Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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The Best Midfield in England – Grading Arsenal’s Midfielders

After looking at the forwards on Tuesday, I turn to the midfielders today. It was a strong performance from this group on the whole, as they became the best midfield in England in the latter part of the season with Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil excelling.

Mikel Arteta – C – This C doesn’t stand for Captain. Unfortunately for the newly crowned captain, this was a season to forget. Arteta made only 12 appearances, picking up a series of muscle injuries that ultimately ended his season in November. When he was on the field, he was unconvincing. Out injuried, he was successfully replaced on three fronts. Per Mertesacker did admirably as fill-in captain, Santi Cazorla dispatched the penalties with aplomb, and Francis Coquelin was superb in Arteta’s defensive midfielder role. With all that going against him and with his being well on the wrong side of 30, his future at Arsenal is particularly murky.

Santi Cazorla – A- – Cazorla had a rough start to the year. A Premier League goal drought caused him to press and his overall play dropped. But a move to the middle of the park with Mesut Özil’s injury saw him get going. The diminutive Spaniard was then named club Player of the Month for both December and January as he moved to a deeper-lying role in the midfield. In that new role, he dazzled. One particular game at Manchester City was perhaps the individual performance of the season in the Premier League. The rest of the year, Cazorla was a delight to watch, working perfectly in partnership with Coquelin behind Özil. His expertise at the penalty spot was much needed in Arteta’s absence, and his set pieces led to quite a few goals. It must be noted as well that Cazorla missed only a single Premier League game. Overall, it was an excellent season from Cazorla. And going forward this is a role perfectly cut out for him as he ages.

Francis Coquelin – A+ – Not enough praise can be heaped on Coquelin for the way he transformed the Arsenal midfield upon his insertion in the team in late December. Everybody knows the story now, unwanted and unused, he was loaned out to Charlton in search of regular playing time. But to his chagrin, he was recalled when Arsenal needed bodies. To his surprise, he was given a start at West Ham, and from then on, was one of the first names on the teamsheet. On the field, he was magnificent in his defensive midfielder role, battling with players twice his size and routinely out-muscling them. He was mobile, aggressive and combative. And as he played, his passing improved too. His story is one that can give footballers everywhere hope. For despite being unwanted for the better part of three years, he seized the chance when it finally came. Everyone talked about how Arsenal needed to sign a DM. But Coquelin ended up being that player, only one without the price tag. Once an afterthought, Coquelin is now a big part of Arsenal’s future.

Abou Diaby – F – The sad story of Abou Diaby continued, with another full year lost to injuries. He played once in a Capital One Cup match in September, but was never fit the rest of the year. As tragic as his career has been, the reality is that it is time for Arsenal to let him go. He has been given a number of chances to get healthy and hasn’t been able to stay that way. He must know the end is near for his time at Arsenal.

Mathieu Flamini – C+ – At this point in his career, Flamini can’t be trusted to hold down a midfield against athletic teams. He is a step slow and too prone to gamble. After starting for much of the first half of the year with varying degrees of success, he was eventually replaced by Coquelin and was relegated to the role of late-game defensive cover. Many people think Flamini must be sold, but I think he has value in that role. He has accepted the role without complaint, and clearly loves the club. So why push him out the door? 15 Premier League starts is too many, but credit must be given to him for staying healthy and remaining an option on the bench. When he comes on, he provides stability. I say give him another year at the club.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – B – This was an interesting year for the Ox. In many ways, he began to fulfill the potential everyone has seen in him the last few years as he tore through midfields with marauding runs and blew by defenders down the right. But he struggled to lock down a place with various injuries and ended up making only 17 Premier League starts and 37 appearances in all competitions. He scored only three goals, albeit two were of massive importance, but that total will need to improve. As a player, he continues to become more dynamic year to year. But it’s fair to wonder when, or if, he’ll make the leap to that truly elite level. That will only come with consistency, which he has yet to find at Arsenal. Next year will be an important year for him, and he’ll be in a vicious fight for a place in the midfield.

