Monday, September 24, 2012

Arsenal Grabs Important Draw; Man U Get's a Little Help from a Friend

Yesterday, the Gunners dominated the first half against Man City and found themselves down 1-0 on poor goalkeeping and a great header from Citizens centre back Lescott. In the second half they were largely outplayed until the final ten minutes but scored on a centre back Koscielny finish for the ages and thus grabbed a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Man City at the Ethiad. It was an important point for the squad that could very well launch them on a viable title bid. Some will be upset that we didn't win the game, as Gervinho returned to form (or lack thereof) in the most important game of the year so far -- missing two gilded opportunities to score. The first was in the opening minutes when he was set free by a lovely ball from Ramsey (who put in his best performance of the season by far) before a horrific first touch sent the ball into a thankful Joe Hart's hands. Then late on he had a lovely two touches to get across two defenders and leave himself with an open shot at the 18 yard line, which he sent horrible right and high leaning back as he connected. This is the Gervinho we have gotten used to in the past year plus and one hopes it is merely a one-game blip after he scored three in two heading into the clash. 

But there are many positives to take from the game. Arteta was great again in controlling the midfield and pushing the ball forward and Diaby played more than adequately, though he seemed to tire in the second half. Mertesacker again showed the major improvement in his form from last year, with a number of key interceptions and strong defending on set pieces. Jenkinson continued his growth as a player, looking dangerous moving forward and defending back well against the dangerous City strikers. Gibbs was more than adequate and had some lovely forward play, but when Giroud entered, I'm not sure why no one tried to get him the ball crossed in the air. Arsenal must adjust to his aerial threat when he's on the pitch, at least as another option. Cazorla was great as usual, in the first half, but gave the ball away often in the second before picking his game up near the end with a strong shot that was barely kept out by Hart and the corner that led to Kos's goal. Kos looked strong in his return and ready to compete with Mertesacker for time on the pitch. The weakest performance of the day, besides Gervinho, came from goalkeeper Manone who, upon realizing he could become the new number one, appeared to make the case that he is not yet ready by coming out weakly on the Silva corner that put the Citizens up 1-0, with one of their few threats after the first few minutes of the first half. But an important point for the Gunners, who can move even closer to Chelsea with a win at home Saturday. 

On to Liverpool v. Manchester United, a game that was filled with deep emotion in the wake of the new report exonerating the fans of guilt in the 1989 tragedy. The game was dominated by Liverpool early on and, even after going a man down, they looked the stronger squad throughout much of the match. But as is a perennial problem that anyone challenging United for the title has to deal with, they were gifted yet another game by a referee. It is truly tiresome though no longer surprising to watch them get call after call in close games, but three in one away from home is hard to swallow (lest us forget they were almost gifted the title last year by at least four game-changing bad calls in the run in). It all started with the Shelvey send off, on a 50/50 challenge where Evans also went in spiked up. At most, there should have been a yellow for Shelvey or double red. The ironic thing, is Evans had all but tackled the Liverpool striker Borini in the box earlier in the game without anyone seeming to notice in what I felt was a clear penalty. Then there was the absurdly soft penalty call on Johnson for cleaning the back of Valencia's shirt as he fell down before Evra was somehow clean when he stepped on Suarez's foot in the box later on. 

Terrible refereeing, which sees no abatement from last year seems to continue unabated. Everton should feel even more aggrieved after they had two clear goals disallowed in a disappointing draw with Newcastle Monday, before getting their own bad call, when Fellani handled the ball while passing through to Achebe for the first goal. Everton went on to win that one 4-1 and look like a squad with real potential to cause anxiety at the top this year. And Tottenham seemed rightfully apoplectic after they had three goals disallowed in one game and had to settle for a 0-0 draw in a game they clearly felt they won. Luckily goal line technology is on its way, as too many goals have been missed (or ghost offered as in the FA Cup last year), but something has to be done to set a better standard for when reds are given -- as it seems to happen too often in big games. 

