Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Evaluating Arsenal’s Latest Signing – Welcome Mathieu Debuchy

Many names have been tossed around in the last two years as potential replacements for Bacary Sagna when he left Arsenal. Sagna’s shoes were a big fill, and it didn’t seem like Carl Jenkinson was going to be ready quite yet. We heard about Serge Aurier, Micah Richards and Callum Chambers. But it was always going to Mathieu Debuchy. It just made too much sense. And the former Newcastle man became Arsene Wenger’s second signing of the summer yesterday, confirming a transfer story that had lost all suspense weeks ago.

Debuchy is as close as it comes to a like-for-like replacement for Sagna at right back. Whether or not he is an upgrade is up for debate, but he is certainly a suitable replacement. The similarities start with the obvious fact that the two of them are French internationals, with Debuchy starting over Sagna at the World Cup. That fact right there should leave Arsenal fans satisfied with the move, even if they are not overly excited. He showed himself well in Brazil, and didn’t look out of place in the quarterfinal against the eventual champion Germany.

But the biggest similarity between the two French right backs is their style of play. At this stage in their careers, both are above average going forward, having the ability to make runs down the flank. And while Sagna might be a better crosser of the ball, Debuchy has a little more pace at the moment. They are also above average defenders, capable of winning balls in the air and defending one-on-one situations. One negative of Debuchy is that he won’t be able to fill in at right back like Sagna could, but that shouldn’t be a factor unless Wenger allows Thomas Vermaelen to leave without replacing him.

Tactically, Debuchy will slot directly into Sagna’s role in Arsene Wenger’s plans. He and Theo Walcott should make for a terrorizing duo on the right, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a majority of Arsenal’s crosses coming from that side once again. With French teammate Olivier Giroud to aim at in the middle, Debuchy should have little trouble fitting in offensively. He might struggle at first with his defending though, as he won’t get much help from Walcott. He’ll have to quickly learn to be extra disciplined so as not to leave himself and Per Mertesacker exposed. Sagna was excellent next to the big German, and it will be vital for Debuchy to develop a good relationship with Mertesacker from the start.

Where Debuchy’s experience could help the most is on Arsenal’s goal kicks. A pattern had developed in recent years of Wojciech Szczesny aiming his kicks at the head of Sagna up the field. And Sagna was pretty good at winning those first balls, getting Arsenal up the field in an efficient manner. Debuchy will offer the same sort of outlet. At Newcastle, the former Lille star won a high percentage of his aerial duels, and he should be able to do much of the same at Arsenal.

And as Debuchy is 28 years old, he’s a known commodity. What you see is what you’ll get. Playing with the pressure that comes from the Arsenal fans sometimes can be tough. But someone who’s been involved in the France national team setup should have no problem with pressure. He’s also had experience playing in the Champions League in the past. And as he’s been in the Premier League for the last 18 months, he should be able to settle in quickly.

I won’t lie. I’m not overwhelmed with excitement over the Debuchy signing. He doesn’t make us title-winning threats all by himself by any means. But Arsenal needed to find a replacement for Sagna and Carl Jenkinson didn’t seem ready. So signing a veteran international who can bring stability to the position while Arsenal search for the right back of the future signing over the next few years makes a lot of sense.

There was a hole at right back, and Arsene Wenger filled it swiftly and appropriately. And while Debuchy obviously won’t bring the same spark to the team that Alexis Sanchez will, he is a valuable signing nonetheless. Arsenal now has a starting lineup that rivals any in the Premiership, and further signings this summer will only serve to strengthen the campaign. I can’t wait to see this team take the field in less than a month.


