Sunday, August 31, 2014

Arsenal Jaded in 1-1 Draw Against Leicester City

Arsenal took an early lead when Alexis Sanchez scored his second in two, pounding the ball in from close range after a clumsy clip from Yaya Sanogo set him up (20’). But two minutes later the lead was gone, after some pretty bad defending from Mertesacker, Flamini and an injured Koscielny. Why he was even on the pitch after a 50/50 header left him with staples in his head and a bizarre sock on his head was the first of what appeared to be several mistakes by manager Arsene Wenger. Wenger started with Sanogo up top and Ozil on the left (though he switched to the right later), and while the Gunners bossed the game with 69 percent possession, 10 corners (to 5), and 24 shots (and 6 on goal, to Leicester’s 9 and 3) they lacked the cohesiveness and finishing that could have made this a relatively easy afternoon against the just promoted side. Leicester were tough, pressing the ball across the pitch and creating 14 fouls (to just 6 for the Gunners, which itself is rather worrying in my mind). But Wenger arguably waited too long to bring on reinforcements and a couple of late half chances went wanting on the way to a draw that Arsenal easily could have lost.

A hopeful fan might hearkens back to the infamous 3-3 draw on the way to the title way back in 1997, when Bergkamp scored a lovely hat trick, including one of his finest goals ( But after a lackluster first half from a striker who has yet to score in a competitive match for the Gunners (0 for 17, for those counting), one wonders why he was not replaced until the 77 minutes, bringing in the ineffective Podolski instead of the exciting Joel Campbell. The Ox came on for Cazorla, who was only slightly above average, and Ozil stayed on the pitch until the end. Why he is not playing in the #10 role that made him a world-class player is still beyond me and something Wenger will have to sort out soon. Podolski actually had two decent chances to get shots off, but was slow and cumbersome and had the ball taken by defenders.

Slow and cumbersome actually sums up this Arsenal squad so far, except for two late surges to win their first game and then salvage a draw at Goodison Park last weekend. But the team appears to lack the chemistry that served them for much of the season last term and are too often passing up shots, failing to press up defensively and not taking their chances. So four points dropped in three games is quite worrisome, particularly as they next face off against Man City, in a fortnight. Wenger really needs to make moves with slightly over 24 hours to go, but one wonders why it has taken so long.

Three thoughts on the game:

1. “All right, Striker, you listen, and listen close. Flying a plane is no different from riding a bicycle; it's just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes:” Change “Striker” to “Sanogo” and “Flying a plane” to “Finishing a chance” and you have a sense of how absurd the young Frenchman’s play inside the box is. He is a really good holdup player with clear skills, but keeping his cool and finishing chances are not on that list yet. Since letting RVP go, Wenger has failed to sign the kind of world-class striker that could fully capitalize on the Arsenal midfield creativity. Instead we rely on distribution of chances across the pitch and far too many missed opportunities. Falcoa may be an option, Cavani as well and Cerci could certainly liven things up. But why didn’t we move for Remy after the move to Liverpool failed? Why not take a shot on Balotelli? These are questions that might haunt Wenger as the season progresses, as Arsenal look far too toothless in attack. One thing the past two games have shown is that even though Giroud misses too many of his chances, as I outlined in detail here -, Arsenal are currently a better team with him on the pitch, creating chances for his compatriots and finishing some himself.

2. Midfield Iron: for over a season, the back line of Mertesacker and Koscielny was among the best in the world. That no longer appears to be the case and one could argue that the problem in front of them is a big reason. Debuchy is a decent defender, but does appear to allow wingers to get behind him a little too often. Monreal, on the other side, is pretty good going forward, but is again suspect on the defensive side of the pitch. And Flamini, one of the feel-good stories of the first half of last season, has reverted to form and now feels like more of a liability than strong defensive presence on the pitch. Carvalho and Sporting Lisbon are waiting for an improved bid and one hopes that Wenger finally stumps up the cash to get this one done. Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey need to be able to get out on the counter, but can’t do so as often if they are tracking back so much. Even with 69 percent possession, it appeared that they were too often playing in front of two stacks of four and thus finding it difficult to create real chances.

