Thursday, February 28, 2013

Woodward's Agitprop

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are, for good reason, considered among the most important investigative reporters in history. How many people get to take down a president? And legally? While Bernstein has settled into later life by moving further from the Washington spotlight (he lives with his third wife in New York), Woodward has made a conscious effort he stays in the headlines. He writes at least a book or two about each administration, covers major events like the war in detail and shows up on TV with some regularity. However, some have begun to question the integrity of a reporter who always seems to let his conservative bias leak into his articles and books. His latest, Obama's Wars, was critiqued by many for being clearly biased against Obama and inaccurate throughout (New Republic). 

Now Woodward is in the news again, based on his assertion that Obama has "moved the goalposts" on the sequestration debate by arguing for both budget cuts and increased revenue. Administration officials have answered back that this is an absurd claim. Last night it came out that Gene Sperling had sent an email to Woodward airing his disagreement with the Post Reporter and ending with the observation that in Sperling's view Woodward would come to regret clinging so tenaciously to an untenable position. Woodward claims to take this as a direct threat and is now spreading this absurd perspective around town.

So he will be on Sean Hannity, the voice of reason on the right (which obviously thus has no reason at all), tonight to make his case. Of course, we are one day away from sequestration leading to the passage of a number of troubling cuts that could very well send our economy back into recession. But a reporter who took down a president close to 40 years ago feeling slighted or aggrieved or, are we to believe scared, by an email from the National Director of the Economic Council is obviously more important than the future of the other 299,999,999 Americans. I mean, you would have to be a fool to not see that this is real, fair and balanced, news. 

While one could argue that it is just the latest example of the spectacle, clinging on to any story that might spark interest from a public that probably doesn't understand or care about sequestration (is that, like, a new water filter?), it seems much more likely that it is merely the latest lame attempt by the GOP to distract us from their complicity in sending the economy into a spiral merely to protect the interests of the few. The American public clearly wants a deal and they want those at the top of the economic ladder to pay more in taxes. But we have a Republican run Congress that cares less and less about the people, betting that they can keep their majority no matter what they do. And that doesn't sound much like democracy to me ...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reality TV We Could All Embrace

Reality TV has become a staple of television ever since the writer striker of the late 90s. While most critiques decry the trend and general decline in quality of programming, there is of course a renaissance of television at the present, driven to a large extent by new entrants into the genre -- HBO, Showtime, AMC and the recent availability of BBC and European programming to the states. Among the gems of the current era are Dexter, Inspector Lewis, Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, The Killing (although many would disagree), House of Cards (an excellent Netflix show released as 13 episodes all at once) and a host of others I don't personally watch. But what of reality television, which continues to draw large audiences hungry for the mixture of schadenfreude and "real life" drama? I had a thought for a new reality TV show that might brighten the spirits of American and European audiences alike.

When you think of most of the evil perpetrated on the Western world over the past 30 or so years, two entities stand at the center of it all. One is the advertising industry, those sellers of false dreams and the inspiration behind the spectacle society. They used to, of course, underwrite all television and continue to be the revenue-generators of most of what we watch and listen to from sports to movies to the boob tube. It is advertisers, one could argue, who are the spirit behind the sociopathic tendencies we are currently living through, the young women who develop self esteem and eating disorders the moment they hit puberty and the proudly ignorant, arrested development young mooks MTV so adores. And bankers are the ones that fund almost everything that happens in the economy, including the housing bubbles in Japan, America and Spain -- among a host of other wrongs. Even when they fail, as they so often do from both their greed and fear, they know the taxpaying public will come to their rescue; even if they can't be bothered to  pay taxes. In fact, many bankers get their biggest bonuses as markets around the world collapse, as happened on Wall Street in 2009 and 10.

So why not throw the top execs of the biggest ad agencies and banks onto an island and let them fight it out to the death. We could bet on the winners and losers, who would last the longest and root for the quick sending off of our most corrupt Wall Street gurus or the forces behind the degradation of politics the world over. The Spanish would probably tune in with vigorous glee, we could set up satellite feeds for the 10s of millions that lost their homes since 2007-08 here and allow members of the Greek public to throw stones from behind the high fences that kept them in (a sort of updated gate community meets Ibiza gone wild). Given their general psychopathic tendencies and firm belief in Ayn Rand politics and social darwinism one would assume they would relish the opportunity to practice the art of war not just in the boardrooms but the battlefield of real glory. The billionaires have been complaining for a couple of years now that they are victims of Obama and just not loved as much as they should be. As reality stars, as short lived as that honor might last, they can finally gain the fame and notoriety they so strongly desire. 

