Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Arshavin speaks his mind

Will Andrei Arshavin be the next Arsenal player to leave the club?

He's a brilliant player, one of only two genuinely world-class players at the Arsenal, but he's also under-paid and running out of time. He can earn much, much more in La Liga, and he knows it. He can win many, many more trophies with Barcelona or Real Madrid, and he knows it. He's 28 years old. He's a late bloomer with maybe 4 years left at the top, and I wonder if he wants to spend his peak years gambling on the success of Wenger's youth-squad project.

At the moment, Arshavin's certainly sounding like a man about to jump:

He's said it a number of times this season, but to say it again at such a crucial time in the league race is an open challenge to Wenger. If we win the league this year (still a possibility) we're all happy chappies again, but if we lose it, we're going to have to bring in new players or Arshavin will walk.

That said, I don't think anything he's said is controversial. We've at the beginning of the end of a youth project. Some youth players have become first-teamers (Song, Clichy, Cesc, Bendy). Others are still developing (Diaby, Denilson). And the new breed are rapidly maturing and will start pushing for places in a couple of seasons time. The multi-million pound question is whether these players, collectively, are good enough to win things for the Arsenal.

Arshavin's taken the pragmatic side in saying no. What's the use of an attractive youth side if they're always going to be too callow to win the big games? Why not stock up with senior players right now, have a real tilt at the title, and let the youngsters compete for playing time? Arshavin's the only player who's taken this side and spoken out, and I really appreciate his honesty. Instead of focussing on our boys becoming men, or sexy football, or our balance sheet, Arshavin's pointing at the trophy cabinet and saying that that's the most important thing.

If Arsenal have the financial means, I think it's their moral duty to mount a legitimate challenge for the league. Arsenal exists to serve its fans, and its fans want success. All fans want success, but not all clubs can provide it. Arsenal are one of four English clubs which can provide success, and onus is upon them to try to achieve. If that means buying Lloris and killing Almunia, so be it. If that means buying Dzeko and killing Bendy, so be it.

But I digress. What I wanted to write about was Arshavin's comment. Funnily enough, he's talking about a deficit in attack. Ask any gooner, and they'd say that our most glaring deficiency is in goalkeeping, followed by lack of depth at centre-back and defensive midfield. In attack, we're missing a power-forward a la Adebayor, but we've managed well enough all season.

But Arshavin thinks that our most pressing need is variety in attack. According to him, we've got too many dinky creative midfielders and not enough fast, tricky wingers or physical centre-forwards. He's talking about building an Arsenal which is so potent in attack that defensive pressure will be eased. I think he wants Arsenal to be like Barcelona with their constant pressing and their terrifyingly fluid forward structure. Barca have a fairly mediocre defence, but they get away with it because of their attack.

It's a dazzling vision, and I think it's very close to Wenger's dream. Barcelona built their dream from the ground up, with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all being Barca players since very young. It's what Wenger's trying to do with Wilshere, Cesc, Ramsey, Bendy and Walcott. Will it work without an injection of experienced players? Would Messi and Iniesta have gotten where they were without Ronaldinho? How about Xavi without Deco?

I have to say that I agree with Arshavin. Wenger's got a perfect vision of his squad in his mind, but it's hard to see how it'll be built without the scaffolding of a squad of experienced, proven players. Three or four players would do nicely, please, or Arshavin's going to walk.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What's the deal with iTunes' Genius Mix?

We beat West Ham over the weekend, Chelsea dropped points against Blackburn, Man Utd beat Liverpool and we're now 2 points closer to winning the title. Vermaelen got sent off by a crappy refereeing error, and we're scratching our heads whether to play Song in defence against Birmingham in order to save Campbell for the quarter-final tie against Barcelona.

Almunia saved our bacon against West Ham. Eboue's in fine form. Denilson did well and scored a goal. Arshavin was wistless and disinterested, but apparently it was because he was sick and couldn't run far. Diaby, Cesc and Denilson had better step up against Birmingham because we really need three points from a tough away game without Vermaelen. And Messi's just scored his second La Liga hattrick in a row and I'm torn between crapping myself with worry that he'll do that against us, or crapping my joy that I get to see such a fine player play.

However, I've been distracted lately. I've spent the last couple of days converting my CD collection to iTunes. I became interested in the Genius and Genius Mix functions in iTunes, and endeavoured to figure out how it works. Turns out you need a really large, varied music library to get appropriate mixes.

