Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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FA Community Shield Preview

Arsenal’s summer of optimism got even better today. Theo Walcott ended another long-running contract saga by penning a new 4-year deal. But surprisingly, that news was only part of the announcement which also announced that Santi Cazorla has reupped his deal. With both players entering the final year of their contracts, getting these deals done now not only helps the team down the road, but it also puts aside the hassle of trying to get something done during the year.

Walcott’s deal, rumored to be for 140,000 pounds a week, is a huge vote of confidence from Arsene Wenger for a player who hasn’t stayed healthy for the past two seasons. Even as Arsenal’s longest-tenured player, Walcott still feels to me to be a growing player, one who hasn’t approached his top level. Hopefully he makes the best out of this deal and becomes the player we now expect him to be as one of the team’s top earners. And as far as Cazorla, with many including myself expecting him to return to Spain, it comes as a nice surprise. Moving deeper into the midfield as he’s now done should help Cazorla keep his legs fresh as he ages, but still, this is yet another sign that Wenger is changing his policy on players over-30.

But as great as this summer has been for Arsenal fans, meaningful games are on the immediate horizon. Regardless of what your opinion is of the FA Community Shield, it can’t be taken lightly, especially against Jose Mourinho. Given the way the respective preseasons were set up, Arsenal seems to be taking Sunday’s match more seriously than Chelsea. With Chelsea just arriving back from the US midweek and set to play another friendly on Wednesday, they clearly aren’t at peak fitness. Arsenal, on the other hand, haven’t played since last weekend and won’t have any more friendlies before next weekend’s Premier League opener.

Arsenal’s motivation in this match should be clear. Coming off of a FA Cup win and this wonderful summer, they will want to send an early message to the title-holders that this year’s team is tougher than last. They’ll need to back up the result better than they did last year, but it must be said that a win would be a boost for the squad’s confidence. Having never beat Mourinho, Wenger clearly has reason to care, if only to partially quiet the narrative – though of course if he wins, people will say it doesn’t count. And for Petr Cech, the game is a chance to get one over his former club right off the bat.

Chelsea’s motivation is less clear. There won’t be a crisis of confidence if they lose, nor will they be any more of a title-contender if they win. However, I think they should be looking to squash any momentum Arsenal has built up. A clean-sheet and a statement goal from Eden Hazard could do just that. Add in the fact that Mourinho loves a good smirk and I suspect that while he won’t necessarily commit to his strongest side – remember that six substitutions are allowed – Mourinho would love a win.

With Theo Walcott just signing a monster deal, my guess is he’s going to start up front, especially given the setting. Normally you wouldn’t want to gamble against Chelsea, but as there are fewer consequences for a loss, Wenger should give Walcott another go up front ahead of Olivier Giroud. We already know what Giroud gives us against Chelsea, so let’s see what Walcott can do. This is the perfect place for experimentation against a top side.

Behind Walcott, I think we’ll see Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin completing the midfield. I’d be surprised if Jack Wilshere started, as I don’t think Wenger could afford to leave any of those others out. But with the six substitutions, he’ll see the field. The only alternative I could see is if he went with Mikel Arteta next to Coquelin, but given how little the two of them have played together, I wouldn’t be a fan of that alignment.

Ahead of Cech in goal, I think Wenger will go with experience across the backline, giving the nod to Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal ahead of Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs. Especially knowing Hazard will be deployed on the left, I’m thinking he’d be more comfortable with Debuchy. And at left back, it’s a coin-flip.

My prediction for the match is a low-scoring affair filled with more heavy challenges than your average early August match. I know I’ve been optimistic lately, but I never feel good about playing Chelsea. So despite the good vibes, I think Hazard will do something special to get the game’s only goal. Given the substitutions Chelsea will likely make and their comparative lack of depth – that feels strange to write – Arsenal will have their chances in the second half. Going a goal down would offer the first test of Arsenal’s mental fortitude.

If Arsenal lose, we can write it off as preseason. But a win would be nice. Regardless, I can’t wait to head to Wembley Sunday to see this shiny Arsenal team. I’m genuinely excited for the season. Follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for my thoughts from Wembley. Let’s make London red.

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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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Another Match, Another Trophy – Player Ratings for Arsenal’s FA Community Shield Triumph

There wasn’t nine years of waiting this time. Arsenal dominated from the opening minutes in the FA Community Shield against City, and rightfully lifted the trophy at the end of the match, winning 3-0. While it may not be the most important silverware, it is still a trophy nonetheless. This game should be yet another lift for the entire club, boosting the morale even more in a wonderful summer. When the Premier League opens next weekend, Arsenal supporters can feel rightfully confident.