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Rating the Arsenal Performances at the World Cup

Making the transition from World Cup content to Arsenal content, I would like to write about Arsenal’s players in Brazil. The Gunners sent nine players to Brazil for the World Cup. Three of those players got knocked out in the group, three exited in the quarterfinals and three come back to London as world champions. Here, I would like to assess each of those players individually. And for the record, I am not including new signing Alexis Sanchez in this list. And as far as Joel Campbell, I left him off this list as he has yet to train even once with the club. However, I’ve had extensive coverage about Campbell over the past month which you can search for if you want to see that. Here is a link one of those pieces.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England) – Having overcome injury concerns late in the season to make the final roster for Brazil, the Ox was terribly unlucky to pick up another injury in England’s final preparation friendlies. The hope was that he’d make it back in time for the final group game, but by then, England was already out, and Oxlade-Chamberlain never saw the field. It was a huge blow to the youngster, but one that might ultimately be beneficial. The added rest will hopefully mean he’s fit and firing by the opener, and he shouldn’t have to miss much of preseason. With other players in his position coming back from extended breaks and injuries, the Ox should be in line to start a few games early on, giving him a chance to show his continued development.

Jack Wilshere (England) – Wilshere was a frustrated figure for England in Brazil. He came off the bench to mild success in the opening loss to Italy, was an unused substitute against Uruguay, and started the meaningless game against Costa Rica. At times it looked as if Wilshere felt sorry for himself, but mostly it looked like he thought he should be the first name on the teamsheet. That was seen as confidence a year or two ago, but with mixed results lately, it looks a lot more like arrogance. As the young midfielder might be looking at a lot of time on the bench this year, he’ll need to channel all of those negative feelings into making himself better. Going out and smoking cigarettes on his holiday isn’t a good way to show everyone that he’s working hard.

Santi Cazorla (Spain) – While Spain was generally terrible in Brazil, Cazorla looked one of their better players when he was on the field in the final two games. He created a number of chances, and he was one of the few Spaniards to show any sort of urgency when they were down against Chile. Arsenal would seem to benefit from Spain’s exit, as Cazorla could be ready for preseason. And as he gets older, more rest can only be a good thing for the veteran midfielder. It’ll be nice to have him fit for the Crystal Palace game. And as he’s already won a European Championship, Cazorla still carries the winner’s mentality.

Thomas Vermaelen (Belgium) – This was a thoroughly disappointing World Cup for the Arsenal captain. Even though his team made the quarterfinals, he made only one start, and had to come off with an injury. A year away from the first team at Arsenal saw him lose his place with the national team, and he had to watch his team struggle all tournament. This World Cup disaster will surely cause Vermaelen to reconsider his future as a Gunner. I expect him to leave the club by the end of the window.

Laurent Koscielny (France) – The Arsenal center back surely would have wanted to start for his country, and he will be massively disappointed in his place on the bench for much of the tournament. Especially against Germany, when he could have been on the field against a few of his Arsenal teammates, he was quite unlucky to have been on the bench. I certainly feel he’s better than Mamadou Sakho, so it made little sense to me. Being a defender, he won’t need much of a preseason to be ready, so there shouldn’t be too much of a worry there. But overall, Koscielny won’t look back on this World Cup with particular fondness.

Olivier Giroud (France) – Giroud’s World Cup was a mixed bag. In the group stage, he played his way into the lineup with a series of impressive displays alongside Karim Benzema. Against Switzerland, the big frontman grabbed an assist and a goal. But when France took on Germany in the quarterfinal, Giroud was back to the bench. From an Arsenal standpoint, it would have been nice to have seen him score a big goal in the knockout round, but alas, he once again failed to make much of an impact against the very best teams. However, Giroud did force his way into a very talented team for a few games, and that should be good for his confidence going forward.

Lukas Podolski (Germany) – While Podolski didn’t see much of the field, totaling zero minutes in the knockout round, he leaves Brazil a world champion. And watching him on the field in the postgame celebrations, you could see how much it meant to him. Although he didn’t play a whole lot, this summer should still do wonders for his confidence. Nobody can take away the fact that he is a world champion footballer. And hopefully he was playing up Arsenal to Sami Khedira for the last month. While he’ll miss much of preseason, Arsenal should be able to deal with his absence until he’s fit.