Mesut Özil – A- – In Özil’s second season at the club, he finally silenced the critics that had dogged him for the better part of two years. Coming back a World Cup winner, Özil struggled as he played out of position on the left. So perhaps his injury against Chelsea in early October was for the best. As after a three-month absence, he was restored to the middle of the park and became increasingly impactful. And for the entire second half of the season, he was magnificent, creating chance after chance with silky link-up play. As he found comfort with Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, he began hitting passes that were frankly unbelievable, with an especially pretty assist coming in the FA Cup semifinal. He even scored a marvelous free-kick against Liverpool. His goal and assist numbers from this year necessarily won’t blow you away, but don’t that fool you. Özil was a monster in the second half of the year. And best of all, you could see that he was enjoying himself again. I can’t wait to see what he does next year with a full summer of rest.

Aaron Ramsey – B+ – This season was always going to be a bit of a let down for Ramsey after his incredible 2013-2014 campaign. After a late matchwinner in the opening game against Crystal Palace, he struggled to make the same kind of impact, often straying far out of position to go for the types of goals he scored a year ago. But a couple of goals in December, including the goal of the year at Galatasaray offered a glimmer of hope before an injury sidelined him. When he returned in late January, he locked down a place on the right rather than his customary middle-of-the-park position, and there he found his form again. He finished with 10 goals to his name. Going forward, he is a vital piece of the squad with his goalscoring ability from midfield. Rumors of his wanting greener pastures will likely persist, but I’m confident he will remain at Arsenal for the foreseeable future.

Tomas Rosicky – B- – I am incredibly surprised that Rosicky signed on for another year at the club. A thorough professional and a player who always makes an impact when he sees the field, Rosicky got surprisingly little action this campaign. He made just 8 starts all year across all competitions, down from 25 the year before. And after publicly wondering aloud why he hadn’t been playing in the fall, he seized his chance in January with a couple terrific displays only to return to the bench for the rest of the season. And in a move I consider inexcusable, Arsene Wenger left him out of the squad altogether in the FA Cup Final. For his sake, I hope Rosicky finds a way to leave this summer, but for Arsenal’s sake, I hope the ever-reliable veteran stays forever.

Jack Wilshere – B – Every time Wilshere takes a step forward, he seems to take two steps back. This year, he put in a series of impressive displays through November, including a goal and an assist against Manchester City, but was again snakebitten by injuries the rest of the way. He made just 22 appearances this year, which is not enough for him as he continues to try to fulfill his potential. At age 23, he is still young enough to improve, but next year needs to be relatively injury-free. He can’t afford to have another 5-month injury, no matter whose fault the injury might be. The end of the season was quite positive for Wilshere, as he made a noticeable impact when he saw the field. His ability to pick up the ball and take it all the way through the opposing midfield is unrivaled. But soon, those glimpses of promise need to turn into consistent high levels of play. I hope he isn’t sold any time soon, because he can still be a game-changing player. But time is running out to prove Diaby isn’t his middle name.

Would you grade anyone differently? Please comment below.



Some Good, A Lot of Bad – Grading Arsenal’s Forwards

On a strangely happy day for soccer fans – seriously, can you think of something stranger to celebrate than the head of a company resigning in a corruption scandal? – Sepp Blatter finally succumbed to all the pressure on his place as president of FIFA. It’s good news that he’s leaving, but things will only get worse for FIFA in the coming months as more and more gets revealed. This is but the first step in cleaning up a colossal mess.

But my focus today is on wrapping up Arsenal’s season. This will be the first in a three part series grading the Arsenal squad on their season, and commenting on what might be expected from everyone going forward. Today, I will look at the forwards. Grades are based both on performance and expectation. So a B from player X does not mean necessarily that they had a better season than player Y, who had a B-. But rather, player X had a better season taking expectations into account.

Chuba Akpom – B- – The English starlet made the jump to the first-team this year, which in itself is an achievement for the 19 year old. However, he made just seven brief substitute appearances before finishing up the season on loan at Nottingham Forest on loan. He did well in his time on the pitch, earning a penalty against Aston Villa, but must have hoped to have forced his way into the side more than he did. His major success might have been signing a new contract. Next year is a crucial year in his development, and surely if playing time is not a guarantee at the big club, he should be loaned out for regular action for a lower-half Premier League side.

Joel Campbell – D – Much was expected from the Costa Rican after his strong showing at the World Cup, but he was hardly a part of Arsene Wenger’s plans, not starting a single Premier League match. And when given a rare opportunity in the cups, he wasn’t able to convert the chances. For a 23 year old, seven appearances is not enough. A January loan to Villareal gave him a shot at playing time, but one goal in 14 appearances won’t help his cause. I fully expect him to be sold this summer, even if the price is well below what it would have been a year ago.

