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Random Thoughts During An International Break
Well, it’s that time again… just as the young season seems about to get into swing, we get hit with the international break. Arsenal, and the other top level clubs, will have most of their rosters away from the club to play twice in five days while clubs like Fulham get a breather and time to re-energize. With not much going on around the club, we can take a few moments to reflect on the season so far as well as some of the major issues surrounding the club and its supporters.
Are We Better Than Last Season?
Many Arsenal fans are debating amongst themselves the question of whether we are stronger or weaker than last season. This is a tricky question because you can come up with an answer in two ways: on paper or on the pitch. On paper, all we are missing from last season is a straight replacement for Matheiu Flamini. Hleb has been more than ably replaced by Samir Nasri while Fabianski and Denilson can, theoretically, fill the minor roles played by Jens Lehmann and Gilberto last season.
However, there is another way to see improvement. Last season, we were at our weakest on the wings. While playing a 4-5-1 with Hleb in the hole and Rosicky injured, we inevitably played Emmanuel Eboue and Abou Diaby as our two wingers. This year, so far at least, the health of Robin van Persie has allowed Arsene to play the more favoured 4-4-2 and replace Eboue and Diaby with Walcott and Nasri. To me this is a significant improvement over last season that probably outweighs the difference between Flamini and Denilson or Diaby at the moment. We now also have the experienced defender we needed last season in Mikael Silvestre if he can remain healthy.
As for on the pitch, we saw last week against Newcastle that, yes, we are still “the Arsenal.” The football is still smooth, intelligent, creative, and free-flowing and, despite not playing near our best against West Brom or Fulham, we are still only one point off the top after 3 matches.
The Hack Was Back
What you are seeing above is, of course, the infamous tackle by legendary cunt, Joey Barton on Samir Nasri last weekend near the end of Arsenal’s 3-nil dismantling of Newcastle in Keven Keegan’s last match as manager. Most have questioned Keegan’s judgment in bringing Barton on in the first place considering he had an FA hearing pending the following Friday. Well that hearing came and went, and so did Kevin Keegan (maybe his judgment isn’t that bad after all).
Barton received a 12 game suspension. Enough?? Hell no. He could have used an extra three for the challenge on Nasri. Look at how he is leaning into Nasri’s body even though Nasri is not standing over the ball. Look at how he sticks his elbow out and tries to crash right into his knee. Look at how Nasri just barely escapes being Eduardo II by getting his foot unplanted. After the tackle, Barton went on to give one of the biggest wise-ass grins he could muster.
The man is an absolute disgrace to the game; to anyone who’s ever played the game; and certainly to anyone who has ever loved the game. I know it’s been said a thousand times before but the game would be far better off without that two-bit hack.
200 and Counting…
Cesc Fabregas played his 200th game for Arsenal last Saturday when he took the pitch at the Emirates against Newcastle and showed, again, why he is what American sports fans call a “franchise player.” Not only is he the real “heart and soul” of Arsenal on the pitch, but he is fully on board with Arsene and his policy: “We sign what we need… at Arsenal there’s a different policy and we have to respect that… the day we win something with these players, with this policy, this atmosphere and style, there will be a big change – almost a revelation.”
The thing that is most impressive about Cesc, besides his on-field displays, is his level of maturity at such a young age. This has been evidenced throughout the last year in numerous episodes from firing his agent when he linked Cesc with Barcelona in the media against the player’s wishes to speaking of now knowing what it means to be “a winner” following Spain’s victory at Euro2008 to showing his full support for Arsene and the club. The kid knows what he wants and he has a long-term vision of his career unlike many players who are older and, supposedly, more mature. We all know what happens to players when they leave Arsenal but apparently players like Flamini and Hleb don’t. Well, Cesc does:
“I cannot remember any player who left Arsenal and has been a superstar. Don’t get me wrong, Alex Hleb and Mathieu Flamini are two of my best friends in football and I wish them all the best but Arsenal is Arsenal. This club has something special that no others have. We have to take care of it. I want to play for Arsenal. When you see football all around the world you see very few teams who play the way that we play. I just enjoy it. I feel it is my home now. I am happy with everything, my No 4, playing for Arsenal in centre midfield and giving 100 per cent every, every game. But if the boss thinks in one or two years I am ready to be captain, I will take the armband.”
Now, if we want to be honest, we all know that Cesc is the Arsenal captain in everything but name. Gallas may wear the armband but it is Cesc whom the players are willing to follow anywhere. Those who worry about Cesc’s short-term future with Arsenal should feel some peace-of-mind after reading those quotes. Cesc understands what it is about the club that makes it special in general and especially to the supporters. Just the fact that he is thinking about being one in a long line of Arsenal legends who captained the side shows he sees his future with the club and shows his dedication to the club, the supporters, and his teammates.
Arsenal have sixteen players away during this international break including Gael Clichy, who, somehow, is still awaiting his first full senior cap with France. Clichy has finally been getting called up by Domenech beginning last year for matches with Spain and Congo but has failed to see any action as of yet. The former Cannes trainee and Toulouse native has 10 caps for the Under-21s as well as two appearances in friendlies with France’s B (or A dash) side. It is mind boggling how Domenech can keep the undisputed best left back in the Premier League, if not the world, on the bench. While United’s Patrice Evra has up until now held his place ahead of Clichy, it has to be only a matter of time as Clichy, while still providing the attacking if not scoring threat of Evra, is clearly superior in terms of defending and attitude.
Arsenal Station will report on the exploits of our Gunners on the international scene later in the week. For the complete rundown of who is where and when check Arsenal.com.
*The Cesc quotes were taken from a great article which Arsenal Station highly recommends at OneTonyAdams.com.