3. Wenger Inquest: I have been arguing for at least two years that it is time for Wenger to move on and for Arsenal to try a new, more flexible option at the helm. After the FA Cup win, the title challenge and the Community Shield victory, together with four quality signings, I was getting back on the Frenchman’s bandwagon. Yet a few games into the “real” new season, I think we can again question his rigidity, match day decision-making and failure to finish the business he starts in the summer. Looking to save a few million pounds, he often waits until the last second in the window and loses out on players. The Ba failure from the tricky Mourinho comes immediately to mind, but there was also the rash signing of Santos, Arteta et al a couple of years ago, with only a few of those players really shining with an Arsenal team that has dropped points early for three straight seasons. Wenger has needed a striker and DM for two years running (after the baffling decision to sell an improved Song two summers ago), and options are available, but he fails to act decisively or quickly enough. Sure we lost out on Higuian, Suarez, Ba and Remy, but would better management of the window have helped with any of them, or the host of other options available? Hazard looked likely to join the Gunners before the bizarre pickup of a striker from under his team’s nose, causing a riff that ultimately led the Belgian to move to Chelsea a year later. And that is just a few examples of an endless list of blunders in the transfer market. Sure Wenger has had some great success clipping players cheaply and then making them into stars, but there are three or four Andre Arshavin’s for every Henry. Last week, Wenger made subs that had an immediate impact, helping Arsenal to come back for the draw against Everton. But a decent defensive midfielder might have stopped one or both of Everton’s goals, and Giroud starting in the middle might have led to a better start where all three points were gained. Today, putting Sanogo in to start seemed like a poor decision that should have been fixed at halftime, but it took him until there were only 13 minutes on the clock to sub out his baffling striker, who only Wenger appears to think is good enough for a team of Arsenal’s stature. The reality is that Wenger has too much power and maybe too much stubbornness to listen to those around him, making the Gunners a quality side that makes money for the owners while failing to really challenge for the title or Champions League since the mid oughts (last year they obviously led the EPL the longest, but injuries and questionable tactics in big road games saw that very good chance slip away). And that is the final knock on the Gunners – after building a team that was more resilient and actually accumulated more points in 2013 than any other, he then reverted to form and started pushing up the pitch too often, leaving huge gaps behind that were constantly seized upon. If the Gunners are to play the game this way, which I admittedly enjoy, they need a great DM to protect the back four, not a converted creative midfielder like Arteta or a fading star like Flamini. Why can’t Wenger simply admit others are right and do the business necessary to make them contenders? Only he knows anymore …

Saturday, August 30, 2014

This Week in Conservative Crazy (Abridged Version)

One could actually argue that such a category should be done on a daily basis, to cover all of the current insanity that is the Republican party and its conservative offshoot. A few stories sum up their latest spin machine antics:

1. A nine-year old girl testing out an Uzi, lost control of the gun, killing her instructor (Daily Kos). One could ask why a nine-year old is allowed to shoot an Uzi at all, or why anyone not in the military is, but the NRA had a different take on the issue – tweeting "7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range" via @TeamWON,” before later killing the item.

2. Jim Hoft, sometimes called the “dumbest man on the Internet,” continues to report his bogus story about Officer Wilson having his eye-socket broken in the altercation that led to the death of Michael Brown. Even as the story has long since been debunked, his original two anonymous sources were now four anonymous sources (including himself, apparently) and he goes on to decry the liberal media for failing to take the false story seriously, ”CNN really needs to be more responsible with such sensitive information.” But he wasn’t finished yet, continuing to report on the story through a string of race-baiting articles, including decrying “black lynch mobs” and the looting and rioting while claiming poor, innocent Darren Wilson is “struggling” and “in fear for his life.” A recent story explains that Mike Brown’s family calling for an end to protests is actually a calling for protests to continue. (Salon).