Olivier Giroud – B+ – People have a lot of strong opinions about the French striker, but regardless of whether you like him or not, he is a consistent player. 19 goals is not a bad tally by any means, especially considering how much time he missed at the beginning of the year. In his third year at the club, he looked more comfortable, and began to win the fans over, winning the Player of the Month Award in March. But a late season swoon saw him lose out on a place to Theo Walcott for the FA Cup Final. And the questions that have always haunted him have arisen once again and will continue all summer. Is he truly good enough to win a title with? Fair or not, fans are more likely going to remember all the misses against Monaco rather than the goals against both Manchester clubs. If another striker is bought as is rumored, I think Giroud will have a hard time seeing the field next year. And if I’m the Frenchman, I might think about finding another club when I’m still in my prime. All the criticism must get old when he continues to score goals.

Serge Gnabry – F – One of the great mysteries to me of this season is why Gnabry’s year-long injury was never fully explained. Twice, he came back to training, in October and March, but neither time did he come close to seeing the field for the first team. Given the talk of him stealing a spot on Germany’s World Cup winning squad not 14 months ago, there was strangely little said about Gnabry’s continued absence. The situation is not unlike Jack Wilshere’s, when he missed a full season due to injury at a similar age. But let’s hope the road to recovery is not as long for Gnabry. He needs a big year next season to right his career that was filled with so much promise a year ago.

Lukas Podolski – C- – As a self-professed fan of Podolski’s, I was particularly unhappy that he wasn’t given more of a chance this year. With no Premier League starts to his name even when many up front were out injured, he justifiably sought greener pastures at Inter Milan in January on a loan deal. At Inter, he struggled, scoring a lone goal. But I won’t use that as justification for not getting him on the pitch in the first half of the year. A World Cup winner with his left foot should not have been relegated to the bench. Not figuring out a place for Podolski might be Wenger’s biggest failure in recent years. I’m sure I’ll get to write a farewell piece about the #9 soon, but let’s not forget all the goals he scored, including a matchwinner in extra time against Anderlecht this year. This season was a downer for Podolski, but he still rooted passionately for the club on social media like a true Gooner.

Alexis Sanchez – A – With all the expectations on him from the moment he signed, Alexis was a revelation at Arsenal this year, scoring 25 goals and providing 9 assists. When Arsenal needed goals in the fall, he provided them, often in spectacular form, and his drive and motor impressed nearly everyone. And despite tiring as the season wore on, he played nearly every match, stepping up time after time with big performances, including a marvelous goal in the FA Cup Final. Once he and Mesut Özil figured out how best to combine, they were a lethal duo behind the main striker. After a successful first year at the club, expectations will be even higher next year. But the Chilean’s best days are in front of him still.

Yaya Sanogo – C -You may forget Sanogo led the line in Arsenal’s successful FA Community Shield, playing a part in the first two goals. But despite success in the preseason and many opportunities at the beginning of the year, he didn’t really succeed when things mattered. He finally got his first goal – and an important one at that – against Borussia Dortmund. But that goal didn’t open the floodgates for more like many were hoping for, perhaps due to injuries that slowed him late in 2014. He finished the year at Crystal Palace, where he didn’t play as big a part in their survival as he would have hoped. You wonder what sort of future he has at Arsenal. It’s a good thing Wenger seems to like him.

Theo Walcott – C+ – Walcott would have received an F were it not for a final week of the season that might have saved his Arsenal career. From his return in October, he seemed far from the manager’s plans, rarely given a start. And when he was on the pitch, he was skittish in front of goal. But all of that will be forgotten because Wenger gave him a chance in the final week. A season marred by a long injury recovery and missed chances will now be remembered for a final-day hat-trick and the opening goal in the FA Cup Final. Suddenly, he looks like a viable center forward option. And a contract extension seems to be on the cards.  It was an awfully long year for the English speedster, but one that may be the turning point in his career.

