On Cesc

Cesc Fabregas is the captain of Arsenal Football Club. He is one of the best midfielders in the world. As of today, he is still only 21 years of age.

On Monday’s Guardian Podcast, Sid Lowe shared a story about Real Madrid’s potential targets in the summer. He noted:

“In particular this weekend, Cesc Fabregas, who was very, I think, very non-committal in some things he said in an event in his hometown arranged in Mar over the course of the weekend. He was wearing a white jacket, and he was asked why he was wearing white. And he said, with pretty much with a wink and a nudge-nudge, he said, “well, white really suits me.” There’s a real feeling that Fabregas may well be paving his way for an exit from Arsenal.”

There have been stories this week about how Ramon Calderon had actually called Cesc to try and lure him to Real Madrid. Cesc said himself that the call took place, but he never committed himself to Real Madrid or Calderon’s “project”. That such a call took place is illegal. Arsene himself stated that he would sue if such a call took place. Whether we act or not, it’s irrelevant. We all know Real Madrid’s tactics are disgusting, using their newspapers to drum up false stories.

Cesc Fabregas is not the first and he won’t be the last player to be coveted by Real Madrid. Even with Patrick Vieira, we had to go through this every year. And that’s the truth with Cesc, no matter how many denials he issues, he’ll still be linked with Real Madrid every year.

With his swift denials, Cesc has endeared himself to the Arsenal fan base. All the bloggers are overly enamored by him, and there is indeed much to love. His passion for Arsenal comes across very clearly, and he’s a gifted footballer.

You will very rarely read anything bad about Cesc Fabregas from bloggers. Even the fact that his performances this year have been slightly subpar has been relatively unnoticed. With a lack of a full pre-season, he has been behind the ball this year. With this injury, however, he may be in prime condition to help us win trophies this year.

Cesc is on his way to becoming an Arsenal legend, a proper one. But let’s not make any mistake about it, he is not an Arsenal legend yet.

What he is doing is building a catalogue of things that will recognize him as one when he helps us win important trophies.

Upon leaving UCLA after one year in college basketball and helping the team to one Final Four appearance, Kevin Love talked about the legacy he was leaving behind. That’s complete bollocks. There is no legacy to be left behind. He was a great player who was at UCLA and moved on.

For a professional footballer, no doors should be closed, for it is also about making a living as well. But, if Cesc were to leave for Real Madrid now, he would be similar to a player like Nicolas Anelka. I do not hate Anelka, but I do not feel the need to celebrate his time at Arsenal.

Kolo Toure is an Arsenal legend. Jens Lehmann is an Arsenal legend. Cesc is not there yet.

He does not owe Arsene Wenger anything. A talented footballer of Cesc’s ilk would have succeeded eventually. That he feels a big obligation towards Arsene tells you more about Wenger than it does about reality.

The Guardian story will not be floated around the Arsenal blog circle, but it is an interesting one. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a story on Arsenal.com where Cesc commits to his club once again.

I believe when he does things like that, he’s being sincere. But if he’s not, the only thing he owes us is two months that can help propel us towards trophies. Football is sometimes about the future, but in this case, it’s just about today and the next game.

With Cesc on form, we can win any game.

Stan Kroenke Doesn’t Care About Avalanche Fans

Stan Kroenke owns 20% of Arsenal. He is also the owner of the Denver Nuggets basketball team and the Colorado Avalanche ice hockey team.

Businessmen that own more than one professional sports team worry me. Money seems to be their motive. To be and stay successful in any sport you need money. Avalanche fans feel that they were ignored financially by Kroenke in favor of the Denver Nuggets. Kroenke is a huge basketball fan so the Denver Nuggets will always take priority over the Avalanche. But where do Arsenal lie in Kroenke’s list of priorities? Will Arsenal be just a hobby or play thing?

I am not asking for an owner who is a fan – look at Mike Ashley at Newcastle United and what a mess he has made of that club. I do not desire a Mark Cuban type of owner, who is too enthusiastic to the extent of being brash, loud and obnoxious. Owners and directors need to keep a low profile.

I just hope that this power struggle at Arsenal is resolved with the right people running the club. It does worry me as to what direction Arsenal are heading into.

The key to this saga is the woman below who can sell her 15.8% shares to whom ever she wants. In exchange for millions of pounds of course. Usmanov or Kroenke. The battle continues.

Over to you Lady Nina.

Wenger at the Helm

“I knew when I decided to go for a young team what would hit me. I was prepared for that. I am pleased that I was not wrong but we have a long way to go and a lot to improve.” – Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger is truly a brave man. Not buying established players with experience but instead choosing to trust the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Alex Song, and Johan Djourou shows a large amount of faith and even more courage. Add the yearly-published lists of football’s richest teams that regularly show Arsenal F.C. to be among the wealthiest and you’ve got a very puzzling situation for both fan and neutral.