To close the post, I think that Arsenal have a real chance at the title this year, with some serious luck and more scoring prowess from Giroud and/or Gervinho. Next week against Chelsea is a big match, as a victory there would show everyone that we are for real. Chelsea looked brilliant early, but less impressive in the blown Champions League win, the loss of the Super Cup and Community Shield earlier in the campaign and in their rather fortuitous win against Stoke. We should be able to win if we simply clear our lines and stay tough defensively, as Chelsea is certainly porous in the back this term. Man United look less than impressive to me, except when the ref gets involved, but as has been the case for the past two seasons plus, continue to win games somehow. Man City seems to be in a lull, but still haven't lost in the EPL this season either, and almost pulled off a great upset of Real before collapsing in the last 10. It should be the most exciting EPL race since, well, the end of last season (though all four big squads are in the hunt this time around). Go Gunners!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

UCL: Arsenal Wins; Chelsea Doesn't

A less than impressive 2-1 win for Arsenal at Montpelier still should leave the team happy as they start their Champions League campaign with a road victory. After giving up an early penalty, which was pretty tight but definitely poor defending from Vermaelen (the referee seemed to be giving a lot of decisions against Arsenal including a ghost corner for the French champs, a missed corner for Arsenal, several bizarre foul calls, a very early yellow on Diaby and the penalty -- though nowhere near as bad as the refereeing Monday when Everton was robbed of not one, but two goals), Arsenal scored two in quick succession to take the lead. The Gunners looked dangerous throughout the rest of the first half, but were chasing the game throughout the second half and easily could have given up the equalizer or even lost but for some poor finishing from Montpelier. Gervinho again starred with yet another goal, on a lovely cross from Jenkinson and Podolski continued to impress with a nice finish. This was the first game that the Gunners looked tired, lethargic and open in the back, but hopefully it's just the result of the first midweek game. 

Up Sunday is a deflated Man City who, after playing a very negative first half but keeping Real out, had a 1-0 and 2-1 lead before losing late at the Bernebau 3-2 in heartbreaking fashion. Mistakes abound for the Citizens who have not kept a clean sheet all season, including a seemingly poor goalkeeping effort from the usually wall-like Joe Hart (yes the late Ronaldo goal dipped, but Hart looked flat footed). Chelsea must also feel aggrieved after surrendering a two goal lead against Juve after a sublime brace from Oscar in his debut at the Bridge. Man United started off in a more positive fashion with a 1-0 victory I didn't see and Barca came back from what would have been a shock defeat at home to beat Shakar 3-2. So the UCL is off and it looks to be a goal-filled event, hopefully undermining the "park the bus" attitude Chelsea took to the title last season.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Romney and the Culture of Envy

Have we ever seen a more callous campaign? Of course we have. Have we ever seen a campaign that imploded at this level? Probably. But the reality is that the future of the country again stands in the balance and one candidate has made one misstep after another. And no, that candidate is not Obama. A day after internal strife led to accusations from his own party that Romney's team was too short on specifics and real proposals to address our current malaise, the GOP Presidential candidate told us what he's really about: Yahoo. And that is about supporting the interests of the monied elite at the cost of at least 50 percent of the rest of us.

A trope that I've noticed popping up in the U.S. and England in the last year is of the "culture of envy." The majority of the public are victims who only seek to use the government to support their lazy, unmotivated and unproductive behavior. They are leaches that are sucking at the government teat, unable to be self-sufficient and make their way through the world on their own. There is no place for community, only the individual in an increasingly social darwinist world. And the winners, or 1%, are the only ones who are truly contributing to the world. Romney described nearly half the country, or 47%, as people who won't "take responsibility for themselves," who are "dependent on government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

Apparently we are no longer entitled to the essential elements of life itself. Half of the country should starve, die in the streets or suffer through their sickness without healthcare or, it seems, even a whisper of the self-indulgent desire to survive. Is this really where we have ended up? Have our moral and ethic fiber collapsed so far that we have no sympathy (or empathy) for those who work two or three jobs just to feed themselves and their family? Is this where the collapse of an alternative to unfettered capitalism have led us? And is half the country really willing to vote for a man that seems intent on undermining their quality of life? The answer to these questions appears, at present, to be yes. Too many have become so bamboozled or cynical that they can't see any alternative path to prosperity but to destroy the very essence of life itself. Rather than go on endlessly, I just wonder if there is any sense left in the world. If someone this callous and clearly ill-prepared to lead can actually remain viable to lead the "free" world, we are truly lost. Let's hope that enough people see through the lies and hatred and actually vote with a grain of hope for the future. Otherwise, I fear we are lost ...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Big Win for Arsenal