3. Speaking of Michael Brown, Ben Stein had a particularly odd take on the events, claiming he wasn’t unarmed because, “He was 6’3”, 300 pounds, and according to what I read in the New York Times on marijuana. To call him unarmed is calling Sonny Liston unarmed or Cassius Clay unarmed.” (Daily Kos) Of course, marijuana has been known as a violence-inducing drug for quite some time and 300 pounders are generally great boxers; who fall down from air punches?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Anti-Obamacare Rhetoric Suddenly Silent

After all the attempts to kill Obamacare, there appears to be a turning of the tide. Even as Obama’s general approval ratings could pull the party down, it does not appear that his signature bill will do so any longer. In fact, it appears some democrats see it as a potential plus: “"Democrats like this bill," [Harvard School of Public Health public opinion analysts Robert] Blendon said. "There's a big mistake that nobody likes this bill. They really like it lot and there are features of it that are incredibly popular with Democrats or more moderate independents." (Daily Kos)

Even conservatives appear less likely to bring it up, with many turning to immigration, economic growth, tax cuts, general hate mongering and the use staple of wedge issues and anti-government rhetoric that might just find them controlling both houses of the legislature in a few short months. So while Obamacare might survive, one can assume trouble is in the offing for the majority of the country starting next year. The veto might be our only savior.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Arsenal Scrap By Besiktas 1-0

Arsenal stood on the precipice of being eliminated before the Group Stage of the Champions League for the first time in 17 years, particularly after Mathieu Debuchy was sent off for a questionable second yellow in the 75th minute. An equalizer from Besiktas would have seen them through on the goal difference rule and they certainly came close several times throughout the game, including Demba Ba just missing a header as regulation time ticked away. It was the second game in this two-leg tie where a Gunner was sent off on a soft second yellow, but Besiktas might feel pretty aggrieved themselves, after an idiotic lunge from Jack Wilshere arguably clipped Ramon Motta in the back of the leg inside the box, in the first half. The penalty was waved off and Alexis Sanchez scored the only goal in over 180 minutes on the pitch between these two sides just before halftime, to secure passage through to the Group Stage and the windfall of 25 to 30 million pounds that will follow (essentially almost paying back his entire transfer fee).

It was a less-than-impressive performance from the Gunners, missing Arteta, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, but they hung tough with a Turkish side that seemed more apt to foul than take a shot and lasted almost 20 minutes a man down. In total, there were seven yellows and one red in the game and a number of other pummeling fouls that went unpunished (one could even make an argument for Debuchy being sent off for the first yellow). The problem for Arsenal, in the absence of Giroud, is having a focal point for attack. They certainly created enough chances, and Ox and Wilshere, in particular, were very dangerous when given space. But Sanchez was lucky to see a well-placed but relatively weak shot slot under the goalkeeper and the team was sometimes overrun by the physicality of Besiktas. The important thing is the win, just as was the case against Crystal Palace, and Wenger must feel lucky to have two wins and two draws given some pretty jaded performances, particularly in the first half of games. Some quick thoughts:

1. Jack Wilshere: while I still think Wilshere has to stay on his feet more and be more careful with the ball, he was dangerous in the final third and had a number of key passes in the game, almost scoring himself inside the first 15 minutes with a left-footed shot that went just wide of the goal. This was a redemptive performance for the Englishman who has been the source of endless consternation from pundits and, well, me for well over a year now. Let’s hope he can take some confidence from this performance and finally live up to all the hype.

2. Sanchez: Sanchez missed a great chance to seal the victory in the second half, but another relatively weak shot was blocked and the resulting corner went for nought. His first half goal is the reason Arsenal are through, though, and what a first goal to score for the team! He is a lively player with blistering pace and a physicality to his play that is often missing from the Gunners and I believe he will soon fit into the team well.

3. The Debuchy/Ox axis: Debuchy only arrived this summer and Ox was suffering through an injury in the preseason, on top of the one that derailed much of the previous season for him, but after only a couple of games together on the pitch, this duo is showing some great understanding and link-up play that should be giving headaches to Arsenal opponents throughout the season. With Ox’s emergence as such an impressive force, though, one wonders how much time Wilshere will actually see on the pitch once Walcott comes back and Arsenal, hopefully, buy a DM.

4. Defensive Frailty and Resilience: Arsenal could have easily lost today, if Besiktas took their chances. But they never made it easy for the Turkish side and held out with 10 men for almost twenty minutes. It was another show of resiliency from Mertesacker and Koscielny, who really are among the best duos around – absorbing pressure and getting the ball to the midfielders with acuity.