I don’t have much time to write today, so I’ll save most of my analysis tomorrow morning. But I have to say it was a terrific day to be a Gooner. Arsenal look a devastating side going forward, and all day, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey were creating chances and finding space. Manchester City were missing a lot, especially in defense, but Arsenal certainly look a side on par with the reigning Premier League champions. It could be a fun year.

Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud scored three good goals, and Arsenal were comfortably on the front foot for much of the game. With the German players arriving back on Monday, Arsenal are in a great place as the season begins.

Here are my player ratings for Arsenal’s FA Community Shield winning side.

Plater Ratings (1-10)

Yaya Sanogo – 7/10 – The young Frenchman didn’t look out of place in the starting XI in the first half, doing a little bit of everything up top. As always, his movement was quite impressive, and while his tendency to stray offside needs to change, his pace was a nuisance for Manchester City. His assist for Ramsey might have been a tad fortunate, but it was Sanogo’s run that put Arsenal in that positive position.

Alexis Sanchez – 7/10 – Sanchez looks like he’s going to fit in seamlessly. Some of his ideas didn’t always work out, but whenever he got on the ball, Arsenal looked threatening. He may have only played a half, but he put in a great debut performance. You have to think as he gets more comfortable with his teammates, he’ll only get more dangerous.

Santi Cazorla – 7.5/10 – It was rather fitting that Cazorla scored the opening goal after a summer in which he’d been generally overlooked. The little Spaniard put in a great shift on the wing, as his movement and passing was excellent. His goal was superbly taken after cleverly letting the ball run across his body. Cazorla’s got a lot more to give this year, and his willingness to track back could make him an attractive option on the left wing.

Aaron Ramsey – 9/10 – Ramsey’s late first half goal was emblematic of his performance on the day. He made it look easy, scoring from only a few yards out, but so much more went into the goal. He made a run from half field to get into position to receive the ball from Sanogo, and deftly chipped the ball past the first defender before firing it into the far corner. Ramsey was everywhere on the pitch, always choosing the right runs to make and finding the right balls. It looks like it will be another banner year from the Welshman.

Jack Wilshere – 7/10 – Wilshere didn’t have a standout game, but he was quite effective in the midfield, linking up well with everyone around him. Whether it was releasing pace down the flanks, or simply keeping possession, Wilshere had a good day. Defensively, he did well in his own right, putting in a couple of decent challenges.

Mikel Arteta – 7/10 – Arteta put in an admirable shift in his usual defensive midfield role. He was composed on the ball, linking up well with his fellow midfielders, and never strayed too far out of position. Against Yaya Toure, Arteta held his ground this time out. Many don’t think he can be on the field if Arsenal want to win a title, but Arteta could well prove everyone wrong.

Kieran Gibbs – 6.5/10 – Gibbs had a lot of success getting forward in the first half, and combined well with Cazorla all day. He struggled a little bit with Jesus Navas on the wing, but there were no disastrous moments. At this point in his career. Gibbs will be counted on as a consistent, top of the line left back.

Laurent Koscielny – 6.5/10 – In only one half of action, Koscielny put in a decent shift, tracking City’s runners nicely. With Chambers pushed a bit forward, Koscielny was always there to clean up anything in behind. His one on one defending was also impressive. Let’s hope it wasn’t an injury that forced him off at the half.

Calum Chambers – 7.5/10 – Chambers seemed a lot more comfortable intercepting passes and stepping higher up the pitch rather than defending one on one closer to goal. He is clearly still learning the center back position, but overall, he made a bright start to his Arsenal career. He made a couple of clearances with his head, and was quite effective picking off any loose passes from City in the final third.

Mathieu Debuchy – 7/10 – Right from the start, Arsneal’s new right back was bombing forward and sending in crosses towards Sanogo. He and Sanchez seem to have formed a quick understanding. Defensively, Debuchy made an excellent block from a Samir Nasri shot in the first half. He should have done better with a header early in the second half, as he was caught a bit flat footed, but Szczesny was there to save Stevan Jovetic’s effort in the end.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7/10 – The Arsenal keeper put in an assured display at the back for the most part. He had a quiet first half, but when called upon the the second half, he was there to stop shots and claim any crosses. He was quick off his line and confident in the air. He made one questionable decision on Jovetic’s header, and didn’t reach a corner late on, but overall, Szczesny looked good. He seems inspired to play the sweeper role this year, and hopefully he didn’t concuss himself late on.

Substitutes

Olivier Giroud (46th) – 7.5/10 – A wonderfully taken, albeit slightly deflected goal highlighted a great performance from the Frenchman. Still lacking ffitness, Giroud only played the second half, but it was a successful afternoon. He held up play nicely, and showed off his strength on the ball. He should be fully fit soon.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (46th) – 5.5/10 – The winger came on at half but didn’t make much of an impact in his time on the field. Much of his work was on the defensive end, and while he let his men get by him a few times, he was usually quick enough to get back in position. He’ll be disappointed not to have gotten on the ball more.