Danny Welbeck – B- – After a full year in Arsenal colors, I still don’t quite know what to make of Welbeck. The talent is clearly there. And he brings a lot to the side, with his impact generally being positive. But I’m not sold on his being good enough to start long-term unless he improves dramatically next year. Eight goals in 35 appearances simply isn’t good enough, even when considering many of his starts came on the wing. He had his moments to remember in his first year. A hat-trick against Galatasaray and a winner at Old Trafford against his old club will stand out. But the fact that he was goalless in the Premier League in the 2015 calendar year won’t sit well with many, who expected more from the new signing. An injury kept him off the pitch for the month of May, but it was in many ways a fitting way to a frustrating first season at the club. Welbeck will have to do a lot of work to get back into the side in August.

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Reflections on My Trip to Super Bowl XLIX

I could tell this weekend was going to be a different type of sports experience when my flight from Charlotte to Phoenix was full of Patriots fans chanting Go Patriots as we boarded (and one lone Seahawks fan). It’s fair to say I saw a few more Seahawks fans when I arrived in Phoenix, but I was not expecting so many fans to be coming from around the country. All weekend, my brothers, dad and I watched droves of neon-clad Seattle-folk proudly wearing #12 jerseys take over everywhere we went. They were out in force. And Patriots fans were not.

Saturday afternoon we went to the circus at the Phoenix Convention Center – or the NFL Experience, as it was officially called. Outside, there were 32 trucks with each NFL logo, there was a red carpet viewing area and there were puppies playing football. Line after line of thousands of jersey-wearing football fans from all over the country followed whatever the NFL produced. But despite the long waits, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, for there was a discernible excitement in the air. Everybody was just happy to be there, even those hapless souls in Jets jerseys.

After I showed off my arm in a deep route passing drill, besting my brothers in our competition, I was chirped by a Seahawks fan who proceeded to bring up the Giants, Spygate and Deflategate all within two sentences. How creative. It was all in good fun, but by Saturday night, the atmosphere was beginning to change.

Sunday morning, we began the long trek out to the desert that is Glendale via public transportation. It felt oddly like the public transportation within Disney World. On the bus – a ride in which the driver missed the stop and ended up taking us on a half-hour detour into the thick of the traffic – the Seahawks fans were much more tolerable than the man the night before. Everyone even united to cheer loudly as the bus finally let us off.

Security was surprisingly efficient and effective. Within the walls of ticketed company, it was a full-on party. We went inside to check out our seats roughly three hours before the game before heading back out to do more NFL-themed games. Waiting in line for another passing drill – this 3/3 outing in front of heckling Seahawk fans being my personal quarterbacking highlight – I was right in between two sets of Patriots and Seahawks fans. At this moment, things began to feel more like a game and less like a party. Conversation turned from Friday night Ludacris concerts to respective gameplans. After a free sampling of Tostitos’s new product and a sighting of Chris Pratt, we went back inside for warm-ups.

As we approached game time, there was some serious buzz in the stadium. All the energy that had been building over the weekend crescendoed as Idina Menzel nailed her final note. Suddenly, there was a game to be played. When Steven Hauschka kicked off, it was unbelievably loud. And for the Patriots first drive, it only got louder. At this point, I feared the alarming number of Seattle fans would make the difference. But enough of the spectacle, there was a game too. And a pretty great one at that.

I went into the game cautiously optimistic. And despite Tom Brady’s early red zone interception right in front of us, I stayed confident. The defense came out hot. The peak of my confidence came with Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown near the end of the first half. It was all just too easy. But then came the guillotine. The Seahawks thirty-second touchdown drive to close out the half swung the momentum entirely. I thought watching Katy Perry was going to be fun, but instead, I could only be nervous.

Those nerves reached a point I’d never felt as the third quarter bled into the fourth and the Patriots could neither convert a third down nor make a stop. With every failed LaGarrette Blount run, I sank further and further back into my seat, barely able to watch. When the Patriots punted on their opening drive of the fourth quarter down 10, I pretty much accepted defeat. I began dreading the plane ride home the next day, dreading turning on ESPN for the next seven months.

One stop later, the game was on the line as the Patriots drove the field down 10. It felt like Brady was walking across a tightrope with every throw he made between two or sometimes three defenders. Yet the receivers kept making plays. They kept moving the chains. This drive was about the will to win. It was about giving us fans near heart attacks. It was simply brilliant.