5. Transfer Needs: the loss of Giroud and Arteta to injury only amplify the necessity many believe Arsenal have had for two seasons running now – a quality striker to share time with Giroud and a defensive midfielder to shore up the space in front of the back four. Flamini showed again today why he is not the answer (though he did match up physically with the Turks) and Arteta has never been the force on defense we needed, playing more forward in the Everton system before his move to the Emirates; on top of the fact he is now a year older. Arsenal really need to splash some cash and bring in quality in those two positions, together with a fourth centre back (particularly as Chambers must also back up Debuchy who, if today is any indication, might spend some time on the sidelines after accumulating too many yellows or another red). A move for Carvalho might come tomorrow, having secured UCL Group Stage position, and then I would follow with a bid for United outcast Danny Welbeck, who could fit 
well into our system (my dream move would be to stump up the cash for Falcoa, who showed us what he can do in the Emirates Cup loss earlier in the month, or Cavani – though that seems highly unlikely with the Ibra injury). We lost out on Manolas to Roma, though I wonder if that had more to do with the chance to play every week, and must now scourge the world for a reasonable option (I might consider Agger from Liverpool, as he is agitating for a move). Wenger has but a few days to make something happen and better do so if this season is not to be derailed again by injuries (potential starters Gibbs, Sanogo, Arteta and Giroud are already out, a mere two weeks in).
The injury depleted Gunners head to upstart Leicester City Sunday and then face Man City at the Emirates on September 13, before an away match at an improved Aston Villa and the London Derby with Tottenham back home on the 27th. Without movement in the transfer window, I’m afraid the Gunners could be playing catchup after a mere six games. COYG!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Midterm Election Preview (10 Weeks Out)

Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post has a helpful breakdown of the upcoming midterm election, where Republicans have a strong chance of retaking the Senate and using more government shutdowns to push their radical, corporatist agenda. Here are the highlights from the article:

· President Obama’s perceived disconnect with the party and voters appear to be having a negative effect on the prospects of the Democrats retaking the House, as his mid-30s approval ratings in certain districts make potentially competitive races non-starters. The fascinating two questions this raises are: 1. Why has the country placed so much of the blame for a do nothing Congress on Obama’s shoulders? (see Ezra Klein's interesting take on the Obama presidency), and 2. Is that blame warranted? (read this fascinating article from liberal John Judis essentially arguing it should be)

· This is not a “wave election” yet, as 2006 and 2010 were. A wave election is one where national trends override the individual merits, or faults, of the candidates running “against the tide.” While the GOP is actually one point behind democrats on the general scale of “who are you more likely to vote for?” they appear poised to keep the House and take over the Senate. However, it appears this is more the result of money and Obama’s disapproval ratings that a general ideological position. The country seems less impressed with Republicans than Democrats, but the will of the people appears ready to be trumped by money and an unpopular President pulling down the whole party

· As mentioned above, it appears the House is not going to turn to Democrats this session. While there had been some hope of that possibility, it is now all but gone. The GOP has control of districting in far too many states, undermining even remotely competitive districts from the past (and, arguably, the most important body in our political process) and are outspending Dems at an alarming rate at the moment.

· The Senate is much more likely to turn to the GOP, though North Carolina might become the swing state deciding whether Obama can be completely blockaded, or whether he can occasionally turn to the Senate to help pass the occasional bill. (Three democratic seats – in Montana, West Virgina and South Dakota – are essentially gone already, particularly after John Walsh dropped out over plagiarism charges). Given these facts, it’s not surprising that North Carolina is also the state that has spent the most money on the election so far: Open Secrets.

· Ironically, it appears as if voters want “competence” and “bipartisanship,” but appear poised to pick the party that has been working in a largely partisan manner (unless they get Dems to blindly follow them) since the mid-90s. It’s fascinating that so many people put the blame equally on Obama, who has arguably been far more moderate than he promised in either of his elections, and the GOP, that has tried to block or reverse almost everything his administration has accomplished.