As to early potential candidates for the show, how about the potential Obama nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker (she even has the ideal name). As Greg Palast reported on his site a couple of weeks ago, Pritzker is just the sort of corporate hero and average Jane and Joe huckster we think would have a real shot at going a few rounds with her partners-in-legalized-crime (Greg

Monday, February 25, 2013

Death Penalty Documentary

Stories of 10 Innocent Death Row Inmates: 10 for 10

The Dullest Show on Earth!

I should start by saying I didn't watch most of the Oscars last night. I was writing and totally forgot it was on and then had to find a free stream of it. But what I did watch of it confirmed what I have thought for years -- it is by far the worst instantiation of the spectacle that ever was or ever will be. Okay maybe a little harsh. Live murder trials are up there, war as videogame arguably has a more deleterious effect on us and reality television is often more torturous -- if at least a bit more entertaining in stretches. The Oscars seem to be a dinosaur that keeps trying to find ways to stay alive in a changing world. And that desperation hit a new low with the selection of a TV guy (unless you actually consider Ted a movie) -- Seth McFarlane -- of Family Guy fame. A few funny jokes were peppered in but as many probably wondered -- who the fuck is this guy and why are we watching him?

The show included a number of silly, Vegas-style sing and dance numbers -- including one sexist ditty McFarlane sang to boobs; unfortunately he was singing about breast, not the idiots that seem immune to actually delivering an interesting speech. Kudos to Daniel Day Lewis, the first man to win three times for Best Actor in a Feature Film, for giving it a shot with his joke about Meryl Streep and he switching roles at the last second (Streep to play Lincoln, Lewis to play Thatcher), but in general, the self-congratulatory, surprised, thank everyone who ever lived variety are so tiresome even their fellow actors are starting to grow weary of them. And then there are the chaotic redemptive speeches ala Ben Affleck last night that are both confusing and based on the presumption that people actually care if his career rebounds. Okay, I'm getting a little harsh again.

But, though I missed it this year, it seems to me the Golden Globes have always been a better bet for the time. Ricky Gervais, who hosted for three straight years, even though his first venture caused all sorts of trouble with a few sacred cows of the industry, is just the sort of person that could liven up that day that so many people care about, for little apparent reason. He is biting, funny and among his gems include ...

--Tonight you get Britain's biggest comedian, hosting the world's second biggest awards show on America's third biggest network. Sorry, is it? Fourth. It's fourth.

--Last year, our next presenter won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar for her work in Black Swan. This year, she took some time out to have a baby. Consequently, she's been nominated for nothing. Really pathetic. But she learned that valuable lesson you all already knew: Never put family first. Please welcome the very foolish Natalie Portman
--[Melissa McCarthy] made her mark in comedy this summer by defecating into a sink [In Bridesmaids]. Amazingly, that's still less demeaning than what most of you have done to make it in show business.
"I like a drink as much as the next man. Unless the next man is Mel Gibson." (At which point, Gervais turned around to introduce Mel Gibson).
"Actors are loved the world over. You could be in the third world and you could see a glimpse of a Hollywood star and it would make you feel better. You could be a little Asian child with no possessions and no money and you could see a picture of Angelina Jolie and think… 'mummy'.
- I want to thank God for making me an atheist