The first low point of the game came when Brady overthrew a wide-open Julian Edelman in the end zone. It was an open Wes Welker with the game on the line all over again. But fears were alleviated a play later when Brady found Danny Amendola. All I could do at this point was focus on taking deep breaths.

After another huge stop by this year’s much-improved defense, the next drive was pure gold. This was the drive people will remember forever as a crowning moment of Brady’s career. Gronk, Edelman and Shane Vereen at their absolute best. Even when things went awry on Amendola’s pass interference call, the Patriots answered the call on the very next play. There was never any doubt about this drive. The Seahawks were going to get the ball back down four. That the go-ahead touchdown came on the exact same throw to Edelman that Brady missed on the previous drive made it all the more redemptive. This was our game.

The emotions from this point are all a blur. As soon as Russell Wilson hit Marshawn Lynch on the wheel route, the dread came flooding back. Then the storm surge of dread hit in full force as the ghost of David Tyree returned to University of Phoenix Stadium in the form of Jermaine Kearse. It was all too real. This was the new low point. Suddenly, Lynch was down to the one.

The next play will be talked about forever. We all know it was a stupid play call – the explanations from the Seattle coaching staff about killing a play make absolutely no sense. If you want to kill clock, kneel the ball. But in the moment, it was a flurry of emotions unlike anything I’ve experienced. From our vantage point directly behind the throw, it was hard to tell what exactly happened. We saw the ball thrown in traffic, saw a Patriot go the ground and saw no reaction from the referees. I was the first to react in our group, noticing the Patriots sideline celebrating. I began jumping up and down screaming wildly as I comprehended what just happened. Seconds later, everyone around us was hugging one another. Jubilee. I wouldn’t stop smiling the rest of the night.

There are heroes in every Super Bowl. But few come from as far as Malcolm Butler did. He will be discussed alongside Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel, Ty Law and other heroes of the Patriots Super Bowl years. Throwing context aside, that was one fantastic read he made. But add the stupidity of the call back in and you get one of the best game-sealing plays of all-time.

Butler’s contribution might help Patriots fans remember down the line that this team was about so much more than Brady. Sure, he might have won MVP – and appropriately so – but Belichick needed everyone to beat the Seahawks. Without Revis and Browner, without Hightower and Collins, without Ninkovich and Jones, without Stork and Fleming, without Vereen and Amendola, there would be no Lombardi trophy for the Patriots this year. Brady, Gronk and Edelman were this team’s shiny exterior. But that aforementioned core can’t be forgotten.

Just about any fan out there could have told you Bill Belichick was going to revolve the offense around unexpected players. But for Patriot fans, it was all too clear that Shane Vereen was going to have a big role. However, few could have predicted the magnitude of his role. With every shoe-string catch across the middle, he bailed his quarterback out. He fought for every yard and made some truly remarkable plays. He and Amendola, the other surprise, were excellent.

Everybody wants to talk about Tom Brady’s legacy right now, but I think we need to spend a little more time on the remarkable play of so many Patriots like Vereen and Amendola. Let’s not soon forget Edelman’s iron-man toughness as he fought for the extra yards despite what looked to be a clear concussion. Brady will have his time in the sun soon.

On my plane ride home, there was a large man three rows in front of me dressed in a black hoodie, a West Virginia hat and dark sunglasses. He sat quietly as Patriots fans walked by without looking twice. From my seat, I saw this man’s enormous hands. There was a black ring on his left hand. But there was a noticeable lack of a championship ring.

Upon landing in Charlotte, Randy Moss exited the plane quietly, head down and headphones on. One of the greatest receivers to ever live walked swiftly, not wanting to be recognized. And soon he was out of sight.

This Patriots team didn’t have a Randy Moss on offense. It had a collection of grinders, of fighters. Julian Edelman, the undersized seventh-round pick who arrived in the NFL without a position, is now what Moss and Welker will never be. A Super Bowl Champion. He and 51 others are not soon to be forgotten in New England. You can bet Patriot fans won’t be walking by players like Edelman anytime soon without giving him a nod, a high-five or a thank you.

What a game.