A hugely impressive win yesterday for Arsenal, 6-1 over Southampton at the Emirates. While we should not make too much of a victory over the newly promoted bottom dwellers, we should neither forget that they had 2-1 leads over both Manchester United and Man City before losing both, and easily could have beaten the former but for some bad luck and a brilliant late performance from RvP. Both Chelsea and Man City drew this weekend and Arsenal currently sits in third place with 8 points out of four games. The offense looked great yesterday, but the defense did it's job as well -- except for a flub by Szczesny, who had the worst game of anyone on the pitch. While the next two weeks will really show us where the club stands this season, facing off against Man City and then Chelsea, one has to admit that the press and many Arsenal fans (including me) were overly pessimistic in our assessment of the offseason activity. Arsenal looks better to me than they did last year, and we now have more balance and bench support -- moving away from the one man team we were last year. Our defensive shape has improved dramatically under Steve Bould, we are pushing the ball forward rather than merely passing it around and we now have several threats, pushing defenses to cover multiple threats at once. Let's turn to player grades, before concluding ...

Szczesny (5.5): not a good return for the Pole, but luckily in a game that Gunners won handily. Besides giving up the first goal of the season, when he could have easily caught the ball, his goalkicks were frequently short and low, leading to attacking opportunities for the Saints.

Mertesacker (7): like a new player this year, his positioning was great, his passes solid and could have scored a goal with a better header (when will that facet of his game pay off?). Doesn't seem to get beat or let players past like he used to and right now makes it tricky to pick Koscielny. 

Vermaelen (8): a strong game for the Belgian as well, who has regained his defensive discipline after foraging forward a bit too much for my taste in the run in last season.

Jenkinson (7.5): after having criticized him for the first three games, I have to admit he came good in this game. His defensive interceptions and coverage was great and he got the ball forward into dangerous positions on the wings on several occasions. The game was largely played on the ground, so don't know if we'll see better crosses when Giroux gets his next start, but real improvement for the young full back.

Gibbs (7.5). Gibbs was dangerous on the wing throughout the first half and "scored" on the own goal. He really seems to be coming into his offensive form, but we'll have to see how he stacks up defensively against the more dangerous City and Chelsea wingers. 

Arteta (8): Arteta has really been impressive again this season and seems to have nice understanding with the forward players (particularly Cazorla) and has really taken control on the holding role, with nice interceptions, hold up play and pushing the ball forward quickly from the back.

Coquelin (7): people often forget that one of the reasons for the early season crisis last year was an insane number of injuries. Diaby again missed a game (surprise, surprise) and Coquelin stepped in nicely to push the ball forward and help control midfield. I really like the player and feel he can really contribute this year, though the return of Diaby and Wilshire in a month or so will probably offer him limited playing time in the league. 

Cazorla (8.5): his tight control, passing vision and feathery touch is really something to behold. He already has a goal and two assists for the club in four games, but it could be much higher but for some blown opportunities and an own goal (he has created 18 scoring opps already, most in the league). One moves closer to forgetting Fabergas every time they see him play. 

Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.5): a nice game highlighting both his pace, trickery and danger. Looking at the squad at present, one does have to wonder if Walcott could be sold. 

Gervinho (9): playing as the lone striker, an odd formation it seems, Gervinho scored twice, ending a drought that dates all the way back to december of last year. But Gervinho has appeared much more dangerous this year and looks ready to live up to the hype that accompanied him when he came last year. 

Podolski (8.5): another great game from a pickup that has far outpaced expectations with his strong runs, great passing, understanding with Cazorla, defensive work (on occasion) and finishing touch. The free kick second goal he scored yesterday was pure class. While we still wait for Giroud to come good, the other two summer signings are showing that there is life after RvP.


Ramsey (7): the best I've seen of Ramsey in quite some time. He drove forward on several occasions and should have been rewarded with a goal after a lovely turn and shot in the box. Instead he assisted a tap in off the post for Gervinho's brace. 