Of course people caring about trifling matters is what the spectacle is all about -- hype creating audience and audience fomenting that hype. I've always wondered how the first part of the show became a long running ad campaign for top designers and why no one, except the people at E, actually ask an interesting question to the stars. Really, like much of the spectacle, it is a long commercial with some commercials in between. Maybe it needs the liquor and looseness of the Golden Globes to make it sing again. Or maybe Hollywood just takes itself far too seriously to consider whether they are actually entertaining the people outside the room. A reality I have always considered possible is that actors and actresses aren't necessarily that interesting -- they are people that can wash away their personalities and take on those of another. Sure there are the charismatic stars that play themselves over and over again, but beyond them -- how many actors are actually interesting people? From all the interviews I have sat through over the years for one reason or another, I would say few. And maybe that is ultimately why the Oscars is one of the most overhyped and boring spectacles the spectacle society  decided to nominate.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Scapegoating is one of the great American pastimes. We need someone to blame for what ails us and it can never be the system or the elites in general. When two kids kill a bunch of other kids, it must be that devil worshiper Marilyn Manson. When our kids fail to live up to our dreams, it's the teacher's fault. And when someone does the unthinkable, it is generally the parents who are to blame. This, of course, extends to the world of economics. We need scapegoats when things are going well for the average American. Starting in the 1970s, it was affirmative action and feminism to blame for the falling standard of living of the working class and middle class white male. When the Internet bubble burst, it was "irrational exuberance" by investors. And in the last crisis, a few bad apples were put out as the cause, rather than any systemic problem -- the same thing that happened at the turn of the century when a number of corporate scandals threatened a broader analysis of the shortcomings of capitalism.

Bad apples is the favored phrase. And ironically it is often woman who are served up as Public Enemy #1. After the Abu Ghraib PR disaster, it was two women that exemplified the loss of morality in the Iraqi soldiers. The aforementioned corporate and Wall Street excess of the late 90s early 2000s was best punished in taking down the queen of female entrepenurial spirit Martha Stewart. And now as the economy continues to languish for the majority of us while the elite few continue to live gilded lives, they found a woman to take the fall for capitalism's peccadilloes once again. In this case, it is Lorraine O. Brown who will be the fall gal for systemic corruption and poor decision-making (Salon). What did she do? Well, she engaged in massive mortgage document fraud. In other words, she was one of the well-paid middle men who help the big guns make their cash without getting their hands dirty (though in this case many did that as well). 

So we shall have our collective pathos resolved by toting the shamed monster who was too greedy to follow the rules of the game. She will serve as the symbol of the symptoms we constantly confuse with the cause. She will make us feel better, as she is punished we are healed. One interesting difference between the male fall guy schmuck and the female scapegoat schlemiel is that the former tends to be sold as a victim and the latter as an irredeemable villain. Remember all the bile aimed at Lynndie England, the Army reserve soldier who had her thumbs up in one of the disturbing images but no power over other soliders, or Stewart or Casey Anthony? Many felt sorry for O.J., the Menendez brothers and Kenneth Lay. Even our presidential assassins have been sold as victims by many. But who cries for the female patsy?  No one. And why? Could it be the lingering sense of emmasculation and loss that has accompanied the feminist successes in recent years? Is it the same strategy used by the conservatives these last 30 or so years -- of sleigh of hand redistribution of guilt to push us off the scent? Or do we just like to see women punished for their sins in a sort of chaste S&M spectacle? Whatever the case may be, it is clear that scapegoates of the female variety are on the rise. Best heed Cassandra's cry, for it might be you next for whom the blame tolls.    

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Arsenal Win Late 2-1

After one of the worst week's in Arsene Wenger's reign, the Gunners slipped by Aston Villa at the Emirates after almost blowing the three points. Santi Cazorla started things off early with a 6th minute goal, after Wilshire burst forward and pushed the ball off to the Spaniard, who had his first shot blocked and then slotted the second past Villa goalie Guzman. From there the game was off and running and it was a surprise that the half finished without another goal, from either side. Arsenal then dominated large spells of the second half without putting the ball in the net, with Giroud missing a number of half chances, Cazorla sending a free kick over and other wasteful play in and around the box. Villa looked dangerous on the counter on a number of occasions and in the 68th minute a failed clearance by right back Jenkinson was grabbed by Andreas Weimann, who went on a 40-yard run before sending a relatively weak shot past Szczesny. The Pole again looked feeble in goal, but with five minutes left on the clock and Arsenal in danger of dropping further behind in the race for fourth, Cazorla took a nice pass from Monreal and stuffed it into the right corner. Ten minutes of nervy play later, Arsenal had their three points and a feel-good win that might serve them well as they head to White Hart Lane next Sunday for a key showdown with North London rivals Tottenham. First player grades, and then some thoughts ...