A change is possible before election night, but Obama has to try to get his numbers up and create a common message with candidates, Democrats get out the vote efforts have to be near presidential-year levels (highly unlikely, by the way) and a few candidates have to get a late surge, or really lucky. Here’s hoping one or more of those things happen!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fox News View of Race in America

Looking at Fox News’ coverage of the Michael Brown killing, it appears that it is okay for white officers to shoot unarmed black youth (or men) because 1. A black officer shot a troubled white homeless kid who claimed he would rather die than spend time in prison (The New American; Fox 13) and because a black kid was just convicted of shooting and killing a white officer (The Ledger) . Makes sense. Of course, following this logic, police officers should be able to shoot troubled young white loners who like video games whenever they see them acting weird, as they are the ones shooting groups of innocent people and kids at schools, in malls and on the street, right?

The reality is that Fox News always comes to the defense of anyone engaging in racist behavior or killing black men and children. They seem to be arguing that it is okay for innocent victims to die – if they are black – and that racism should be celebrated as free speech, or “telling it like it is.” This and related racism can be seen with the Trayvon Martin case, both Obama elections, their positive coverage of Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson, their uproar over the immigrant children illegally in the U.S.A. and now the Michael Brown case (see this interesting compilation on Fox News racism). The facts? As useless and unimportant as they have always been to Fox News (see Jon Stewart on Fox News Lying). One can also look at the way Fox News keeps on message, no matter what (as with their constant critique of Media Matters (ad hominem only, of course) or ACORN).

One might ask why? Well, it fits the Fox News model – the same model employed by far too many conservatives in this country. The model is based on sleigh of hand and playing off white male anger by attacking affirmative action, feminism, religious “victimhood,” illegal immigration, abortion, gay marriage and the like. They are selling the idea that it is not Corporate America or the party encumbered to their interests that is causing the worsening situation for working class and middle class families in America, but all of these other groups and the very government that is really the only one that can stand up to those interests. Racism is the key playing card in this sleigh of hand strategy though, as it draws back to the very foundation of this country and adds the extra spice of triggering white male panic of perceived black male virility. Fox News is at the epicenter of this battle, but in a broader sense it is the heart of the GOP strategy since at least Ronald Reagan (and really Nixon, though other key issues like the Vietnam War were in play then). To reiterate, use white male panic and white male anger to stir up votes for the very party that will only stoke that panic and anger even more, as they screw them in every way possible.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Arsenal Snatch Back Two to Draw at Everton 2-2

Wenger might have been thinking of “the best laid plans of mice and men” after his first half experiment of leaving Giroud on the bench and playing Sanchez centrally found the Gunners down two at halftime for the second time in two games at Everton in just a few months time. Reverting to Giroud in the middle to start the second half, then spicing things up with the introduction of Cazorla and Joel Campbell (in his first EPL appearance for the club) for the Ox and Wilshere, Arsenal charged back late to draw level and almost win the game in extra time. The game was both a reminder of the way Arsenal capitulated on the road versus their major rivals last season and an uplifting draw that just might send the Gunners on to challenge for the title.

The game started with Everton in the ascendancy and dominating possession, as Wenger decided to play a tighter formation without the high line that had been caught out by Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton in quick succession last Spring. Yet on the stroke of 20 minutes, Ozil decided he needed a break from defending at the worst possible moment, allowing Seamus Coleman to race to the far post and head in a beautiful pass from Gareth Barry. Then, just as Arsenal appeared to be mounting a little offensive pressure, Ozil gave the ball up in the Everton box, it went out to Lukaku, who appeared to push Mertesacker then flew past Calum Chambers before marauding toward the goal, sending a perfect pass to Naismath, who finished coolly through Szczesny’s legs. That Naismath was clearly offsides was of little consolation as the Gunners found themselves down 2-0 with seconds until the break.

