Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Arsenal May Have Lost, But It’s Not a Big Deal – Player Ratings for the Second Preseason Game

Arsenal may have lost a preseason game to an MLS team, but it was a game that meant little in the grander scheme. There is no need to panic. With only one true center back and striker on his roster, Arsene Wenger played an experimental side against Thierry Henry’s Red Bulls that didn’t create a ton of chances, losing 1-0. It was more of a training exercise than anything else, as I can’t imagine Arsenal will ever play with a false nine again this year.

It was a rather dull game, one I am glad I didn’t waste time and money traveling many hours to get to, given the lack of firepower from Arsenal. The Red Bulls played a good game, and showed themselves well, but the win means as little for them as the loss does for Arsenal. It’s always wonderful to see The King, Mr. Henry, around his old club, and he gave a satisfying performance. He looks like he still has a lot left even as he approaches age 37. The highlight of the game probably was when Henry was withdrawn, as it gave everybody a few seconds to appreciate him.

For Arsenal, integrating the next wave of World Cup arrivals will be crucial going forward, as there was a serious lack of depth in certain areas against the Red Bulls. With only a couple weeks left before games begin to matter, time is running short, and Wenger’s men will need to focus doubly on preparing for the opener. Promotional trips to New York may be fun, but training for the new season is much more important. The training camp in the quiet of Austria this week should do a lot of good.

On another note, the ESPN commentary during the match was quite noticeable. It was supposed to be Jon Champion and Taylor Twellman in the booth, but Twellman’s sickness brought regular studio analyst Alexi Lalas into the booth. I fell in love with Champion’s play-by-play style during the World Cup and I was not disappointed with him in this game. However, Lalas may have been the worst color commentator of any sport I’ve heard since Bret Boone in the 2003 MLB playoffs. Lalas had no idea when to talk, and gave way too many one-word answers. The awkward silences when Champion needed Lalas to say something were rather entertaining at times. It goes to show that not everybody is cut out to be a color commentator, even former players.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Tomas Rosicky – 6/10 – In the unfamiliar role of false nine, Rosicky gave an honest effort. While he never looked likely to score, he made a few decent runs and was always dropping deep to receive the ball. I don’t think he’ll play the role again, but it was fun for a half. In the second half, he was much more effective in his normal position.

Gedion Zelalem – 6/10 – With many eyes on the 17 year old, Zelalem may have underwhelmed a bit. It wasn’t that he was bad, he just didn’t seem eager to take men on when he got on the ball. He looked much less comfortable on the wing than he did last week in the middle. He did do well to set up Jack Wilshere on a one-two though.

Santi Cazorla – 6.5/10 – In his return to action, Cazorla looked his usual self, popping up in every position along the frontline to receive the ball. He had one nice effort from distance, and in general, I felt he looked quite lively. But his set pieces were far from impressive. However, that Cazorla was fit enough to go seventy minutes is a good sign at this point in the summer.

Aaron Ramsey – 7/10 – Despite having two blades of grass stuck to his forehead for much of the first half, Ramsey looked as calm as collected as ever, making driving runs through the midfield and winding up in dangerous areas. His tackling was effective as well. He looks just about ready.

Jack Wilshere – 7.5/10 – I felt Wilshere did quite well. He started in a deeper role, and won a few balls with well-timed tackles, showing off the extra pace he can add beside Arteta. And as the first half went on, he ventured forward and had Arsenal’s two best chances. On another day, he might have finished them. But it’s a good sign that he was finding himself in such good positions.

Mikel Arteta – 5/10 – Arteta looked slow against some of the Red Bulls pacier players, and wasn’t at his best in the middle of the park. Most of the Red Bulls attacks came straight through the middle, and Arteta wasn’t dealing with them properly. While he completed a number of passes in the back, he did have one noticeably bad giveaway that any Premier League striker would have finished. He also was a step slow on the Red Bulls goal, failing to get to Wright-Phillips in front of the net.

Kieran Gibbs – 7/10 – Gibbs appears to be as ready for the season as anyone. Looking quite comfortable in his new number 3 shirt, Gibbs got to the byline a few times and wreaked havoc whenever he got forward. Defensively, his positioning was solid as well. And he played the entire game.

Nacho Monreal – 5.5/10 – Monreal played a foreign position at center back and it was pretty obvious he wasn’t at ease in the middle of the defense. I would imagine he and Hayden haven’t played together too often, but it was noticeable that the Red Bulls had little trouble passing the ball to a runner in between the two of them in the first half. He’ll have his work cut out if Wenger wants him to be an option in the middle. He also was in no-man’s land on the Red Bulls goal from the corner.

Isaac Hayden – 6/10 – Along with Monreal, Hayden looked a tad inexperienced. While he did make a couple of nice tackles, he wasn’t always aware of where the strikers were around him. As he matures as a defender, he’ll need to focus on the communication aspect of the defending, as he and Monreal looked like they were two individuals rather than a unit at times.

Carl Jenkinson – 6.5/10 – Jenkinson always is ready to play. Knowing his time at Arsenal could be limited, he was an eager runner, getting forward quite regularly. There wasn’t much for him to do defensively, but he had one or two timely headers. I hope this isn’t the last game he wears an Arsenal shirt.