Szczesny (5): another average game from a goalkeeper who seems to have lost his confidence since Euro 2012 (when he got a red card in Poland's first game). He had a nice save in the first half and came out well when a second equalizer could have followed, but the Villa goal seemed easily savable, particularly as he got two hands to it. Among our many needs this summer is another goalkeeper to at least challenge the young Pole for the spot.

Jenkinson (6): marshaling for the injured Sagna, Jenkinson put in an average performance, partially guilty on the goal and giving up some needless corners, but did push forward on a number of occasions, though his crosses left something to be desired. Given that Sagna is probably leaving this summer, we will clearly need to make a signing here as well -- for a backup or first teamer.

Mertesacker (6): after an excellent start to the season, the German has looked increasingly suspect in the back in recent games. While he was not directly to blame for the goal, his lack of pace has been supplemented by bad positioning at times. He did have an important header in the second half that saved what could have been a header tap in for Benteke. 

Vermaelen (6): another average game for our captain, though much better than against Bayern Munich. He clearly is not the answer at left back and hopefully Gibbs will be back from injury soon. 

Monreal (7): Monreal had a relatively solid game and pushed past the defender and set up Cazorla for the winner. He appears to be a great acquisition that can help us going forward.

Arteta (6): the Spaniard has not been his usual self of late and though he played decent, the sort of penetrating passes that he offered last year have come much less often now that he is playing a more defensive role. And there are serious questions about how well he's doing that, understandable since this is not his natural position. 

Diaby (6): a decent game for the Frenchman, but nothing special. He seems timid since his return, though he did go in for a few tackles today and did hold the ball up well on a number of others. But as is the recurring theme of his career, he walked off in the 60th minute with another thigh injury. One hopes it is not major, but hope does little to temper continued disappointment with a player Wenger clearly put too much faith in this year.

Wilshire (7): a decent game for the England international, but not on par with recent performances. He was involved in the buildup to the first and kept Villa on their feet the whole game. Also could have easily had an assist or two if Giroud and the gang were more clinical. 

Cazorla (10): a scintillating performance from the little Spaniard who can, who scored both goals and controlled the game moving forward, in addition to a number of important interceptions in the back. His mixture of close control, vision, pinpoint passing and ability to shoot with both feet makes him one of the signings of the season. One wonders if he should stay out on the left, but that would leave out our dangerous German international Podolski, unless he moves to the middle.

Walcott (5): Walcott was largely invisible in the game and his pace did little to upset the Villa defense. His passing was circumspect and he didn't take the two decent chances he had. A forgettable game for a player who seems to be losing a little form as the season moves toward its conclusion. Hope he gets back on track next week.

Giroud (5): Giroud certainly contributes in every game, with his heading and passing, but he misses far too many clear chances to score. Think if he had put in that clear chance against Bayern in the second half this week? It would have been 2-2 and who knows what would have happened from there? I can think of at least six games this year where misses by Giroud in the second half directly led to us losing points (including four in the first two games). It is his first year in the EPL and he certainly has the tools to succeed but he needs to finish a higher percentage of his chances, work on his movement in the box and look up more often to pick out teammates, as he had an easy pass to give us a 2-0 lead before the Villa equalizer.       


Ramsey (7): another solid performance from the Welshman who seems to have recuperated his confidence and flair, but without all the errors we were seeing earlier in the campaign. He led the attack forward on a number of occasions after coming on and kept the ball moving to keep Villa at bay in the latter stages. If he could add a few goals, he could be a great backup to Cazorla or Wilshere; though I'm less certain of him in the more defensive position as he has a tendency to go in for dangerous tackles that let defenders by (a penchant of Vermaelen as well this year).

Podolski (n/a): came on for Jenkinson in the 76th minute and let two golden opportunities go wanting. The first was a beautiful pass across goal by Cazorla that Pod failed to get to and the second was a ball in the box that he didn't fight hard enough to get on goal. One does wonder if he should play through the middle at times though, letting Cazorla stay out on the left wing, where he was magical. Wenger has only played him through the middle once this season and that might be an alternative if Giroud continues to blow chances.
Koscielny (n/a): came on in stoppage time and looked less than thrilled with the late cameo. Kos has to find his old form or find himself relegated to the bench for the foreseeable future. 