It looked like another away disaster against the top six for Arsenal was 45 minutes away, and a reminder of all that is wrong with the team – from the lackluster play of Jack Wilshere and lack of strength and resolve in midfield (where they lost the ball repeatedly to the more physical, pressing Evertonians) to problems in attack without the central focal point of Giroud and sloppy defending on set pieces or in responding to the counter. In fact, with 20 minutes left, and Giroud having squandered three good chances (in addition to two half chances), the criticism of Wenger for not already signing a world-class striker and Patrick-Viera-type defensive midfield enforcer seemed more warranted than ever.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a resounding defeat – the introduction of the young Campbell and wily Cazorla all of a sudden started to rattle Everton players, and the Gunners created one chance after another. As time was ticking down, Cazorla took the ball at the edge of the box, got around two defenders and sent a low, screaming cross across goal that was neatly bundled in by Aaron Ramsey (83rd minute); the man who can’t seem to stop scoring important goals. Arsenal kept on pushing for the equalizer, but missed a couple of golden chances before the “misser of the match” came through with a perfect header to the far corner from a Nacho Monreal cross that was so good, Tim Howard didn’t even move an inch before turning to grab the ball. Arsenal had scored at the stroke of 90 minutes for the second league game running (with Ox almost pulling the feat in Turkey Tuesday, but for a fine save and the crossbar) and the Gunners had a valuable away point that might feel more like four, given the resolve it took to gather it.

Some thoughts on the game:

1.    The Mercurial Giroud: you might have caught my post on Giroud a few days ago ( highlighting the fact that he rarely scores in big games and just doesn’t have the finishing touch of the best strikers in the world. Well, that theme appeared to be repeating itself today, after he failed to score after a peach of a cross from Ox that could have made it a one-goal game less than a minute into the second half, before missing again in the 67th minute (with a nice shot that slid just wide, having beaten Howard) and then again a minute later when he was one-on-one with the keeper but shot weakly into Howard’s arms. And then, after Ramsey had opened the scoring in the 83rd minute, Giroud missed another half chance, as he skied above the Everton defense only to pass the ball toward the far post, too far ahead of a charging Ramsey. But good things do sometimes come to those who drive us crazy and that moment came in the 89th minute, when Ramsey sent the ball long on an attempted cross that Monreal collected and sent back in with a perfect cross that Giroud guided neatly into the bottom corner of the goal. It was a lovely header and saved a point for the Gunners, restoring some confidence in the Frenchman, though still asking the question of whether we need another world class striker – particularly as the Sanchez through the middle experiment appeared to be an abject failure.
2.    Wilshere Woes Worsen: Many will fail to recognize that it was the subbing of Wilshere and Ox in the 74th minute that so radically altered the game, but I’m not one of them. While Ox was among the brightest figures on the pitch for the Gunners throughout the first 50 minutes or so (creating chances, running past defenders, and even putting in some good defensive work), he did appear to go missing as the game moved toward its conclusion. But Wilshere played downright terrible football, guilty of giving the ball away (I counted seven times, though it might have been more), failing to take shots when open (twice), falling to the ground needlessly (at least three or four times) and generally disrupting the forward momentum of the attack and exposing the defense to counters. He is a player that helps the team most when he is on the bench and this is a problem that Wenger will have to sort out. One hopes he can and we do have the great example of him staying with Ramsey as he put in one terrible performance after another a year and a half ago, but one wonders if Wilshere is on the same level as the Welshman and whether he will simply become another of those “next big things” to end up washed up before he hits 25.
3.    The New Boys: looking across the pitch at the new players, there was some reason for optimism and some concern. Debuchy made some important interceptions and tackles on the defensive end, but was relatively uninspiring going forward (though he was held back a little by Wenger) – 6. Sanchez is still getting his feet wet with the Gunners system and the more physical EPL, but does have a lovely turn, was really close on a few through passes and has blistering pace. This wasn’t his best 45 minutes, but the upside potential looks really good – 5. Chambers played through the middle again, in place of the injured Kos and again showed a maturity well beyond his years. He did make a few mistakes, had two cynical challenges (with the second earning him a booking) and was juked rather pathetically by Lukaku on the way to Everton’s second goal, but his strength and poise in the middle is quite impressive and his stature will only grow as he gets more time on the pitch – 6. Joel Campbell came on late and, though he was sometimes guilty of heavy touches and clumsy passes, his threat appeared to pull Everton’s midfielders toward him, opening up the space for the first goal. One wonders what role he will play this term, but impact sub or backup striker are certainly worth considering after this performance. 
4.    Refs Revenge: Arsenal actually received a little help from the referees last season, for the first time in my memory, except in the Bayern game, where the penalty and straight red seemed particularly harsh. But in two games in a row, the referee appeared to do everything in his power to contribute to a Gunner’s loss. In this case, we can include a horrific miss by the linesman on a clearly offsides second goal, two missed corners for Arsenal, a questionable yellow, several baffling calls on fouls against Arsenal and for Everton and the rewarding of a soft foul that actually led to the first goal. Arsenal came back for the draw, but arguably would have won the game if not for the terrible refereeing, and slightly below average finishing of Giroud.

