Football

Non-followers of football will look at the record £1 billion spent in the recently concluded English football summer transfer window and go,”Where the heck did all this money come from?” They would then take one step further and think, “What are all these ‘clubs’ anyway?” Finally, they would look at the millions of beer-toting, song-singing fans of the various aforementioned clubs and   “Why do so many people support this silly soccer thing?”

This is a question I have asked myself many times. Why do I spend 2 hours every Saturday (or Sunday) night glued to my television when there are so many better things I could do? Why do I care more about the fortunes 20-something year-olds thousands of miles away than my exam results?

It has always been my personal belief that mere words cannot do justice to what sporting fandom is all about. That fiery passion must be experienced, it cannot be understood. Nevertheless, I will try to synthesise, into words, my pseudo-obsession for close to the past decade.

The love for the game

The unenlightened see 22 hairy men chasing after a ball, we see “a defence-splitting 60 yard cross-field ball” or “an inch-perfect cross”. In essence, football is a game. But it’s a wonderful, beautiful game.Football is a dynamic game that is for the most part, extremely exciting and entertaining to watch. When you spend hours and hours a week poring over how many passes Santi Cazorla completed in a match, or how many interceptions Francis Coquelin has made, you know that the game means something to you. There’s something very graceful and at the same time majestic about the way certain footballers play. They never fail to impress us. From the greatest intellectuals to those living the simplest of lives, anyone can appreciate the game of football. 

The need for a cause

How did a group of munition workers from Woolwich playing football together become one of the largest sporting enterprises the world over?

It’s because of fans.There will eventually come a time when every football fan (99.9%) will decide on a team they support. From Manchester City right at the top of the Barclays Premier League to Esh Winning at the bottom of Division 2 of the Northern League, every club has its die-hard fans.

It is at this point where we transition from objective bystanders to supremely biased supporters. To be fair, there are only so many times you can analyse match tactics, substitutions, every team and every kick of the ball. Supporting a team provides us a cause to rally behind, an identity to root for. I used to think it could be considered a tertiary social group. That goes to show how connected we are to the club we support.

It can apply to national teams too. There is a rumour that Mexico’s crime rate goes down when the national team is playing. Whether this is true or not, it shows that no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, we’re all united in this common cause. And it’s a great feeling. We can meet a fellow fan we’ve never seen before but give him the biggest hug we’ve ever given anyone when our team scores a goal. That’s how much this cause means to us.

The human spirit

Football, and sport in general, is so widely loved because it epitomises the human spirit. It is indeed hard to place a finger on it, but there is a certain stirring of the soul when we see the joy that so many sportsmen embody when they are doing what they love, or when we see great fortitude displaced in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.  I dare say it’s infectious, even though were so so far away. When someone plays on despite this, koscielny-injury

we know how much it means to him. Jonas Gutierrez of Newcastle, a “rival” club, inspired me greatly when he refused to give up on football even after getting testicular cancer. We know how much football means to them, and that means something to us. Above the rivalry and competition, what binds us together is our humanity. It’s in these occasional moments of beauty that we find the greatest meaning in sport, and football. Ridiculously enough, I have been brought to tears a number of times whilst watching football.

But the torch of the human spirit is not just carried by the players. It’s carried by the fans too. Though we are polarised by the different clubs we support, we are united by our love for football. It’s great to see fans who know that following football is about fun, and who never lose sight of this objective. It’s great to see fans doing this:wales-v-northern-ireland

A means of escape

We all live in a world which is becoming increasingly competitive. The hustle-and-bustle of daily life can always get us down. But even on that most stressful of weeks, where it seems like everything is against us, for 2 hours, sitting  on the couch, it’s almost as if all our worries go away. The joy of victory or the pain of defeat will surely distract us from all our troubles. Football is a tried-and-tested means of escape from whatever life may throw at us.

We’re all fans to varying degrees. For some, it’s a hobby, a means of relaxation. For others, it’s an obsession. But what unites us all is that watching 22 men (mustn’t forget the sweeper keepers) gives us incomparable pleasure.

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On Injuries

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It pains me greatly to see play carrying on when a player is down injured. Isn’t this just a game? Surely the health of the player is more important than trying to score that additional goal. How can people carry on when their friend is lying on the ground writhing in pain, desperately in need of medical attention?

But then again, I stand in the privileged shoes of the bystander. Perhaps it would be unfair of me to take the moral high ground because I’m not the one whose livelihood depends on the outcome of the match, nor I am the one who has put hours and hours of training week in a week out for those 90 minutes. So we establish that it might be difficult for some players to stop play voluntarily when the rules don’t call for it. To be fair, it is perfectly legal for them to continue playing on, as they did on Saturday.

Therefore, the onus is on the governing body to do something about it. Yes, they want a smooth match, and yes, they want to entertain the fans, but surely the welfare of the players is more important. As of now, the rules state that referees are obligated to stop the match only if a player is “seriously injured”. Laurent Koscielny’s injury against Southampton seemed pretty serious to me. FIFA has to lead from the front, by ensuring that players’ welfare are given utmost importance, starting with the rules.

Arsenal 2 Southampton 1: Match Report

A painful victory to watch, both literally and figuratively.

New boys Shkrodan Mustafi and Lucas Perez made their debut in red and white. The former looked solid at the back, while the little Spaniard plugged away endlessly but to no avail.