118 CDs later, I'm still not sure how Genius works. iTunes has divided my collection into sections with names like "Electro-Pop Mix", "Adult Alternative Rock Mix", "Adult Alternative Mix", "Alternative Pop/Rock Mix", "Brit-Pop and Rock Mix", "Grunge Mix" "Neo-Soul Mix" and the strangely named "Surf/Garage Revival Mix". Now, you could probably capture 80% of my CDs under "Alternative Mix", but what's with all these different categories? What's the difference between "Adult Alternative" (which for some reason includes Dido), and "Adult Alternative Rock" (which somehow includes gospel music from the Blind Boys of Alabama)?

I'm more puzzled with Genius than I was when I first stumbled upon it. What's the deal with Genius? Does anyone outside of Apple know how it works, who decides which songs go under which categories? And does anyone know why every other song I'm playing seems to be Coldplay? I mean, I like them, but I don't like them that much.

I'm thinking that if I get more albums, maybe some soul, or jazz, definitely more hip-hop and dance, then I can straighten Genius out, and get categories that aren't just different shades of the same colour. I've got one that's called "Neo-Soul" - I want more categories than sound as cool as that.

Apple is insidious. iTunes is manipulative. Genius is a marketing ploy that'll soon suck all the money from my bank account. But it'll all so shiny and seductive and I can't resist. I'm deep in tech-lust, and even my love for Arsenal won't drag me away from the lure of the perfect music collection.

Arsenal vs Birmingham? I'm more concerned about how Dido gets into my Indie Rock Mix.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thoughts about Chamakh's mullet

I just finished watching Bordeaux vs Olympiakos. Rumour has it that Marouane Chamakh is coming to Arsenal next season, and after this morning's performance, I wouldn't be displeased if it happened. There's a lot to like about Chamkah's game. He's fast, strong, got a good leap, and would fit in well at the top of our 4-3-3.

Of course, Chamakh isn't the finished article. He doesn't score a lot of goals (but then which Arsenal striker does?). He doesn't have a good first touch (then again, neither does Bendtner). There's still the nagging suspicion that we're targeting him because he's cheaper than say, Karim Benzema. But still, I'd be happy to see him in a red shirt with white sleeves next season.

The other thing I like about Chamakh is that he's got an amazing mullet. In a world of short-back-and-sides, Chamakh stand out like a denim-clad bogan at a society ball. I like it because it's a classic mullet - very short at the top and the sides, and a long tail at the back. A lot of Latin players have long hair that's held back with an alice band, but it's not the same as a genuine mullet.

The mullet had its hey-day in the 70s and 80s, when just about every major sportsman sported a mullet and a 'mo. Since then, its popularity has declined. There are still a few mullets floating around in sport, but it's increasingly rare in the English-speaking world. A good omen is that those few footballers who DO sport mullets seem to be quite good players.

Eduardo da Silva had one when he first signed with us, but has since succumbed to peer pressure and gone for a short-back-and-sides. Is it any wonder that his drop in form coincided with his change in haircut (as well as the horrific, near injury-ending tackle)? Grow the mullet, Eduardo, and the goals will flow like your lanky neck hair!

Sergio Aguero is famous for being Maradona's successor and Maradona's son-in-law, but he should probably also be known as heir to Maradona's mullet. I think he's gone for the long hair with Alice-band combo now, but this picture of him with the Argentina side shows how much post-Maradona Argentina has missed a fast impish player with a bogan haircut.

And then, of course, there's the best player in the world. Lionel Messi has been in a mullet for as long as I can remember, and I dare say it's helped him in his development. Maybe it helps his balance. Maybe because his neck is obscured, the opposition can't tell which way he's going to turn. Who knows, but there's got to be a reason he's kept it all these years.

Now, I'm not saying Chamakh's going to be as good as Aguero or Messi (or as good as Eduardo was before he changed his hairstyle), but you can't deny the pattern. A striker with a mullet is a good prospect. I know it. You know it. And most importantly, Arsene Wenger knows it.

Arsene Knows.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thoughts on Arsenal vs Porto

This is the first game I've seen in a while, and it's been pretty good. Maybe it's because I haven't watched the Arsenal on TV for a few months, but I'm impressed by how well we're passing. It's one of those things you take for granted, but we are very pleasing on the eye.

I'm impressed by Arshavin. Flick-ons, through-balls, headers - the little guy's been doing it all. I'm surprised by how many headers he's won so far - two. The first was a goal attempt at the far post, and the second a head-on from a upfield hoof. It doesn't sound like much, but remember he's only 5 foot tall.