Giroud (-): came on very late and could have had a goal, but for a missed pass from Walcott. I would have brought him in earlier in this goal fest, but I'm sure he'll start scoring soon (I hope).

Walcott (6): scored a nice goal near the end, but not much else. I'm still unconvinced by the winger and wonder if Arsenal will part ways with him in the winter transfer window. One does have to admit that he is starting to score more regularly though and that maybe he is set to live up to his potential. Watching him play from week to week makes me schizophrenic.

So Wenger has again quieted the seemingly perennial doubter, for the moment. Arsenal looks like one of the top three most dynamic offenses in the league and has shored up their defense impressively. We actually have more strength coming off the bench than we have had in a few years and a nice chemistry between players who are just getting to know each other. There is a great mix of youth and experienced internationals and we don't appear to be an injury away from disaster. We have more choices in formation and who is upfront and on the wings and threats coming from multiple directions. And maybe, most importantly, we are not a one man team. Are we better than last year? I think the answer has to be yes as a squad, while maybe not on a position by position basis. While many, including me, were baffled by the Song move, I'm not sure that we are not better without him. That depends on Diaby staying healthy and Wilshire coming back strongly. But Song was apt to push too far forward, was rarely a goal threat and often gave the ball away needlessly. Yes he has some of the most sublime assists in the EPL last year and was a stalwart when he felt like being one, even performing as a centre back quite effectively. But Diaby has been great and is much more of a goal threat, with Coquelin a more than adequate backup for the moment. RvP is irreplaceable but the multifaceted attack that has emerged this season makes the Gunners more of a threat. 

We shall have to see how the next two weeks pan out, with a Champions League game against Montpellier, Man City, a Carling Cup tie and Chelsea. If we get through these two weeks in good form, we could be in for a great season. Looking around the league, it appears Arsenal could actually be in the running for the League, but we cannot drop points against midtier clubs like Stoke and Sunderland and will have to touch out victories against our closest rivals (beating Man United with RvP would be even sweeter and I hope we're up to the task). Go Gunners!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Romney's Bipolarity

Never has a candidate for president said so much and meant so little. Never has a candidate spoken with two tongues from day to day, or even hour to hour. And never has someone run for president with less idea what he actually wants to do when he gets there. Mitt Romney has run one of the most bizarre campaigns for President of the United States in history, reminding me a little of Al Gore in 2000, who berated Bush in the first debate, then tried to appease in the second, before essentially arguing in the third that there was no difference between the two (leading to his "defeat"). But Gore essentially stood for the continuation of the Clinton/DLC policies. Sure he was pushed a little to the left and populism by Nader, but there was an agenda there. 

With Romney it is hard to know what he stands for. As governor of Massachusetts, he was a moderate who did some things (like healthcare reform) that would make democrats proud. Many thought that when he won the nomination he would move back toward the center, after appeasing the right wing base. Instead he picked Paul Ryan and has been digging further and further right ever since. And just as was the case from his very first campaign ad (which did some strategic redacting of Obama's speech about McCain from four years earlier), Romney continues to change his mind on a relatively regular basis. Yesterday, on NBC morning television, he argued that he would keep parts of Obamacare like ensuring that those with preexisting conditions get coverage. Later that same day came a clarification from a spokesperson that essentially offered the opposite message in clever newspeak: 

"In a competitive environment, the marketplace will make available plans that include coverage for what there is demand for. He was not proposing a federal mandate to require insurance plans to offer those particular features." (Mother Jones)

As the linked article above points out, we already have a competitive market for health insurance and people with preexisting conditions, but many of them cannot get health insurance. So, to put this in perspective, he went on national television and told millions that he would keep parts of Obamacare, and then told a few reporters later that day that he was kidding and screw the uninsured with preexisting conditions. This has happened so often since this campaign began there are only two possibilities: 1. Romney is a complete idiot who can't control what he says and must be reigned in constantly by his "handlers." 2. Romney will say anything to win and has little concern about how he gets the office. I think it is a combination of the two, really, and that disregarding the politics, the last thing we want in the White House is another person who comes in without any real plans on how to make our lives better, or any really plan at all (ala Bush II). We need leaders with conviction, who actually stand for something -- at least what they say!

