasting Vermaelen memory won’t be of a defensive lapse or of him sitting on the pitch – it will be of him sprinting to the corner flag with the biggest grin on his face after scoring a 95th minute winner against Newcastle. Best of luck in Barcelona, Thomas.

Today also has brought the return of our World Cup winning trio to training. Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Özil were all smiles on their arrival this morning, and they while they are a ways off from being match fit, their presence at training is most welcome. It’s always nice to have winners around.

The Premier League season is so close I can feel it. While yesterday was great, it will be an even better feeling waking up on Saturday knowing there is an entire year of Arsenal ahead of us. I am full of cautious optimism right now. It is going to be a great season.

 

 

 


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Arsenal Get Their Dream Man – Welcome Alexis Sanchez

Today is a landmark day for Arsenal Football Club, as Arsene Wenger has won a worldwide battle for a dream transfer target, getting Alexis Sanchez in a compelling move from Barcelona. Alexis Sanchez was a true star at the World Cup for Chile this summer, and coming off of a very successful third season at Barcelona, one in which he scored 19 league goals along with 10 assists, he was a valuable commodity. Seen by new Barcelona coach Luis Enrique as surplus to requirements, Sanchez had his pick of places to go, among them Liverpool and Juventus. Once other teams got involved, many Arsenal fans feared his transfer story would go the way of Gonzalo Higuain’s. But in recent days, it became clear that this time was different. And this afternoon, Arsenal confirmed that Sanchez is a Gunner.

As many people saw at the World Cup, Sanchez is a useful player indeed. He isn’t your typical striker, but his movement and pace are smart enough that he can more than hold his own up top when called upon. However, his best positions or Arsenal will likely be on the left or right side of attack. He has the speed to get in behind the full-backs, and having successfully played a similar role for Barcelona, he has learned how to make the diagonal runs in between the defenders. He has a rocket of a shot, but has also scored a lot of clever goals with finessed efforts and chips.

The player who will benefit most from this transfer is Mesut Özil. With Real Madrid, the German superstar was at his best alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and other pacey players who could continuously make intelligent runs from the flanks. Özil could sit deeper, finding the perfect ball to thread in between the defenders. With Theo Walcott out for much of the year, Arsenal’s record signing had nobody to play those type of balls to, and had a tougher time creating chances. Olivier Giroud certainly wasn’t making those runs, and neither were Lukas Podolski or Santi Cazorla from the left. But now Sanchez will be there to run in behind, and with Walcott soon returning to fitness, defenders will be downright scared of leaving any space behind them. Sanchez is an ideal signing to bring out the best in Özil.

The other area that Sanchez can help tactically is that he’ll be another head to aim at in the box when Arsenal look to cross. Sanchez has showcased his ability to get to the back post in recent years, which is something Arsenal have been without. And with more bodies to cover in the box, Aaron Ramsey might find more space to make his late runs forward. Podolski and Cazorla certainly possess great abilities in the attacking third, but neither player was eager to get in behind. As such, the midfield got overcrowded at times, with no options beside Giroud at which to aim crosses. Sanchez’s abilities to be both the creative force in midfield and the hard-working finisher should make Arsenal’s attack significantly less predictable.

Sanchez’s arrival may not be the only signing up front this summer, but his versatility could allow Wenger to focus the rest of his transfer energy on other areas. Behind Olivier Giroud, Arsenal now can play Sanchez, Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell in addition to Walcott and Podolski on occasion. And with an abundance of attacking midfield talent, Arsenal possess an incredible front 5. The lineup of Giroud, Sanchez, Walcott, Özil and Ramsey should scare everyone. That Cazorla, Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere won’t all be good enough to even make the bench if everyone’s healthy shows that Arsenal’s depth in this area is tremendous. Everyone will need to work harder for places in the side, and that can’t be a bad thing.

There are still moves to be made to shore up the defense, with the potential Mathieu Debuchy arrival looking likely, but today’s signing of Alexis Sanchez sends a message to the rest of the Premiership that Arsenal will be a force in the attacking third this year. And as none of Sanchez, Özil, Walcott or Ramsey are older than 25, this will be a potent side for years to come. I can not believe Arsenal got this deal done so quickly, and with a nearly full preseason to get acquainted with his teammates, Sanchez should be firing in no time. This is a great day to be a Gooner.