If You Give Up on Özil, I’ll Give Up on You

International Breaks serve to do two things: 1. Get every Arsenal player injured. 2. Make every Arsenal fan believe the sky if falling. With no Arsenal action to speak of for two weeks, only bad things can happen. And only bad things have happened. After a full fortnight of negativity, starting with the loss to Chelsea, everyone has forgotten how well Arsenal played on October 1st. Saturday’s came cannot come soon enough

Obviously, there are a ton of concerns defensively right now. Depending on the severity of Laurent Koscielny’s lingering achilles problems, Arsenal could be giving full Premier League debuts to both Hector Bellerin (Calum Chambers is suspended for a match) and Isaac Hayden against Hull on Saturday. I have more trust in those two than most I suspect, but we’d all feel more confident were than another defender in the squad. Alas, there isn’t. But against the likes of Hull and Anderlecht, one would hope Arsenal has the firepower to outscore a team if they can’t keep a clean sheet.

But the story this break has revolved around Mesut Özil. Early last week, the German soccer federation announced the Arsenal playmaker had injured his knee and would be out 10-12 weeks. When I saw the news, I was heartbroken. Özil had finally been stringing together some great performances and was noticeably forming a great understanding with new striker Danny Welbeck. But looking at the fixture list, I reasoned that if Arsenal could survive any three month stretch without their best player, it was now. Sure, there are a few tough tests mixed in, but for the most part, the schedule looks nothing like what it was in September.

In Özil’s three month absence, Arsenal has no lack of players capable of filling his role. I’ve been reading that Jack Wilshere has been having an excellent run with England, so maybe he should get the nod in the number 10 role. Santi Cazorla could also slide over, or Tomas Rosicky could return to the lineup. Should Cazorla move inside, that might give Lukas Podolski or Joel Campbell a run on the left, if only until Theo Walcott returns. If Wilshere gets moved forward, Abou Diaby or Francis Coquelin will need to come into the side alongside the holding midfielder. The only option I’d be worried about is putting Aaron Ramsey in the number 10 role when he comes back.

Speaking of Walcott, the images of he and Serge Gnabry back in full training brightened my otherwise gloomy international break state this morning. I feel like many people have forgotten about Walcott, but he could absolutely be a game-changer. Couple his pace with Welbeck and with Alexis Sanchez and suddenly Arsenal becomes lethal in the final third. I cannot wait for Walcott to get back on the field. Just imagine what it will be like when Walcott, Sanchez and Özil can play together.

But the story didn’t end with the injury for Özil. The media has used this injury as an excuse to write about how Wenger is fed up with Özil, how he wants to sell him in January, how Özil is fed up with Arsenal and how he also wants to leave. All of a sudden, every step that Özil took in the right direction in September has been forgotten. The media has used an unfortunate injury (a knee injury is unlucky, not the product of a lazy player or poor coaching) to return to their relentless Özil hatred. Frankly, it’s appalling. While I don’t believe a lick of what’s being written, in the international break, it’s hard not to pay attention to it.

Why would Arsene Wenger give up on his record signing now – a record signing who started brightly at Arsenal only to be derailed by an injury, proceeded to win a World Cup, and has steadily grown more influential this year? Özil is the answer to Arsenal’s problems, not the cause of them. Surround him with players that complement him and he becomes one of the game’s very best players. Watch some tape of Real Madrid from only two years ago and tell me you’d sell him. I dare you.

That the rumored price of a deal to Bayern Munich is 30 million pounds is an absolute joke. Arsenal bought him for 42, and despite what the media would have you believe, he has not lost more than 25% of his skills. Big teams like Bayern have the funds to overpay, so why Arsenal would ever accept a low-balling bid like that for Özil I don’t know. Would I sell him for 45? Maybe. Only if Wenger brought back a Javi Martinez type in the deal. But other than that, absolutely not.

So please, Mr. Wenger, from the bottom of my heart, I implore you not to give up on Özil. He is your best player and your key to success. You lose when he plays poorly and win when he plays well. If that doesn’t tell you he’s important to the squad, nothing will. Change your tactics to work with Özil, don’t try to change him. If you do give up on our number 11, I will have no choice but to give up on you.


Derby Day & The Return to Jerry’s World

I could not be more excited about tomorrow. First off, it’s Derby Day. That in and of itself makes for a fantastic day. But what makes the day even better is the Arkansas-Texas A&M game later in the afternoon. I cannot think of a better fall Saturday combination than the North London Derby and Arkansas playing on SEC on CBS. Well, maybe if the Red Sox-Yankees game meant something… But let’s forget about that. I’m still living in 2013 on that front.