Another example of Romney's double speak came in his assertions about taxes. On the same NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Romney dodged multiple questions about which deductions or credits he’d target, saying only that he’ll get rid of “some of the loopholes and deductions at the high end” while seeking to “lower the burden on middle income people.” Pressed by Gregory for one specific element of the plan, Romney said, "Well, the specifics are these which is those principles I described are the heart of my policy.” Is this guy for real? What does that even mean? Romney hopes to win the election by standing for absolutely nothing -- except tax cuts for the rich and less government intervention. But he won't even admit those two elements of his plan, claiming in another speech that he won't even give tax cuts to the rich a few months after saying everyone would receive a 20 percent cut (including the 1 percent). And looking on his website (which is really not terribly impressive), we find a five point plan that appears to do little to strengthen the middle class, while it does offer nice incentives for corporations, the oil and coal industries and the super rich. The funny thing about this election, except if he wins, is that Romney appeared to be the most stable among the collection of buffoons running for the chance to oppose Obama on the GOP ticket. Besides Huntsman, one after another imploded until Romney was the last man standing. But after little bump from the convention and with Obama increasing his lead, we know the only thing left to do is get ugly. And Romney's team will pull no strings there.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Tone-Deaf on Education and Unions

The democratic national convention platform reaffirmed its support for collective bargaining rights, including for teachers. Yet, like the Republicans, they seem more intent on continuing to push for charter schools and their deunionization of the profession (Salon). Why? It appears to be based on the political penchant for ignoring data and going with popular discourses that are rarely "fact" or data-based. As Diane Ravitch so persuasively argued in her 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, little data exists supporting the continued expansion of charter schools -- which rarely outperform public schools in test scores or other measures. In fact, the push toward the privatization of public schools, standards and high stakes testing appear to be having the exact opposite effect, lowering standards, pushing outdated pedagogical approaches that don't work (particularly for the increasingly diverse student body in American schools) and ironically, not lowering test scores themselves.

So why do we have so many conservative and progressive politicians and pundits pushing for these reforms? Among other things are a series of recent documentaries and popular films on education, including the new Hollywood film Don't Back Down, that provides a compelling case for the parent trigger -- meaning parents could sign a document that would replace their public school with a charter, a plan that Los Angeles Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been pushing for years, along with other mayors. Others include The Lottery
and Waiting for Superman. This comes on the back of a series of films over the past two decades like Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers that argue that the problem with schools is children not finances or administrators (the last is better on this point) but kids themselves who simply need an inspirational teacher (often white) to turn their academic lives around. While I have always been an advocate for teachers having high expectations for all students, the issues are obviously substantially more complex. 

But in America we want simple answers to complex problems in a Manichean world of absolute right and wrong. We all agree there are problems with education, but who is to blame? It can't be parents, because they're the voters. It can't be politicans, because they want to get reelected. It can't be corporations, because they contribute too much money to said politicians. So it must be kids or teachers. Since parents tend to love their kids, teachers end up as THE problem simply through the process of elimination. Sure there are many bad teachers around, but many more that do a good job. Media and technology also play a huge role, but addressing this concern would cut into corporate profits. And so we are left with a discourse that is based on two fallacies: 1. Teachers are the problem and 2. Charter schools can overcome the biggest problem with teachers -- unions. There is little evidence to support either of these claims, and yet they dominate the debate today. It is time to challenge these arguments and bring some common sense and intelligence back to the debate.

One could, of course, ask the same question of economic policy with England, the U.S. and many Western economies continuing to support neoliberal reforms that just aren't working. It is a similar problem in education, with few with actual advanced knowledge of education making decisions. So has the dumbing down of America simply infiltrated the upper echelons of power or, more likely, has hegemony simply outmarched rationality and common sense in the struggle for our collective future? The election in two months should do offer a strong clue in answering to this question.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Other Hollywood Stars Standing with Eastwood

Just ran across this list of Hollywood and other stars that are registered Republicans: Buzzfeed. Among them are some disappointing, though not always surprising, names. One is Adam Sandler, who I believe has done more than almost anyone to undermine the white, American male today (in celebrating stupidity so stupidly over and over again). What the hell Johnny Ramone was thinking is beyond me, but maybe does more to prove that punk is dead than anything. Not surprisingly, some of the biggest jerks in Hollywood are on the list as well including Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammer, Shannon Doherty, Stephen Baldwin, Jessica Simpson, Sarah Michelle Geller, et al. It is yet further proof of the reality that we really need to consider who are heroes are these days ...