Per Mertesacker (Germany) – The big German center back started for much of the tournament, but lost his place in the final three games when Germany moved Philipp Lahm to right back. However, that decision was not a reflection on Mertesacker’s play. He was solid in the back, and represented Arsenal well with every header won. And of course, he comes back to the club a World Cup champion. He is already held in a high status in the dressing room and this should only further that reputation. I expect a fully fit Mertesacker to be ready for the opener, and he’ll be in a great mental state going in to the new campaign.

Mesut Özil (Germany) – Arsenal’s record signing received a ton of flak throughout the tournament for a perceived lack of effort. Compared to Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and many of his other world-beating teammates, his work rate wasn’t the best. However, despite being pushed out wide, Özil did play a lot of telling balls in the final third, and was unlucky only to garner a single goal and an assist. And he played his best game in the final, which should do wonders for his confidence. Being a World Cup winner could do more for Özil than anyone else, as he should now be of the mindset that he can be among the very best. Hopefully this means we will see Özil live up to his potential. While the Arsenal playmaker will miss much of preseason, this World Cup should do wonders for him for next season.


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Langweilig und Wirksam – Deutschland Geht Zum Halbfinale (Boring and Effective – Germany Goes To the Semifinals)

From the moment Jogi Löw’s teamsheet was released, it was clear Germany had a plan for overcoming their recent struggles – a return to the German side of years past was on the cards. Philipp Lahm was back in defense, and Miroslav Klose returned as the traditional center forward. Germany were done playing around, and France was going to have to beat them the hard way. By solidifying their defense and beefing up the attack, Germany looked a much more difficult side to beat.

France was unlucky to give up the opening goal on a set-piece, but particularly poor defending by the young Raphaël Varane allowed Mats Hummels a free header. It was a wonderfully taken free kick by Toni Kroos and an even better header from Hummels. With the goal, Germany could sit further back, looking to hit on the counter. They looked to play the same sort of tactics that they did in 2010 when they had so much success against England and Argentina in the knockout round.

On this day, Germany dominated in the midfield with experience winning out over youth, with France having a hard time dictating the game as a result. Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were noticeably effective at breaking up play in the middle of the park, forcing the French to move wider. The German defense was excellent for much of the match, with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels looking an impressive pairing in the middle. Per Mertesacker will feel unlucky to have been left out, but Löw’s choice to add a little pace in the back helped keep Karim Benzema quiet. The few times France did manage to send in a useful ball, Hummels was always there to clean things up.

Manuel Neuer had yet another standout game between the posts, cementing his stance as the best all-around keeper in the world. Once again, his shot-stopping and distribution were top class. He looks a composed figure in net, and Germany have a huge advantage with him in the side. Neuer’s confidence seems to have a way of making the rest of his team feel at ease. One has to feel that if Germany wind up in a crucial penalty shootout, Neuer immediately gives them the edge.

France seemed to lack urgency in the second half, but that’s probably more of a testament to the German defending than it is a reflection of the French players. They were never able to find much of a rhythm, and even when Loïc Rémy was introduced to infuse pace in the side, nothing much went his way. France should be disappointed with their indifferent performance today, but they should feel confident about their current state going into the  hosting duties of the 2016 European Championships. They look a team on the rise again, having gotten over the horrors of 2010.

From the Arsenal standpoint, it was frustrating to see so many players left out of these sides today. Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski deserve a run-out in the final two games for Germany. If they are going to be attacking on the counter, Podolski should be on the pitch late in games, as his finishing ability surely would have led to another goal or two today. And for France, Didier Deschamps will be left reconsidering his choice of central defenders. Laurent Koscielny was one of the very best defenders in the whole Premier League last season, and you have to wonder how he couldn’t make the starting 11 for his country. I did, however, agree with Deschamps selecting Antoine Griezmann ahead of Olivier Giroud today. As far as the one Gunner to get a start today, Mesut Özil had a slightly better game in my opinion. While he was not involved in much action, he looked dangerous on the counter attack and was unlucky not to have gotten an assist late on. He still remains a long way off from his best, but at least he made a number of decisive passes today.