Some fans have panicked. Some have given up entirely. Many have criticized Wenger. The criticism has come from all sides and certainly from frustrated Arsenal fans. As results go, so goes the mood of the fan. Well, not all fans. Some are patient and can see the bigger picture. I understand the frustration of those that cannot see it or choose to ignore it but the calls for Wenger to be removed have always seemed strange to me. Not only has it become hard for me to envision an Arsenal side not managed by Arsene Wenger (obviously the day will come and I’ll have to accept it) but if we sacked Wenger today, who would we replace him with?

Earlier this month, the question was posed and from the many responses, I have selected the one below:

“I have been an Arsenal fan for 22 years and I am simply outraged that Wenger has lasted this long into the season. He has had his time, we need results and we need them now. A win at West Brom is not good enough. We are no longer a top-four side. The season is over for us. It’s such a shame, I once believed in his work. We are going to fall back once again into mediocrity. Like we were before but fail to forget: mid-table, boring boring Arsenal.”

This week is a good time to reflect on how we’ve done so far this season. It would take a total collapse by United and something similar by Liverpool and Chelsea for us to win the league. However we are well placed to finish in the top four and are mounting serious challenges for the FA Cup and European club football’s top prize, the Champions League title. The league crown is my main priority every season but I won’t bore you with EPL history of how only a handful of clubs have managed to win it. A cup double would be good compensation.

I would love to ask our fellow fan of 22 years if he still feels the same way today as when he expressed his outrage at Wenger. No doubt he does but it’s starting to look like he and many like him have lost faith in a team that is improving. The fact that Wenger’s position at the club is safe has been construed by some as there being no pressure on him to win – for he knows it’s unlikely that he’ll be replaced. The reality is that the man puts tremendous pressure on himself not only to win EVERY game but to build lasting stability at the club.

Debating the merits of the Wenger policy is fruitless. It is the chosen route. Wenger is our leader. That will not change bar a drastic turn of events. With Arsene Wenger at the helm, we will come good.

Arsenal International Players

Obviously, international break can be a drag at times. Following a football club is such an immersive experience that when a two week break comes along, it feels a bit like a lull. Some dub it the “interlull.” While I crave all things Arsenal, I do admire and follow international football. And I do follow what the Arsenal players do for their international teams.

In the World Cup, along with France and South Korea, I tend to root for players to excel with their country. That won’t necessarily extend beyond supporting the single player, but it’s a good way to familiarize yourself with players from different countries and help you get more information.

In the 2006 World Cup, I had vivid memories of actually cheering Philippe Senderos to do well (but not well enough to beat South Korea). He scored a header and subsequently gashed his head open in the process of doing it. That goal effectively ended South Korea’s tournament, but I was happy for Philippe nonetheless.

I can only hope that performing on a grand stage helps to give players confidence and more faith in their own abilities.

After Cesc won the Euros with Spain (Cesc hasn’t received nearly as much credit for this as he deserves), you could sense that he wanted more success and that he wanted that success to be with Arsenal. Unfortunately, this season hasn’t been his best, due to the combination of injuries and a lack of preparation time. But, in time, these performances away from Arsenal will only benefit us.

We consistently have many players out for these international breaks. Yes, we sweat on their fitness. But, we also must understand what a proud duty it is that these players are doing. I don’t have a problem with breaks concerning qualifiers, in fact, I think all top footballers should play for their country.

Hull and International Week

Hull City claim that the Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas spat at the feet of their assistant manager Brian Horton on St. Patrick’s Day. If Hull are so adamant in their spitting claim then why did they not meet a deadline set by the Football Association to submit evidence.

That deadline ended yesterday.

However, the Football Association granted them an extension until Monday.

Hull chairman Paul Duffen said: “We applied to extend the deadline as many of the people who witnessed the incident are away.”

I assume that the Hull chairman is talking about his players that are on international duty.

Out of the 43 players in Hull’s squad, seven are on international duty. They don’t report back to Hull until Thursday at the earliest.

The extended deadline set by the Football Association is Monday. Go figure!

Peter Shilton is England’s most capped player with 125 caps. He says Fabio Capello would be making a massive mistake if he picked Manuel Almunia.

Almunia is Spanish. He is set to apply for a British passport which means that he can play for England if he chooses. Let’s look at Almunia’s competition:

Ben Foster – Battling it out to be Man United’s reserve team keeper with Tomasz Kuszczak (the Polish number two);

David James – 38 years old. Failed at Liverpool and Villa. Seen better days.

Paul Robinson – He has conceded 50 goals against Arsenal alone.

Scott Carson – Watch his England debut against Croatia. Exactly!

Looks like England need Almunia in goal. I would find England a lot more tolerable with the Almunia as their number one. I would also find it hilarious that England cannot find a manager who is English or a keeper.