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Are we better off?

On the Sunday talk show circuit this past weekend, the question all the pundits were asking Democrats was "are we better off than we were four years ago?" (Maddow Blog). While this seems like a good question on the surface, it really is absurd. Of course we are! Should we forget that the economy was floundering, we were losing jobs every month, mortgages were foreclosing at record pace and economic job growth was negative? Did the media? A series of interesting questions emerge as a result of such a silly question: 

1. Has the corporate media decided to play along with the Republican strategy of being completely ahistorical, in the hopes the American public's historical ADD will allow the constant rewriting of history?

2. Does the media just assume the average American is too stupid to actually recognize the absurdity of the question?

3. Has the fourth estate been taking over by a collective a talking monkey robots who have no ability to concoct an original thought and thus can only ask the most obvious questions from past elections?
4. Were the pundits throwing a softball to the democrats, which they flubbed badly?

While number three seems the most likely to me, one does also wonder why all the major news stations felt compelled to ask the same question. Sure it would normally be "the" question for a sitting President. But in this case, it seems absurdly out of touch with reality. Has Obama done a good job? Are we now on the right track? Are our future economic prospects good? These seem like reasonable questions. I understand that the question is an important one, and the obvious one to ask, but again it seems to reiterate the fact that we rely predominantly on talking heads who ...

a. Seem more interested in hype and spectacle than actually sharing the facts or making a coherent argument.
b. Don't believe fact checking is part of their job.
c. Often reiterate GOP talking points without even considering their role in the propaganda machine (and dems too, occasionally)
d. Are essentially useless to democracy today, actually working against it at every turn. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Invincibles?

Just kidding. But the Gunners must feel good after a 2-0 win today over Liverpool (at Anfield) that became our third clean sheet of the three week season and kept us undefeated with five points from those three games. The promise the club showed in our first two games finally reaped benefits as new boys Podolski and Cazorla both scored. There are many positives to take from the game, though questions still persist regarding the lack of action on the final days of the transfer window (as I wrote about yesterday). Diaby played the best game I've ever seen from him, Cazorla had a lovely assist and goal and continued to create chances, Arteta looked strong defensively and pushing the ball forward. We had a number of strong counterattacks and kept great shape on defense. 

Areas of concern for me include the continued weak performance going forward of Jenkinson and Gibbs, who got very few good crosses into the box, Jenkinson's general miscues early (five errant lateral passes I counted in the first half alone -- though he was relatively strong defensively and had a better 2nd half including a nice run and shot), Giroux's inability to hold the ball up or finish and Vermaelen's risky defensive play at times. Let's go to player grades before concluding comments:

Giroux (5): I didn't count in the first half, but in the second Giroux had eight chances to hold the ball up out of the air and was only 1 for 8 (leading to a corner, when a good turn could have gotten him a shot). He also missed a nice chance to score on his left foot in the 40th minute and missed a free header at the end. Needs to improve both finishing and holding the ball up. A goal has to come soon.

Podolski (8.5): Scores a nice goal in 30th minute on lovely weighted pass from Cazorla (of course). Moving forward throughout, pushing back on defense and giving us a backbone up front for the first time in recent memory. Really like this kid and think he will shine this year.

Ox (5.5): Not much from Oxlade-Chamberlain today, though he did chip in on defense a few times and had a couple decent runs. His performance might silence those who think he should have been starting every game last season. Butt I'm sure he'll come good again soon.

Cazorla (9): Another strong game from our best signing of the summer. Set up one goal, scored another and played well throughout. Did give up the ball a few times in dangerous positions, but Liverpool appears to be a team without a clear scorer (Suarez is great, but misses too many opportunities).

Diaby (8): The best game I've ever seen him play. Feathery touch, pushed forward nicely, set up chances and held the ball up when necessary. Could show the pundits that Arsenal doesn't need another midfielder. Let's hope he stays injury free for the season.