Nacho Monreal (46th) – 6.5/10 Back at center back, Monreal was solid in the back next to Chambers. He handled the strength of City’s frontmen admirably. Who would have expected Monreal to be confidently taking the ball off Yaya Toure in the box? It was a much better performance from the converted left back.

Mathieu Flamini (67th) – 6/10 – Flamini will have wanted to start the game over Arteta, so it was notable that he started the match on the bench. And when he came on, he was pushed ahead of Arteta, showing that there is a clear pecking order at defensive midfielder right now. He got in one good position going forward, but overall, it was a pretty quiet appearance from Flamini.

Tomas Rosicky (70th) – N/A – Rosicky made a 20 minute cameo in place of Santi Cazorla, and looked confident on the ball. By that point though, Arsenal weren’t sending many men forward, so there wasn’t much for Rosicky to do.

Joel Campbell (85th) – N/A – Campbell made a late run out at Wembley, but didn’t do much more than run. He nearly got on a ball in the final third , but wasn’t quite quick enough. He’ll be happy enough just to see the field.


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FA Community Shield Preview and Prediction – Arsenal vs. Manchester City

It’s going to be a busy 24 hours for me so I thought I’d write my preview of tomorrow’s FA Community Shield match between Arsenal and Manchester City now. I’ve talked about why the match is and isn’t a big deal, but count me as one who’s incredibly excited for any kind of real games to start. The idea that Arsenal could soon be lifting another trophy makes me smile even thinking about it. Watching the Gunners take the field at Wembley again will be a delight.

This match is an interesting one tactically, as both Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini are still without many of their key players who were at the World Cup. They also will likely want to conceal some of their more innovative ideas going into their Premier League openers next weekend. As a result, the tactics might be more experimental than normal or they could be simplified. With a similar team to what they had a year ago, I expect Manchester City to play close to the style they operated a year ago. But I think Wenger might get creative with some of his tactics.

For instance, I don’t think Olivier Giroud will start the game. He didn’t look fit last weekend, and between Yaya Sanogo and Alexis Sanchez, Wenger has two wildcards at his disposal up front that Manchester City haven’t seen before. So right from the start, I think Arsenal will look much different than they did a year ago, as either option will provide pace and creativity up front rather than hold up play and power. And with Mesut Özil out, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey might get a shot at playing together in the midfield, which has been a rarity in recent years.

While I would like to see Sanogo start the game, I think Wenger will go with Sanchez up top, alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla on the wings. Afraid of what City’s sheer power can do in the midfield, I think Wenger will start Ramsey, Wilshere and Mikel Arteta in hopes that all three of them will be willing to put in serious defensive work all match. And in defense, I expect we’ll see Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy in front of Wojciech Szczesny. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nacho Monreal in there at either left back or center back.

The key to this game for Arsenal will be keeping David Silva and Samir Nasri at bay. The two creative forces have had lengthy summer breaks and will be well prepared for this match. With Arsenal’s defense still learning how to play with one another, this duo might have their way in the final third, picking out passes for those around them. And the problem with facing City is that Yaya Toure can be such a threat from his deep lying spot in the midfield. If too much attention is focused on Silva and Nasri, Toure will get on the ball and do serious damage. Arteta will have his hands full.

This is a particularly big match for Mikel Arteta, assuming he starts in his usual defensive midfield role. There has been increasingly loud clamoring for a new defensive midfielder at Arsenal, with many suggesting that this is the one area the club needs to improve should they want to challenge for the title. Arteta has seen all of the rumors, and he’ll be eager to prove all his doubters wrong. A strong performance against one of the most physically imposing midfields in the world might very well earn Arteta another year as the starter. But should he struggle, Wenger may be left with no choice but to buy a big name in that spot.

Many eyes will be planted firmly on big money arrival Sanchez, but this match will also likely be the competitive debuts at Arsenal for Chambers and Debuchy as well. The three of them will no doubt be looking to start off on the right foot, and there will be no better way to endear themselves to the fans than an impressive debut at Wembley. A goal for Sanchez, an assist from Debuchy, or a series of tackles from Chambers tomorrow could set them on the fast track towards becoming fan favorites. They’ve already brought so much optimism to the club without even playing a game, and now they have the chance to boost morale even more. I think Sanchez will put in a man of the match performance.