2-0 to the Arsenal now, but I get the feeling that we're one Almunia moment away from being level. We need a third goal.

I think Bendy's doing quite well. You don't get a brace by playing poorly, but I'm impressed by his centre-fowarding as a whole. He's offering himself as an aerial threat, he's holding up balls, he's scoring goals.... he's the kind of traditional centre-forward we've been lacking the whole season.

I think I've figured out why Arshavin looks so much like an owl. It's because he has no neck and wears a white turtle-neck under his shirt. Necklessness is probably a genetic quirk of the Russians (better for heat-retention), but why does he choose to accentuate his owlishness by wearing a turtle-neck? He looks like a screech owl hunching his shoulders on a cold day. Well, he'd know better than me; I'm not a fashion design major.

Half-time, and I'm wondering if it's ironic for Cristano Ronaldo to appear in a Castrol Oil commercial. Then again, I suppose if you're going to wreck an expensive sports car on a Manchester highway, you'd want to make sure the engine's well lubricated.

Porto's playing better after the break. Falcao shot, Almunia spilled, and then scrambled for the ball. Scary stuff. I'm wondering if it's possible for Arsenal to sustain the form of the 1st half for a whole game. We've certainly gone down a couple of gears. I'm also wondering if Wenger's ultimate goal is to get Arsenal playing that kind of football for 90 minutes. Maybe the reason we're getting all those injuries is because Wenger's winding our players so tightly that they start falling apart?

I'm thinking we need a third goal. Nasri just cleared the ball off the line with his thigh. We can't keep relying on Nasri's dodgy thigh (or Almunia's dodgy hands for that matter) to keep a clean sheet. 3-0 and we're flying. 2-0 and we're one goal away from being on level terms.

Nasri. 3-0. Very nice. Okay, that's it. I'm going to have to go to work now.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Arsenal don't like the hard stuff

Plucky Burnley aren't going to be intimidated by our broken legs, injured players and whinging manager. They're going to go out and play their natural game, and to hell with the consequences. As Burnley defender Leon Cort said:

"We are going to go there and still throw tackles in because it is a physical game and we are fighting for our lives. I don't believe anyone goes there to kick them. People know that when they play against Arsenal they have to get in their faces and stop them from playing.

"Maybe Arsene's done it for a psychological advantage. Quite a lot of his players are small and move the ball a lot quicker so there are going to be a lot of mis-timed tackles. A lot of teams try to get tight to them and put them under pressure when they get the ball as if they don't they will punish you."

Attaboy, Leon. It takes courage to stick the boot in. It takes a real man to come in late on a challenge to let those fancy-dan foreigners know what English football's really about, innit? Got to show them that they're in a real game, and you're not just going to roll over and lose. And if another one of those Arsenal players gets his leg snapped like a twig, it was just an accident, wasn't it? And you can't blame a guy for committing an accident.

My favourite line from the above is that "maybe Arsenal have done it for a psychological advantage". Yes Leon, Arsenal have done it for a psychological benefit. We purposely got Smith to break Diaby's ankle, Taylor to break Eduardo's foot, and Shawcross to break Ramsey's leg, in order to take the violent, reckless tackling out of English football. It's part of a huge conspiracy, fronted by Blatter and Platini, to neuter the English game and take English players away from the English League, in order to cripple England's chances of winning the World Cup.

The line I'm most worried about is that Leon Cort believes that they are "fighting for their lives". Judging from his statement to the Sun, he wasn't the brightest kid in the classroom. I'm worried that he might take it literally, think he really is fighting for his life. A man does desperate things in desperate situations. I'm afraid that if someone doesn't take him aside and gently explain how a metaphor works, Cort will take to the field with a shank glued to the underside of his boots, in order to show the Arsenal that it's a physical game, innit?

Of course, a player like Cort takes his cue from his manager. Which brings us to Burnley manager Brian Laws, who seems to have taken the wrong lessons from the Ramsey injury:

"I think everyone seems to be focusing on the Ramsey scenario and no-one wishes an injury like that on anyone. Arsene Wenger has mentioned the fact and so it gets scrutinised even more. But we can't worry about that as long as we go in there and challenge fairly and be strong. People talk about 'getting in their faces' and if that is what it takes then that is what we will have to do."

Next season, I strongly advocate we dress our boys up in full suits of armour. It's the only way we're going to keep their bones inside their skin. And if we give them maces, our boys could create a few "accidents" of our own.

I really, really hope we stuff them.