Arteta (7.5): A strong game playing deeper, with a number of important interceptions and a professional foul (yellow card) after an errant Jenkinson pass that might have saved a goal. He also pushed the ball forward for a number of our strong counterattacks. 

Gibbs (6.5): A good defensive effort for Gibbs, but didn't do much going forward. Really needs to work on his crossing -- and to make sure not to push forward too early, as Liverpool did open up on the left side on several occasions throughout the game. 

Vermaelen (7): A strong defensive effort for our captain, but a couple of errors almost cost us. He takes a lot of chances with tackles and should sometimes take a slightly less risky approach, but led the back line to a third straight game before limping off at the end.

Mertesacker (7.5): One of our most surprising early performers this year, with his good positioning and strength making up for his lack of pace. Maybe should have been called for a penalty on Suarez toward the end, but otherwise solid with only one errant pass I saw in the game.

Jekinson (5.5): Good defensive game after early trouble, but needs to improve his passing and push forward with effect (as he did in the 52nd and 60th minutes). I think this was our most glaring need and I just don't understand why we didn't pick up a right back. Also wonder where Coquelin is these days, as I liked him whenever he played last season.

Manone (6): Looks shaky on crosses, doesn't get the ball in his hands enough, but another clean sheet for our third-string keeper. Will be happy to see our #1 back. 


Ramsey (6): Looked decent when he came on, with a nice run in the 91st minute that elicited a yellow. Would like to see him come good for us this season, and this 20 minutes might give him a little confidence.

Santos (-): Came on in 81st for Podolski and had a defensive header on his first touch. Not much from him afterwards, though he was solid I suppose.

Koscielny (-): Very quick run out after Vermaelen seemed hurt. Let's hope nothing serious.

So a solid game from the Gunners that might just get them back on the right foot. Giroux is still struggling for form and he needs a goal to lighten the pressure, but also seems to need some coaching on positioning, which is not surprising given his late start into the top level of the sport. Next up, after the two week International break, is Southhampton, who gave both Manchester clubs scares with 2-1 leads (which they blew both times). They are tough in the air and I thus expect Mertesacker to start alongside Vermaelen. We will need to maintain our defensive shape and discipline and hopefully score early to ramp up our push back toward the top. Looking at our main rivals, Liverpool look in for a long season after some questionable transfer window activity (and lack thereof), Newcastle could only snag a draw against Aston Villa and look unlikely to match their lovely run last season, Tottenham strengthened on the last day of the summer transfer window, but have started less than impressively blowing another game late. So consistency against the midtier and lower tier clubs will go a long way in determining what kind of season we have. We can't drop too many more points to the likes of Sunderland and Stoke if we want to make a real push. Go Gunners!
P.S. The RvP trade hurt on the back of our win, as he scored two late goals (:87 and :92) to win the game 3-2 for Man U against Southhampton. Man U looked rather lethargic until the late stages and were lucky to get three points, much less one, as Southhampton lost their cool at the end and gave the Red Devils too much possession. One has to think if we had kept RvP with Cazorla, Pod and Giroux, we would be 9 points at the top, tied with Chelsea, and Man U might have suffered another defeat or two. Tough to swallow, but one must move on. Let's hope Giroux, who should really have at least three goals for the club already, starts to come good to salve the wound.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Report from the GOP Spectacle

The spectacle that is the Republican National Convention has finally ended. Emblematic of the radical turn the party has taken in recent years, it seemed full of lies, empty rhetoric and tautology -- with promises without any specific policies to get us there. Among the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective):

1. Conservatives can rarely be mistaken as the party of "comedians." Their jokes tend to be too straight, stuffy or ideological. But the performance by Clint Eastwood has to be one of the saddest by a star I have ever seen: You Tube. He is clearly losing his mind but it is truly disheartening to see one of the few guys still dealing with the working class in American film compelled to put such a pathetic show on (with racial undertones throughout).

2. Two delegates jumped the shark and allowed the veiled racism at the heart of the convention to spillover as they started throwing peanuts at a Black camerawoman before saying, "This is how we feed animals." (Politic365). This was not as surprising as one might think, given the fact that it was hard to find anyone in the Tampa Convention Center who wasn't white (and, with a few exceptions, old). This might be the best news coming out of this convention -- a time will come when a younger generation takes over this party, and Gen Y is certainly more tolerant than Gen X, the Baby Boomers or the "greatest generation." 