I’ve thought a lot about how I want to do predictions for the coming season. For the World Cup, I did elaborate predictions, giving a lot more than just a score. It was fun to write, and while I was semi-successful with some of my more random predictions about how and when goals would be scored, it wasn’t entirely conventional. I think for Arsenal games, I will switch to a more reserved prediction style, naming only a score. I might suggest a player or two who will have good games, but I won’t predict which players will score the goals.

I have a personal philosophy that I don’t want to root for any one player above another to score goals or points on my favorite teams. I want to root for the team as a whole, not individuals. Obviously, I have favorite players, and there are certain players I like to see score than others, but I don’t want to have any conflict of interest when watching my team play. It’s why I try to avoid selecting players from my teams on any of my Fantasy Sports teams (speaking of which, make sure to join the Fantasy Premier League league I’ve formed – see the paragraph at the bottom of this link here for details). So in short, I won’t overdo my prediction sections for Arsenal games.

I expect a high-scoring games given the absence of key names defensively for both sides. Per Mertesacker and Vincent Kompany are badly needed in the middle of their teams’ defenses and both Arsenal and Manchester City will miss their experienced defender. And both teams certainly are not lacking talent in the final third even with players still gone. My final prediction is Arsenal 3 Manchester City 2. It should be a good one.

Check back after tomorrow’s match for postgame coverage and player ratings. Enjoy the first taste of real soccer we’ve had in a while.


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Why the FA Community Shield Does and Does Not Matter

While this is more than a little embarrassing to admit, last night I attended a One Direction concert at Gillette Stadium. I knew very little about the band, but begrudgingly agreed to go when nobody else volunteered to take the last ticket. And I have to say I was thoroughly underwhelmed. How those five guys ever become world famous is beyond me. Only a couple of them have any real vocal talent, and none of them are great musicians – it was shocking to find out only one of the five plays an instrument on stage – and when one of them is singing, the others just stand there. And it’s not like they can dance either. As they rapidly lose their boyish looks, I hope they disappear from the music scene. They really have no business selling out three straight nights at a giant stadium in one city. But nonetheless, it was an experience being at Gillette Stadium with a crowd that was 98% female.

Now back to important matters. There seems to be a never ending debate about the importance of the FA Community Shield. Some say winning it is the equivalent of any other trophy, and some say it’s a glorified preseason friendly that should only be used to build fitness. I tend to come out somewhere in the middle on this issue. I’ll break down why I think it matters and why I think it doesn’t.

It’s easy for fans of a lot of teams to say a trophy shouldn’t be won on just one game alone, especially before the season officially starts. But those people fail to understand that teams earn the opportunity to play in this game the year before. To make it into the match, a team needs to either win the FA Cup or the Premier League, and if they are the same team, then it’s the second place finisher in the league. So to get into the match, you need to have prolonged success the year before. You don’t get into this match without earning it. Being there means you did something right.

There is also a trophy at stake, and a real one at that. It’s not the Emirates Cup or the International Champions Cup. It’s a real trophy that’s been handed out for over 100 years. Any chance a team gets at a real trophy should be taken seriously, especially for teams that have not won an abundance of silverware over the last few years. Trophies bring happiness to a squad and they improve confidence levels. For Arsenal, winning a second trophy in a row could create a surge of momentum going into the new season. There is no downside to winning on Sunday.

Lastly, the match matters because it gives a lot of players another chance to play on the biggest stage at Wembley. The national stadium is a special place for players, and they all clearly love taking the field there. Not everyone got the chance to play there a year ago, so for many players, it could be their first action at Wembley. And the more experience they get playing with that pressure, the better they’ll do in future matches at the beautiful stadium.

But that could also be given as a reason why the game shouldn’t be taken so seriously. If the best XI won’t necessarily be playing for both teams, then can one really put any high level of importance on the match? Arsenal don’t even have all of their players back from summer vacation yet, and nobody is rushing back for this match alone. Young players could be given chances they wouldn’t otherwise get, so the atmosphere will be less tense. There is still room to experiment with squad selection in this match.

It also doesn’t matter because there are no consequences for losing this game in any way. There are no dropped points, as it is a one-time thing. There is no elimination from future rounds. And there shouldn’t even be a hit on morale going into the new season, as the players all know nobody is at their best yet.

In short, winning the FA Community Shield would be good for Arsenal in a lot of ways. It would be another trophy to add to the cabinet, giving the players a confidence boost, and it would be a great start to the season. But losing the match would be like losing a friendly. They could forget about it the very next day as they welcome the Germans back to training, with attention quickly turning to the Premier League opener a week later.

The match is more than a friendly. But winning the trophy is certainly not on par with winning the league or even the Capital One Cup. For us fans who’ve been dying for action, it’s a great way to kick off the season a week early. But if things don’t go the right way, we can all quickly forget it ever happened as we prepare for the real opener.