Tony Cascarino was a born and bred Londoner who played 88 times for Ireland. Yet in his autobiography, “Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino” he admits that he should never have been allowed to play for Ireland. He qualified on the strength of a maternal grandfather Michael O’Malley from Westport.

Cascarino admits that O’Malley was not his mother’s natural father, rendering him ineligible under FIFA rules.

Ireland and other countries have used the grandparents ruling for years. Isn’t it about time that England started to use the citizenship ruling – like other countries have (Croatia)? Or would that be (along with the hiring of a foreign coach) another realization on how far England have declined as a footballing world power?

1966 was last century.

Not Good Enough

“You would have to say now there won’t be much of a threat from us to Arsenal’s position,” said O’Neill. “It’s no fluke that the top four are where they are and we are in a dip right now. We are not as strong as those four clubs. I have said it many times before and I will say it again – we still have a lot of catching up to do. It is still reachable as Arsenal have many tough games to come. But they are getting some of their injured players back and it’s going to be very, very tough.”

Nothing is said and done yet but to read the preceding makes me feel like maybe I do know what I’m talking about. I all but guaranteed that we would get our act together and overtake Villa. Many Gooners doubted me. I won’t get carried away but speaking frankly, I humbly say that it didn’t take a genius to realize that:

1. O’Neill’s men would be riding on fumes sooner or later with such a small squad, and get this, NO PLAN B. Does that sound familiar?
2. Arsenal have more experienced yet even younger players. Many of whom have been down this road before. Villa haven’t.
3. Martin O’Neill is not a top manager, he is a pretender. Which of the top four EPL clubs would hire him tomorrow if they needed a manager?

The man’s approach was always going to leave room for questions. In a league that is so demanding physically, a stronger bench and the proverbial Plan B are almost mandatory for the type of success Villa are trying to achieve.

The wave of anti Wenger policies will not die until this current group of players win a major trophy but they are experienced enough to face the challenge of finishing fourth. At the time of writing, they’ve at least ensured that their fate (as far as fourth place goes) is in their hands. I wouldn’t bet against finishing higher. Time will tell.

Success in the SPL is not necessarily a guarantee of success in the more demanding and certainly more competitive EPL. I hear doubts from Villa fans now even about finishing fifth. Judging by Martin O’Neill’s body language after the trashing at Anfield last Sunday (certainly a stark contrast to that joyful leap after Zat Knight equalized against us at Villa Park), I understand their doubt.

I’m sure Mr. O’Neill is good at what he does but I am not sure if he is good enough.

Manuel Almunia

It took a tackle by El Hadji Diouf to finally complete Almunia’s long journey towards being the definitive number one goalkeeper at Arsenal Football Club.

Prior to that, he had been known as a gentle shot-stopper with phenomenal reaction. Most will look poorly upon his contributions in the Champions League Final, beaten at the near post on two occasions.

When Jens Lehmann let a ball slip through his hands and allow Blackburn equalize, the Almunia period began officially. We went on a run of seven straight victories in the league. Our players went out of their way to congratulate Manuel, because they all liked the guy. Lehmann was a fierce character, one whose contributions to this club should never be ignored.

Regardless of the results, nothing Almunia did eased my nerves. He’d make crucial stops, but he couldn’t build walls, had weak wrists, and never looked commanding. People spoke about Gallas’s lack of leadership, but I’ve seen him organize the players on the pitch. I didn’t see enough of Almunia directing players in the box and making his life easier for himself. He didn’t know when to claim the ball on crosses, and in big games, his weak distribution led to dropped points.

That being said, apart from a few off games, he looked more comfortable. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Lehmann was no longer behind him, looking on angrily, he took to the task and has produced enough saves to merit his status as the number one.

In Rome, he undoubtedly looked nervous during the penalty kick shootout. His body language when we were taking penalties told me a lot. He was bent over, not looking at the goal, and looked as if he was going to vomit. The only penalty he saved was one of the worst efforts I’ve seen, and Almunia couldn’t believe his luck. Even though he was nervous, since he prevailed, his confidence received a big boost.

Against Blackburn, Diouf showed true colors and went hard in on Almunia’s ankle. Afterwards, during a corner kick, Almunia stood up to Diouf and finally showed the spine that we all looked for. He was steady through the game.

Last weekend, he capitalized on Martins’ nerves and saved the penalty. He swallowed the ball up, so that there would be no rebound. Earlier in the year, he saved a penalty kick against Aston Villa and it produced no boost to our team. This time, it was different. Especially with Andrey’s revelations that Wenger instructed the team that Newcastle would fade after the first thirty minutes of the game.

Terrible penalty or not, Almunia kept us in the game. Wenger would say that the Roma fixture helped give confidence to Manuel. Arsene believes that goalkeepers reach their peak between the ages of 30 and 35. Manuel Almunia is 31 years old.