Wojciech Szczesny – 6/10 – Szczesny was a little busier in his half than he would have liked, but he did well to deny Henry in the opening minutes. He was also quick to get down on a second occasion that went wide. But on the goal, he could have been more proactive in getting off his line. The fault should be on the marking, but the Polish keeper will feel he could have done better.

Substitutes

Chuba Akpom – 6.5/10 – The young striker continued to show confidence beyond his years. He looked dangerous every time he got near the ball, and nearly set up a goal for Diaby. He might have done better with the left-footed shot he got on the break midway through the second half, but overall, it was another performance that showed Akpom could be useful in the near future.

Kris Olsson – 5.5/10 – Having stolen the show a week ago, Olsson failed to make the same impact in New York. In a 20 minute cameo, Olsson couldn’t find the right passes. And his free kick in extra time was disappointing.

Jon Toral – 5.5/10 – Toral hardly had a kick in his 20 minutes on the field. He played one nice through ball to Gibbs down the left, but overall, he didn’t set the world on fire.

Abou Diaby – 6.5/10 – Diaby was relatively quiet, but it was another 45 minutes without injury. And his brilliant finish on a disallowed goal should give him some confidence as well. He looked composed on the ball as always.

Mathieu Flamini – 6/10 – Flamini played a few nice balls down the right for Bellerin, but he didn’t have a whole lot to do overall. Alongside Coquelin, he kept the Red Bulls relatively quiet in the second half. But he might have marked his man better on a cross late in the half.

Francis Coquelin – 5.5/10 – Coquelin seemed to be pressing, trying to do too much with his opportunity. While he showed a lot of desire to get forward, and put in a good shift defensively, he lost the ball carelessly a couple times. It’s admirable that he is trying so hard to get back on Wenger’s good side, but he’ll need to be more disciplined to earn the manager’s trust again.

Ignasi Miquel – 6.5/10 – Miquel wasn’t involved much in his half of football, but he made a few nice clearances. One tackle in particular, followed up by a wonderful ball over the top, nearly set up Akpom for a tying goal. It was a quiet performance, but he didn’t do anything wrong.

Hector Bellerin – 6/10 – The young right back was lively going forward as always, but his crossing wasn’t accurate enough to create any chances. He wasn’t called upon to defend often, but he let his man get in a cross too easily at one point. However, he does look dangerous when he’s running forward down the right.

Damian Martinez 6.5/10 – I have to admit I have very low expectations for Martinez, and his wild flail at a header that went well wide did little to settle my nerves when he touches the ball. But he ended up doing quite well, coming out with confidence to claim a few crosses. It was a good performance from the young keeper.


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It Had To Be Him

There was always going to be one hero in Uruguay-England game and it wasn’t going to be Wayne Rooney. That Rooney had gotten his goose egg out of the way with the equalizer won’t be remembered unless there’s an English miracle in the next game. The hero was always going to be Luis Suarez.

As soon as Suarez and Uruguay were drawn alongside England, you knew Suarez would be chomping at the bit to stick one to the British media by breaking English hearts. The only question was whether he’d be fit enough to take part. But as I predicted, Suarez showed up in a big way for this one.

His first goal was too easy. England should not have allowed Edinson Cavani the space to curl in the ball for Suarez, and like last time out, a mistake from a center-back gave Suarez the tiny bit of space he needed. From there, he was never going to miss the free header. His second goal though was both a beauty and terribly defended. Goals that come straight from the goalie should never happen, as Muslera’s punt was simply headed on by Cavani to release Suarez. Someone should have been marking Suarez, for he was the only player who was going to beat England. But once the ball reached Suarez, his class won out, as his first touch and subsequent screamer were near perfect.

This was another instance of England not properly paying attention to the opposing star in critical moments. In their European Championship exit two years ago, it was a lack of attention to Andrea Pirlo that cost them. This time around, it was Luis Suarez. They had to know he was the threat, and needed to properly mark him at the crucial moment. Suarez was limited most of the match by the English defense, but those two lapses gave him just enough space to leave his mark on the game.

To England’s credit, they looked the better side for much of the game. And this World Cup, they’ve looked a talented squad. But ultimately, it’s individuals stepping up to carry a team that count and England lacked that today. While Rooney got his goal eventually, England’s best player, and yes, I mean that, missed two gilt-edged chances that could have swung the game. I truly believe England could make a serious run for major trophies in the next few years, but they will need individuals to rise above their talent level for that to happen.

Love him or hate him, The World Cup will be better for having Luis Suarez fit and firing. His performance against Italy will be vital if the Uruguayans hope to earn a place in the knockout stage. If only 40,000,001 were enough to have brought him to Arsenal last summer.

On another note, I found the usually loveable Ian Darke and Steve McManaman pairing verging on unbearable at times today. I love these commentators. But today, they seemed to let their bias towards England affect the commentary in a negative way. ESPN has done a good job of assembling on-air talent from all the major soccer nations, but having two Englishmen in the booth for such an important match was too much. They kept beating the audience over the head with their criticism of Uruguay’s stalling tactics. Lots of teams do that, but Darke kept harping on it. It even got to the point when he called out Alvaro Pereira for faking an injury when he was nearly unconscious. While Darke apologized for that, he needed to look at a replay before saying what he did. This duo is great. But if I wanted an English bias this strong, I would have found a BBC feed. I’d take this duo any day of the week, but they were too much today.