I think Arsenal can take a lot of positives out of the performance in the second half and recognize where things went wrong in the first. The game does seem to highlight, more than ever, the fact that the Gunners need a DM really badly (particularly with Arteta injured and Flamini flaming out, after impressing in the first few months of his return last season) and could also use another option up top to give Giroud the rest he clearly needs to be at his best. The might also note the way they were overrun in the midfield and the need to toughen up and press higher, at least on occasion, as they did near the end of the game when they scored twice in less than 7 minutes. They should take note of how important Ox can be this year, adding creativity and a direct threat to their attack and how Campbell’s introduction seemed to liven the game up. And Ospina might be warming up for a potential appearance after a less than impressive performance from Szczesny, who seemed to have an off day at Goodison Park, failing to stop two shots that many top goalkeepers would have. On the positive side, Arsenal now have several combinations of players they can use in attack and on the defensive end (though clearly short in the centre), but have to either figure out how to motivate Wilshere, or put him on the bench. Wenger can be proud of the growing confidence of his team, and their belief that they can come back to win or draw in any game, but must also worry about their discipline, effort and depth of quality at a couple of key positions.

Wednesday is one of the biggest games for the Gunners in a while – or at least since the FA Cup final and Community Shield over the past few months – and one they really need to win. They will be without Ramsey and Arteta, and possibly Koscielny, but must hold firm, push forward with resolve and get the result they need to push on to the Group Stage of the Champions League. A loss or draw would be devastating and I think they now have the resolve to get the job done … I hope. COYG!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Lunatics are Running the Asylum (Sarah Palin Style)

Sarah Palin just won’t go away, no matter what pesticides, IQ tests or calls to sanity are employed. In fact, she has now started her own member-supported Internet TV station. Subscribers can join the stations for only $99.95 a year, cheaper than even over the counter sleeping pills but more expensive that the mallet you could buy at the local hardware store to hit yourself on the head with repeatedly instead.

While I couldn’t bring myself to watch the piffle she was selling, Salon was nice enough to do it more me. Among the themes of this quintessential conservative “intellectual”’s show? Let’s take a quick look: 1. The Obama Administration Countdown: measured in days, hours, minutes and seconds, though Palin is, of course, one of the leading voices for a completely unwarranted impeachment, 2. Debt Clock: the numbers keep going up, scaring the bejesus out of people who have decided this arbitrary figure (which has actually grown much more slowly than under Bush – see post below) is more important than things like the unemployment rate, growing poverty or economic inequality in general, 3. Word of the Day: one assumes this is for the linguistically-challenged Palin more than her audience, though one assumes they could use the help as well, 4. Palin’s Rebuttal to Elizabeth Warren’s “11 Progressive Commandments:” among the brilliant intellectual Olympics is this response to Warren’s faith in science, “ “We believe in science and God’s magnificent creation overflowing with resources,” 5. Finally is her “25 impeachable offenses” that Obama is guilty of, with none actually related in any way to reality of that pesky constitution that continues to annoy conservatives.