So an important three points. Questions still remain about the back four and Sz, though Fabianski and Mannone are clearly not the answer in goal. Fabianski made his long awaited comeback in the under 21s and shipped four goals to the young Tottenham side midweek. An interesting article in Bleacher Report today argued that the real problem with Arsenal's defending is the team organization and I think there is a lot of truth in that argument. Not only do we lack a natural defensive mid, but the forward players too often fail to get back or fight for the ball when they lose it. A few games this season, Arsenal have pressed up the entire 90 minutes and this has yielded positive results, but too often our midfielders and forward players give up the ball and we get caught on the counter. Even the best defenders in the world look bad when they are chasing back and Steve Bould has clearly not had the intended effect on the squad. Maybe there is another coach that can help this summer, as this is clearly one of Wenger's weaknesses. 

Two big matches are upcoming, on the road at Tottenham and at home against Everton. We really need six points in the those games, and if we accomplish that feat, we move into the driver's seat for fourth place. We will have to shore up our defense though and be more clinical in front of goal. But even a draw in either could spell doom for our Champion's League ambitions. I have been pushing for Wenger to step down at the end of the season, but that seems unlikely now. He supposedly has money to spend and one hopes he spends it wisely. To be fair, our three signings this summer have played well in spells, though Giroud has disappointed at key moments throughout the season. Monreal seems to have been a clever signing as well this winter and may be more solid than the oft-injured Gibbs -- but either way gives us rotation at a spot that has caused us trouble since Clichy left almost two years ago. Many of our disappointments will be off the books come summer as well and if we sign a keeper, central back, right back, defensive mid and striker, we could be a force to reckon with next year. We now have a young core that could push us forward with some older internationals who need to up their games. Wilshere will probably take the captaincy this summer and his leadership and drive could be just what the squad needs to regain their confidence and start getting results. There will be big names available but the allure of the Champions League will be key to signing them so hopefully we continue our run of wins in the EPL (and ignore the disappointments in every other competition). 

The reality is I have been one of the fans overreacting to our losses, but Wenger should have made the necessary signings in the summer or winter window to give us a better chance in the league, FA Cup and Champions League. The failure to do so, together with a team lacking confidence and some key injuries, has led to the most disappointing campaign in Wenger's tenure (a tenure that can now be split into two halves -- one brilliant and the other far below par).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Broken Democracy

It is not a radical notion to say that our democracy is broken. Bitter partisanship has become the rule of the day and little is actually done in DC anymore unless the party in power bullies the opposition. The problem is the Republicans are substantially better at bullying than Democrats -- whether they are in power or not. When they are in power, they push legislation through by simply ignoring the oppositional party, even if the American people stand with them. When they fall out of power, they simply block everything they can and then blame their counterparts across the aisle. 

Today America stands on the precipice of economic and cultural ruin. And there are answers to many of our problems. For one, we have a major ecological problem that is increasingly being felt by the public. Many democrats want to do something about this but the corporate world has blocked most serious attempts to do anything about it, backed by lobbying and a party that has decided science is an inconvenience whose truths they refuse to abide. A second growing issue is the number of men going around shooting their fellow citizens in some desperate attempt to go out with a boom. Gun control could start to address this issue, of the 30,000 or so Americans who die every year, but the NRA holds the GOP ransom and nothing is done. And on the most pressing issue -- the economic decline of America and the growing gap between the rich and everyone else -- the GOP merely seeks to undermine the power of government to do anything about it.

Corporations have gained too much power in the U.S. and now seek to delimit the power of the federal, state and local governments to address their crimes and misdemeanors. Profits and productivity have been rising for 30 years, but the benefits have increasingly been meted out only to the chosen few. Corporate misdeeds are increasingly difficult to address and even attempts to maintain the mirage of "free markets" undermined by lax anti-trust laws that allow monopolies and oligopolies to proliferate. The reduction in taxes on capital and income together with the push for deregulation has undermined the power of government to intervene and the new campaign finance reforms have essentially given corporations and right wing ideologues the ability to spend obscene amounts of money to ensure that the public does not stir up too much trouble.