I’ll start off with Arsenal. I don’t care who you are or what you might be doing, but if you are an Arsenal fan in any capacity, you have to be excited for Arsenal-Spurs at The Emirates. This is our chance to dig Tottenham’s grave, as the Mauricio Pocchettino reign has gotten off to a hilariously bad start. Think he had losing at home to West Brom as part of his grand plan?

When I first became a fan, I didn’t quite understand the joy Arsenal fans get from Spurs misery. But now I love every second of it. It’s not personal. But I hate those guys. And I hate everything about that club. My hatred of Tottenham is almost comical. I have such little respect for their club and their players that I almost feel sorry for everyone still walking around wearing Gareth Bale jerseys. Arsenal is just better in every way.

And for Arsenal, this is a time to forget all the distractions and just play. Prior results do not matter when the Gunners take the field on Derby Day. All that counts is beating Spurs. Players and fans have more of a connection on this day than any others, and the new boys should thrive off of that positive energy at The Emirates. Recently, games against Spurs have seen Arsenal players let go of their anxieties and troubles and just play. Just go out and let the adrenaline take over.

Tactically, I want Arsenal to field the same team as they did against Aston Villa, with Alexis Sanchez coming back in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I wouldn’t be opposed to giving Jack Wilshere the nod ahead of Aaron Ramsey, but if Ramsey’s going to get back to his best, the rush of this atmosphere could do it. I also worry about Wilshere in intense matches. One moment of losing his cool could cost his team dearly. If the team is lacking bite, bring on Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini, but at the start, beat Spurs with pace and skill rather than guts and brawn.

For everyone involved for Arsenal, this is a chance to show the world that they mean business. It is also a chance to forever endear themselves to the fans. Score a winner against Spurs, and we’ll love you. For Danny Welbeck and Sanchez, and even for Özil, a goal tomorrow would go a long way.

My prediction for the match is an optimistic one. I just can’t fathom a loss to this wretched Tottenham side. I’ll say 3-1 good guys. Arsenal will bring the punch, and Spurs won’t be able to match. Get excited.

Before I will be able to catch my breath after the Arsenal game, it will be time for Arkansas. Beyond what’s at stake, the simple fact that I will get to hear Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson call a Razorback game again gets me fired up. There is no better announcer out there than Mr. Danielson. He’s insightful, unbiased, and coupled with Lundquist’s excited tone on big plays, he and Verne make for an excellent team.

I expect there to be plenty to talk about, for Arkansas and Texas A&M are well-matched, albeit in an odd way. Lots has been made of this game being A&M’s passing attack vs. Arkansas’s rushing attack. But it’s more than that. This game will come down to defense, and the respective abilities of the defenses to capitalize on mistakes.

Kenny Hill may be good, but he’s still inexperienced on the big stage, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him struggle a little bit. If Arkansas can get pressure up front, Hill might throw a few ducks. And it will be up to Arkansas’s secondary to take advantage of those errors. And the opposite is true as well, as I can guarantee you Brandon Allen won’t play the perfect game.

Arkansas’s offensive line should have little trouble wearing down the Texas A&M defense as the game goes on, so expect giant holes to open up for Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams in the second half. If Arkansas can sustain drives in the opening half and keep the score close, I think they’ll close the game well. However, should A&M get ahead early, I don’t think Allen is quite good enough to lead Arkansas back through the air.

It’s funny to think back to the last time this game was played in Dallas. Bobby Petrino was the coach and things were great. Tyler Wilson threw for a school record 510 yards as Arkansas came back from an 18 point deficit at the half to win a thriller. Jarius Wright had 281 yards receiving on 13 catches. (Arkansas also came back to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl later that year – the last time they played there.)

It’s been a long three years for Arkansas football since that day, and things have certainly changed. But now, Arkansas is back at Jerry’s World. This time, they won’t be passing the ball quite so much, but after two years of crumbling and rebuilding, this is finally an Arkansas team worthy of taking the field on the big stage. I don’t know if they are quite ready to win a big time SEC West game, but I can’t wait to see them fight.

Tomorrow will be a great day to be a fan. It’s a day worth celebrating. Now go out and win the games, boys.