I think one could justifiably argue that the “election” of George Bush was an affront to the country and its people, and certainly to our democracy (on several levels, including, of course, the fact he wasn’t even elected the first time around but anointed by the Supreme Court). The fact that McCain went a step further to select this raging buffoon to be his second in command only shows you how far the party has dropped in recent years. And yet it is plausible that this party of religious zealots, corporate lackeys, pathological liars, racists, sexists, fools and devil worshippers (at least Dick Cheney, in his narcissism) might actually control all three branches of government within two years. I’m not sure who’s worse, the party themselves or the people that actually vote for them …

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Considering the Deeper Meaning of the Brown Shooting

As is so often the case in incidents like this, the Michael Brown shooting has been politicized so fast, with different parties having such profound stakes in the results, that we may never know the full truth behind case (WFMY News, What we do know, without question, is that another unarmed black youth has been killed by an officer – who shot him multiple times (Autopsy Notes). There have been countless examples of this in the past, though we don’t have accurate information on how often it actually occurs (LA Times).

A few incidents from the past come to mind though, including the infamous Amadou Diallo killing (where a wallet was mistaken for a gun, he was shot 19 times and the NYPD officers involved were exonerated), the Kimani Gray story from last year (an unarmed Brooklyn youth shot four times in the front and side and twice in the back by police and killed), the Timothy Russell case (where 137 rounds were fired into his car, killing he and his passenger, after a chase – no weapons in the car), and the 2004 death of unarmed Timothy Stansbury Jr., who was shot by an officer who claimed to be startled by his presence in a stairwell (see a list of 20 such incidents here). We can, of course, add the shooting of the unarmed Trayvon Martin by the recently acquitted George Zimmerman and the fact that far too many of those committing these crimes, including the officers that beat Rodney King near to death, are later exonerated of any crime. Could it be the new form of lynching in the country, replacing families putting on their Sunday best and traveling from miles away to watch and participate in the live beating and hanging of black men and women, who often committed no crime at all? In just the past week, we also had an incident here in Los Angeles, where a 24-year-old mentally troubled young black man was shot by police while lunging for one’s gun (New York Times), and another unarmed man killed in a Wal*Mart in Ohio (Black Youth Project).

The issue seems to me to revolve around three troubling themes in American society: 1. The cost to African-Americans of systemic, institutionalized racism in schools, the media and among the police. This is not to argue that the police involved are evil or even terrible human beings. I believe it relates more to a culture where we are taught to fear young black men and thus be on guard in ways that too often lead to tragedy. This is arguably also the case in far too many of our schools, as white, middle class (and largely female) teachers engage in the “soft bigotry” of low expectations or creating an overly-disciplined, uncaring environment for youth of color. I have seen this consistently in my visits to schools in New York City and Los Angeles, with the teachers often largely unaware of their behavior, even with black and Latino youth in second or third grade. One could then argue that the media’s general portrayal of youth of color as thugs and dangerous gang members creates a pathology that streams across our culture, fed on my right-wing politicians and pundits and filtering down to the communities themselves, sometimes leading to a sense of self-hatred that can actually manifest itself in violence (see Stan Tookie William’s book or movie on the topic). 2. The outrageous level of violence in our country and our inability to pass any gun control laws or training to police officers about ensuring they don’t shoot innocent, or unarmed, men and boys. The culture of violence that seems to permeate every level of our culture involves a great irony – in that it is often young white males that are involved in mass shooting while young men of color are the ones who end up in prison or dead. Is there a way that a serious national conversation can begin on why there is so much violence, what can be done to stem its spread and how we can properly train officials to try to ensure that incidents like this stop occurring so regularly? One problem with this conversation is the NRA and right-wing media circus, which too often ends these debates before they begin. If tragedies like Columbine or Sandy Hook can’t elicit federal or state action, it’s hard to see what can. 3. The way in which officers and civilians are too often forgiven for engagement in these issues, by the police department, court system and media in general, speaks to how deep the pathology of fear toward black men reaches and how desperately we need to address this issue. Edward Said once argued that the key concern of contemporary society was how people with different religious and cultural beliefs and values could peacefully coexist in the world. That appears to be truer than ever.

Finally, considering the issue from the other side, as I did in a previous post, it is worth considering why there are no instances in recent memory of an unarmed white youth being shot by the police? If there is, I certainly don’t remember reading about it in the papers or hearing about it on television. One hopes that reason will someday soon intervene anew in the political and media arenas; for now, we are stuck within the tectonic pull of the spectacle and its endless supply of entertaining, well-packaged pabulum surrounding issues of life, death and our collective future.