The same could be said for most of the Arsenal line-up, as the likes of Ozil, Cazorla, the Ox and Walcott toiling relentlessly with little end product. The first goal came for Southampton, as Dusan Tadic struck a lovely free kick which Cech did manage to tip onto the bar, but the ball bounced back off, struck the big Czech on the floor and rolled into the net. 1-0 Southampton. But Arsenal struck back soon after. Following 1 corner and 2 aerial duels, captain for the day (and probably most of the season) Laurent Koscielny struck a delicious overhead kick to send the ball into the bottom corner. It was 1-1 at the break.

The second half, and the whole match in general, was a highly scrapp encounter, with Southampton doing most of the scrapping. Shane Long did have a few chances though, notably sending a chip over Cech but also just wide of the post. It must be said, Southampton defended valiantly and brilliantly, throwing their bodies in front of hopeful Arsenal shots time and time again, with shots from Arsenal registering only 2 out of 15 shots on target on the day. The players missed a few good chances as well, with Cazorla missing a great chance to finish of a fine move, choosing to pass the ball instead. Something needs to be done. Hopefully Lucas Perez, who didn’t have much joy against a solid pairing of Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk will help to solve the profligacy in front of goal.

The introduction of Giroud, Sanchez and Iwobi added some impetus to the attack, with the Chilean especially causing some problems for the hitherto resolute Southampton defense. But it was not to be, as Arsenal attacks broke down time and time again before anyone could pull the trigger.

But there was still to be late drama. After a goalmouth scramble, Laurent Koscielny was inadvertently booted in the face by a Southampton defender and lay in Saints’ six-yard box, bleeding from one eye. But play continued, and Olivier Giroud was brought down by Jose Fonte in the box. It would probably have been a penalty at another point in the match. But in the 92nd minute and with a man down, it was slightly controversial. Nonetheless, young referee Bobby Madley – who had been doing a good job the whole game, albeit with quite a few yellow cards – pointed to the spot. After a few minutes of treatment for the fallen Frenchman, Santi Cazorla stepped up and smashed the penalty down the middle, again! He then kissed his wrist, as is his custom.

Arsenal then had to weather a few waves of Southampton attacks, and as any Arsenal fan with a bit of experience would, I was on the edge of my seat. Thankfully, there was not to be any further drama. And it’s got to be said, it feels like the experience which Petr Cech adds at the back helps in situations like this.

In the end, the 3 points were acquired, but not in the way Arsene Wenger would have liked. It was ugly, it was undeserved (to some extent), but a win is a win. And we’ll take any we can get. Let’s just hope next week is easier on the eye.

COYG!

25-man squad list

Premier League clubs have released their 25-man squad lists, and Arsenal’s has no surprises.

Goalkeepers (4)
Petr Cech
David Ospina
Emiliano Martinez*
Matt Macey*

Defenders (8)
Kieran Gibbs*
Carl Jenkinson*
Nacho Monreal
Mathieu Debuchy
Gabriel
Per Mertesacker
Shkodran Mustafi
Laurent Koscielny

Midfielders (6)
Granit Xhaka
Francis Coquelin*
Santi Cazorla
Mohamed Elneny
Mesut Ozil
Aaron Ramsey*
Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain*

Forwards (6)
Alexis Sanchez
Yaya Sanogo
Theo Walcott*
Danny Welbeck*
Olivier Giroud
Lucas Perez

Contrary to certain rumours, Mathieu Debuchy is in the squad.

*Homegrown player
Rules stipulate that at least 8 players in the squad must be “homegrown”, for a 25-man squad i.e. maximum of 17 foreign players no matter the squad size. A homegrown players is “a player who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21)” (Premier League website).

Essentially, this means a player who has been in England/Wales since 18 years old or younger. Arsenal have 9 of those in the squad, with 6 Englishmen, 1 Welshman, 1 Frenchman, and 1 Argentine.

Changes to the squad can only be made during a transfer window

Note: Under 21 players need not be included, so new signing Rob Holding, starter Hector Bellerin and others such as Alex-Iwobi are not on the list, though they are likely to feature.

New signings!!!

Gooners on my side of the world would have woken up to the good news that Arsenal have made 2 new signings, centre-back Shkrodan Mustafi from Valencia for a fee believed to be in excess of £35 million, and striker Lucas Perez from Deportivo la coruna, activating his€20 million buy-out clause.

The deals are not done and dusted yet, with medicals still to be completed, but things are looking up. More details on the players soon.

 

 

Emiliano Viviano

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Remember him?
Was looking at a list of recent Arsenal transfers when I saw that name. “Sounds familiar, but who’s that?” And then I remembered (with some help from google)
He was an Italian goalkeeper. We loaned him from Palermo after his loan to Fiorentina, he sat on the bench for most of that loan period, and when Ospina came, he went back. If you’re interested, he now plays for Sampdoria,so good on him.
Interestingly, I believe he was our last Italian player. Given, he was on loan and he played 0 competitive games, but they all count right?

On nationalities, my curiosity piqued, I took a look at Arsenal’s current first team squad breakdown. This is what I saw*:

8 English

4 French

4 Spaniards

3 Germans

2 Czechs

1 Columbian

1 Welsh

1 Brazilian

1 Chilean

1 Swiss

1 Egyptian

1 Costa Rican

It’s good that there is still the presence of an English “core”. But the fact that none of them were assured starters last season is rather worrying. But, that’s an issue for another time.

Speaking of which, Italy,  though gunner-less, have a team to watch this Euro. That all-Juventus backline of Chiellini, Bonnuci, Barzagli and Buffon is MASSIVE (in the figurative and literal sense). They’re definitely not the youngest, but as I’m sure Monsieur Wenger has learnt in recent years, experience at the back counts for much. And that Bonnuci pass for Giaccherini’s goal… OHHH, simply sumptuous.

*Players out on loan were not included