3. Paul Ryan seemed to have little problem lying to millions of people on national television, which is a good advertisement for his ability to be an effective Republican politician on the national stage, I suppose, but bodes poorly for the rest of us. His story about his friend who works at a Wisconsin auto plant that is now closed was certainly an effective narrative to encapsulate Obama's biggest weakness. The only problem? If was a complete lie: Politics365. The plant closed before Obama took office. Among the other falsehoods proffered by Ryan: a. Ryan blamed Obama for the U.S. government credit rating downgrade, when the credit agency clearly blamed the Republican Congress. b. Obama has created more debt that any President in history: he has increased debt, but from about $11 to $15 trillion dollars (thus more was done by his predecessor, by far). c. Obama did nothing on Bowles-Simpson: actually Ryan helped sabotage an agreement that the commission was closing in on. d. Claimed Obama funneled $716 billion out of Medicare, which is a complete fabrication and e. Ryan than closed by saying "“The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” But his plan is one of the harshest ever proposed and would essentially make the poor, sick and elderly suffer substantially more than they do today. 

These three examples are three among many that symbolize a party willing to place the future of the country on a plank and march it right off the edge. Their rhetoric always sounds good -- personal responsibility, family values, blind patriotism, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, entrepreneurial spirit, etc. -- but so rarely materializes in a better quality of life of the average citizen. In recent decades their turn to simply supporting the interests of the rich should have cost them both the Presidency and the Congress, but for their ability to bamboozle middle America. One wonders if Ryan and Romney really have the charisma to continue pulling the wool over the eyes of the average American. After this performance, I remain cautiously optimistic that they will fail.

Arsenal Gives Finger to Fans Yet Again

The transfer window has finally shut. We can stop checking every website imaginable, believing the absurd rumors and hoping against hope that Arsenal has changed its ways. Instead a summer that started in promising fashion has ended in disappointment. The loss of Van Persie was expected ever since the infamous July 4th message, but to Manchester United? It's hard to believe Wenger would end his ban on trading with his archrival over one of the best and most important players he's ever had. Then the inexplicable sale of Alex Song, who still had two years left on his contract and didn't seem to want to go. The reason? It appears to be the 15,000 pounds a week that separated the club from Song's wishes (55k vs 70k). But fans, of course, assumed that we would grab some sort of replacement. Wenger all but promised there would be two signings before the window closed. And yet nothing more has come through since the nice swoop for Cazorla, who could very well ease the pain of losing Fabergas a year ago.

As the rumors surrounding the Gunners slowed down over the past few days, fear began to set in that this was going to happen. But it's hard to understand why. Do we have owners whose greed is so great they care little if we ever win silverware again? Has Wenger's ego gotten the better of him and his desire to prove the critics wrong gotten in the way of winning? Or, as appears to be the case, is it a combination of the above two together with a real problem in closing deals. The reality is Arsenal really could have used another striker, particularly now that Bendtner and Park have been offloaded (on loan in both cases), a defensive midfielder and a right back. Sagna might be coming back soon, but is Jenkinson really a worthy backup? My opinion has consistently been no and he did little to allay my concerns last Saturday, with a very average performance (good on defense, but awful going forward). Regarding defensive midfield, it appears Arteta is going to play this role for now with Coquelin or Frimpong as backup. The problem with the latter two is, of course, their lack of experience and the fact that it is unclear if they can really marshall the position the way Song has. I hope the answer is yes, but it will be interesting to see how the defense performs against stronger offensive opponents. And though there has been little talk of it, it appears clear to everyone besides Wenger that we need another striker. Sure he can switch Podolski and Giroux in the position, and maybe even give Walcott his shot (though I'm less than sanguine that he'll shine), but it would be nice to have another player that is a proven scorer (right now I would argue Everton might be stronger up front than us, which is pretty depressing).

In any case, Wenger has decided not to do anything and I'm afraid this could be the beginning of the end of the Wenger era. It's hard to see us winning anything at present, though I hope I'm wrong. Let's see if we can actually put the ball in the back of the net tomorrow ...