I still have Germany as my favorites for the tournament, and today’s more disciplined performance will hopefully quiet some of their critics. With Manuel Neuer in net, die Mannschaft might just win this thing.


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Celebrating an American Holiday With International Sports

Happy 4th, everyone. It feels like it’s been ages since there has been soccer to watch, but thankfully, the World Cup resumes today with a bang. Germany-France and Brazil-Colombia should be two of the best matches of the tournament, and Americans like me can spend our national holiday cheering on foreigners. Keeping with the international theme, the other major sporting event to watch today is Wimbledon – specifically the men’s semifinals, where Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will look to set up a dream final against one another on Sunday. I doubt too many Americans normally spend their 4th cheering on Serbians and Germans, but that’s what my day will look like. And I couldn’t be more excited.

Lest you failed to notice, I was a perfect 8-8 in my round of 16 World Cup picks. Granted, it wasn’t like I picked any upsets, but still, that’s a pretty good percentage. Let’s see if my quarterfinal predictions go as well.

Germany 1 (4) France 1 (3)

This is a matchup befitting of a final, and the game won’t fail to deliver. Despite all the drama surrounding the German team in recent days both about their play on the field and their health off it, I believe die Mannschaft will show up ready to play. With Mats Hummels returning in defense, the German backline will prove much harder to beat today. I think this is the match that Philipp Lahm shows the world he should be playing midfield – the captain is due for a strong performance, and I expect him to shut Paul Pogba down. Wanting to prove their critics wrong, I expect Germany to play with more venom in the early going. However, the teams will go into the locker room scoreless.

France will score shortly after halftime on a cheaply given away set piece. Karim Benzema will nod home a well-struck ball from Mathieu Valbuena, and the French will be on their way. Germany won’t respond well to the adversity immediately, and Manuel Neuer will be called upon in net to keep his country in the game. However, around the 75th minute, Thomas Müller will catch France sleeping, beating Patrice Evra down the right. His cross will find substitute Miroslav Klose for the equalizer. The extra-time will see a few chances early on, but ultimately, both teams will be afraid of sending too many men forward knowing how dangerous their opponent is on the counter. Penalties will be a huge test of French goalie Hugo Lloris, who lacks the high-pressure experiences of Neuer. The big German will prove better, making two keys saves. Germany won’t even need to take their fifth kick. It won’t be a pretty win, but Deutschland will move on to another semifinal.

Colombia 2 Brazil 1

The Colombians’ magical run will continue against the hosts, who will heavily miss Luiz Gustavo in front of their defense. Without the hard-tackling, disciplined Gustavo to provide a safety net, Brazil will get caught forward a couple times, and Colombia will have little trouble finding spaces on the counter. If the hosts want to win, they’ll need Fernandinho and Paulinho to play the games of their lives in midfield, shutting down Colombian superstar James Rodriguez. Colombia might benefit from all the nicks Neymar has picked up this tournament, as another two or three hard fouls could leave the Brazilian star ineffective. Neymar will need much more from his supporting cast than he got against Chile today, especially if the Colombians smartly knock him around in the first half.

I like Colombia to score first midway through the opening half, with Juan Cuadrado earning a penalty off of a poorly timed David Luiz tackle. James Rodriguez will cooly slot it past Julio Cesar, and Brazil will begin to press. Frustration will build as they find little success creating legitimate chances. If they resort to playing long-balls out of the back like they did against Chile, it could be a long day for Brazil. A few minutes before halftime, Fred will push a free header wide of the mark in their best chance of the half. They’ll play a more cautious style of soccer at the start of the second half, afraid of giving up an all-important second goal. However, they’ll be forced to abandon those tactics after long in search of the equalizer. With more men forward, Jackson Martinez will set up James on another counter attack and the Golden Ball frontrunner will score his second. Brazil will get one back through Thiago Silva late on, but it won’t be enough. Brazilians everywhere will be left devastated.