We live in a representative democracy and the first responsibility of our representatives is to actually represent our interests. But this has not been the case for some time now and the explosion of lobbying in the 1980s further separated representatives from the interests of their constituents. But the change in the tone of Washington starting in the 1990s has set a dangerous precedent, where hard line politics trumps any attempt to actually address or provide recourse to those who suffer under our brand of gorilla capitalism. When one considers the current milieu from the outside the clear implication is that we have entered a soft form of corporate fascism in this country and that the only way to address the situation is for the people to take back their country. Thomas Jefferson once argued that it was the right and the responsibility of the people to challenge their government and, if and when it stops representing their interests, replace it. Isn't it time the people stood up and demanded just that? 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Are Athletes Well-Paid Guinea Pigs?

Athletes have increasingly lived their lives in the spotlight. He hear about their every peccadillo, their love interests, good and bad habits, religious beliefs and, of course, sins. And those sins have been mounting in recent years, culminating in the brutal slaying of his model girlfriend by famed double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius. We don't know the complete truth yet, but it appears that, in a jealous rage that might or might not have been facilitated by steroid use, he shot her four times through a bathroom door. This comes mere months after Lance Armstrong admitted that he has been lying to us all these years and that he is not only a cheat but a bully and kind of an asshole. Two inspirining stories thus quickly became tragic examples of the cost of the struggle for glory and success (though one is obviously a lot more tragic). In just the last year, we can add rape cases, the murder-suicide by a Chiefs player, crimes and jail time, cheating by some of our biggest baseball stars of the present (Alex Rodriguez, Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera and Manny Ramirez) and past (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGuire), other cyclists (including Tour de France winner Alberto Contador) and a general sense that the money and fame that comes with being a top athlete too often leads to bad behavior off the field/court/track. 

What is interesting to consider is the issue from a contrary position. Given the recent evidence that football causes brain damage at about the same, if not a higher, rate than boxing, the negative side effects of so many of the drugs athletes take legally and illegally and the fact that many ex-players like Junior Seau are going as far as committing suicide or, in the case of ex-British football star Gazza, drinking and drugging themselves to a premature death, we can ask the question if we are sacrificing the lives of professional athletes for our own pleasure. Stop right there, many of you will say. They live lives of wealth and fame that few of us could ever dream of doing things they love. And I don't disagree. But football in particular must now find itself under the microscope, given the reality that it is a sport that already leaves most ex-players in pain, if not permanent physical debilitation. If we are allowing a game where players are getting permanent brain damage, even as backup quarterbacks, then what are we saying? Is this a mere step above the Forum, throwing the wretched into the lion's den for our amusement? Boxing was already a sport that clearly had deleterious affects on its participants, from those making millions all the way down to the prize fighters that are left punch drunk and still poor. Football and boxing are sports that tend to rely heavily on the poor and working class, and minorities, to populate the field and rings. These are the young men with the hunger necessary to succeed in a rough and brutal physical battle. Could it be that we don't mind sacrificing them for our entertainment? And why do we care so much about quarterbacks but take away their protection when they run? Could that again be a racially and intellectually coded rule that benefits the few whites that make it at the top level? 

The larger question that emerges is whether we should just legalize doping among athletes? If they are willing to take the risk, why should we stop them? Pot is already legalized in several states in the U.S., people take prescription drugs that alter their physiology, kids are cheating on tests at an unprecedented level and much of reality television tells us to succeed at any costs. But most sports fans want to believe that sports is the one arena where the competition is fair. Sure one team might have more money and sponsors than another, sure they might have the greatest coach the world has ever known and a training facility more expensive that the away team's field, but on the field a competition is played by players who always have a chance to win. Doping and drugs undermine the mythology of justice that sports engender -- that the best win and the worst lose. In the end, the entire narrative about sports and cheating comes down to the question of justice. Even if the world isn't just, we want to believe that our favorite team or player is playing by the rules and winning or losing based on effort and ability, not enhancements that make the sport unnatural. We want to believe that in sports, if nowhere else, motivation, effort and ability are the difference between success and failure. If I'm right, we should either legalize doping/cheating or start kicking these athletes out for life on the first offense. But even if we do take that step, what about all the collateral damage that suffers in the wake of their rise and flaming out?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


In the pale blue twilight of a fading afternoon
A broken heart goes unnoticed by the crisp Autumn breeze
Sunshine's bristling promise sizzles in a murky puddle
Tragedies hiding in the shadows passing fright
Time passes onward in memories unrequited
Stars holding promises, hoping to see the light.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Enough is Enough: Arsenal Lose Again

Why bother with a match report? As expected, the Gunners were thoroughly outplayed in the first leg match of the UCL with Bayern and lost 3-1. Bad defending contributed to all three goals. Podolski put them back in it in a better second half but then Bayern added a third and it was over. Vermaelen was terrible again, implicated in all three goals. Mertesacker played below par as did Koscielny. Giroud missed another chance. The lack of a real defensive midfielder hurt us and Sczcesny had another night to forget. This is a team going in the wrong direction and another year of Wenger might just be the end of Arsenal for the forseeable future. Enough is enough!

I have been making this argument for some time but it is time to again take on the naysayers who say Wenger is still the man. Eight years now without a trophy. Sure we get to the Champions League every year, though this year is certainly in doubt, but then we lose in the first round of the knock out stage. He plays second string teams in the cups and has lowered expectations so much that we are out of the title race well before Christmas. He lets our best players go and replaces them with average, inferior alternatives. He refuses to bring in the necessary reinforcements and consistently tells us that the team is good enough. And then he is proven wrong. 

More than anything else, a coach is responsible for the team he puts on the field and for motivating that team to win. Instead we see a team that simply isn't good enough and players who are either lackadaisical or nervous in key matches. Terrible defending lets us down game after game. And beyond this, a manager needs to deploy tactics that can win games. But Wenger simply plays the same way most of the time and hopes for the best. His team has played terrible first halves far too often this year and again suffered for this in the game. And there is not really the excuse of injuries at the moment. It is that our defensive players are just not good enough. Vermaelen is having his worst season ever and Koscielny might be even worse. Mertesacker has been good at times, but has dropped in form of late and seems off the pace a little too often. Sagna seems to be reclaiming his form but wants to leave at the end of the season. And Gibbs is simply injuried far too often. In front of that back four, we have no natural defensive mid and that has hurt us consistently. Wenger knew this was a need but failed to solve it in two successive windows, after the bizarre sale of Song. 

A coach is generally measured by success. Not success in the distant past, but success today. And for eight years, Wenger has failed when it mattered. He has succeeded only in improving the bottom line and helping the team move to a stadium where we are feared by no one. The team has some young stars on the rise, but is Wenger even good at cultivating young talent anymore? He has succeeded with Wilshire and Walcott, finally, but look at the backwards turn in Ox's play. Look at Jenkinson. And what of the youngsters who are getting no playing time like Eisfeld, who I would like to see a little more of. Maybe the board has finally woken up now and realizes change is necessary. Is there better out there? I don't know, but I would take Roberto Martinez or David Moyes over the shambles the team has become. We need fresh blood to reinstill belief in a team that clearly has none before all our remaining best players depart and we become a midtable also ran, happy with the occasional victory over the new top four or a good Europa League run. 

Looking at the squad going forward, where are the biggest needs. We clearly need one or maybe two new centre-halfs, a new right back if Sagna leaves, a defensive midfielder, a striker and maybe another winger. Then we can build the team around Walcott, Wilshire, Cazorla and Podolski. Without these changes, we are bound for mediocrity from here to eternity. Wenger seems to have caught the French flu, surrendering without even fighting. 

And just to complete the critique of Wenger ... what about tonight? Was he culpable? I would say yes on a number of fronts. First, why not start Giroud, who is better defensively and makes more sense against a physical back Bayern Munich line. He had a late miss that was costly after being subbed on, but Walcott offered little throughout the match. When Arsenal got back into it, and Podolski was playing well, Wenger subbed him out -- as if he wasn't even watching the game (and this has happened far too often in recent years). He brought in Rosicky, who did perform admirably and moved Cazorla out wide, where he gave up the ball that led to the third Bayern goal. And all this comes on the back of his bizarre decision to play a second-rate team against Blackburn that piled the pressure on for the young Gunners in this one. I feel bad for Wenger, as every decision he makes seems to backfire these days, but too many are poor ones (Gervinho as central striker, anyone?) to begin with. This team has potential to improve dramatically, but only with the infusion of talent, experience and leadership (particularly defensively) and motivation.