Enjoy the day and stay safe.

 


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Es Wird Sein Ein Guter Tag Für Die Mannschaft (It’ll Be a Good Day for Germany)

Good morning, everyone. I’m sorry for not having any further content yesterday, but I got caught up doing family activities. I managed to see a little action – the second half of the Netherlands game and the last couple penalties of the Costa Rica win, but not enough for my liking. The Dutch comeback was rather entertaining. I wasn’t necessarily rooting for anyone, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable game from what I saw, as Mexico have played some of the best soccer of anyone in Brazil. They will feel aggrieved by the loss, and especially by the antics of Arjen Robben, but they shouldn’t be disappointed with themselves. From where they were in September to where they are now is a stunning turnaround, and the best days of Mexican soccer look to be ahead. Netherlands wasn’t as impressive yesterday as they had been before, and it had to be a little disconcerting for the Dutch fans that Robin van Persie was substituted when they were down a goal. However, their quality won out in the end, and they will be favored against Costa Rica. A trip to the semifinals does not seem far away.

I didn’t see enough of the Costa Rica game to have much to say about it other than that it confirmed my hatred of penalties. These ones were all well taken, even the saved effort from Theofanis Gekas. What kills me was the reaction of Gekas, who will forever feel like he was the goat in this game, when in fact, his was not a poorly taken penalty at all. Keylor Navas made a sensational save, but penalties always leave someone feeling like they blew it. I feel for Gekas, because he doesn’t deserve to be made the goat. Well-taken penalties like these ones are a flip of the coin, and there’s nothing the loser can do in cases like this one. On an Arsenal note, Joel Campbell looked incredibly cool under pressure when he took his penalty. If he can handle that, he shouldn’t have a problem with any English crowds like many do. This was yet another sign he could make it for Arsenal.

Today’s games might not be as close as yesterday’s were, as I feel the European nations will have little trouble with the Africans. Here are my picks.

France 2 Nigeria 0

France will continue their impressive run at the World Cup with a thorough performance against Nigeria. I expect the French to dominate in the midfield today, with Paul Pogba putting his stamp on the match in the middle of the park as one of the world’s best. It will be a coming-out party for him, as he will score a goal-of-the-tournament candidate to give France a lead in addition to contributing a series of key tackles. If paired together again, Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud should find more success, as they have demonstrated a fondness for the newly configured attack. France’s second will be started by Mathieu Valbuena, who will find Karim Benzema from the byline. Benzema’s cool finish will typify France’s day. Vincent Enyeama will be Nigeria’s man of the match in goal, but ultimately, his efforts will be futile. Nigeria will have trouble creating chances all day. The lone sore spot for France will be a second-half yellow card for Pogba, who will be forced to miss the quarterfinal against Germany. Other than that, it should be a near perfect day for France.

Germany 3 Algeria 1

Algeria will make this more of a game than many would expect, but ultimately, the Germans will have their way in the attacking third. After a quieter game against the United States, the German midfield will find their footing quickly against Algeria, with Mesut Ôzil having his best game of tournament. Ôzil’s calmly taken left-footed finish, played in by Toni Kroos, will quiet the Arsenal man’s critics, putting Gemany ahead. Algeria won’t wilt though, and will create chances down the right. But Manuel Neuer will step up to maintain the lead before half. Shortly after the break, Thomas Müller will score another on a rebounded effort off a corner. And the third will also come from a corner, with Per Mertesacker heading one on for Mats Hummels to direct into the net. With the game safely in hand, Jerome Boateng will concede a penalty, which Sofiane Feghouli will convert. Die Gewinnen wird einfach sein für die Mannschaft heute.

I will most certainly have something about the Germany game later today, so check back for that. My other post I’m working on – the non-sports one – is nearing completion and should be up by Tuesday afternoon at the latest. Let’s hope my German was right. Thanks for reading.