Costa Thrives on the Big Stage as Curtain Falls on Gabriel

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I could be accused of only writing as a form of venting, and such an accusation would probably be meritorious. Unfortunately in the last couple seasons, I have rarely had the combination of pride in the team’s play and free time to put together a positive read. There has been growth from this team, and although we continue to be far from actual title contenders in either the EPL or the CL, we are closer than we have been over the past half-decade. Maybe that too is as much a criticism as it is a compliment.

Today we faced a Chelsea side ailing in the league, although fresh off a predictable thumping of Tel-Aviv. Arsenal’s situation provided a bit of a contrast – decent in the league, if not imperious, but having been made to blush after a loss away in Zagreb. Excepting a draw, which was probably the predictable likely outcome, the pre-written headline outcomes would either be (1) Arsenal compound the champions’ misery or (2) Chelsea get their season back on track as Mourinho gets another over Wenger. Just as the sun rose this morning, the latter occurred – Arsenal let their opponents up off the mat and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chavs start to kick on from here.

Arsenal played pretty well today, it must be said. Theo looked really lively up front and went some way to convincing me he could actually play centre-forward on a regular basis. Even with Chelsea’s stingy, compact and structured defence, he found space behind the lines and asked questions. His presence clearly opened space for the Arsenal midfield too, who dominated possession for much of the early going. Ozil was majestic, Coquelin continued to look like he’s been playing in the league for years, and Monreal found some nice spaces although his chance-creation was a bit lacklustre. I also noted Alexis and Ramsey seem to be struggling to score, and may be suffering from being in their own head a bit on that front.

Like any good play, a peaceful beginning is soon interrupted by the entrance of the antagonist; in this case, the dreaded Diego Costa. Truly a brutish force, intent on destroying all that is good in the world, Costa played his part superbly.

It would be all too easy to cast Costa as the reason for Arsenal’s failings and take some moral high ground to suggest that he should not act how he does. But that would be to miss the point entirely. Costa did exactly what he was supposed to do. Right off the script, he tried to get under the Arsenal players skin using his trademark mixture of talent and grit (bordering on dirty). If you saw the slaps and shoves straight into the face of Koscielny, you witnessed a microcosm of Costa’s character. Koscielny, the shining knight, shrugged off the antics of the man and won the mental battle for a time.

Unfortunately, a newer man to the screen did not know his lines. Gabriel bought into Costa’s chicanery and allowed himself to foolishly become incensed, leading to an unnecessary yellow card. When he was supposed to walk away, Gabriel continued to escalate the situation and Mike Dean duly directed an end to his cameo with a harsh second yellow – resulting in the appearance of a card as red as Gabby’s face. There would be no redeeming Act as the remainder of the game saw Arsenal fruitlessly trying to push a bus up a mountain. It eventually rolled backwards as the Chavs killed off the game late: 2-0 the final.

Look. All dramatic analogies aside, Gabriel is a professional footballer playing against a guy who’s stock-in-trade is mind games. Costa does his job exceptionally well and at this level, you need to be able to keep your emotions in control. Arsenal fans should turn their disappointment inwards and question why our players are so mentally unready for games at the highest level of emotion. This isn’t Mike Dean’s fault (although I thought his handling of the situation was poor) and it’s not Costa’s fault for succeeding in being a rabble-rousing shit disturber (even if you don’t approve it on a sporting level). Gabriel couldn’t handle himself, and Arsenal didn’t have a big enough personality (i.e. a proper captain) to go in there, look at Gabriel and say “Calm yourself down or I’ll put you in your place”. I recognize how tiresome it is to constantly bring up the personalities of yesteryear, but do you think Vieira, Campbell or Adams would allow a player to stupidly talk-and-chip himself into a second yellow? Those guys weren’t strangers to red cards, but they would break someone in half on their way to collecting it. They knew you don’t waste your card accumulation on incidentals arising from talking – if you are going to take a card, you make sure it’s worthwhile.

On that note, I feel obligated to mention my ongoing lack of faith in Cazorla as a DMF. He constantly has to take yellow cards because he doesn’t have the pace or physicality to match the more rambunctious midfielders in the Premier League. He took a yellow today and minutes (seconds?) later had to let Hazard ghost past him because he couldn’t commit another foul. Eventually he did commit a similar foul to the one passed up there and was appropriately awarded a second yellow, compounding Arsenal’s embarrassing day. This position needs strengthening much more than striker. It is a massive weak spot in the Arsenal structure and neither Cazorla nor Arteta are appropriate to play the position the way it needs to be done for Arsenal to compete for the titles they pay lipservice towards. Forget Benzema – this is THE position that needs tuning.

I will part ways for now with this article posted-but-unedited, as my aforementioned lacking free time has since expired. Check back in a day for an update.

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The (Fantasy) Premier League is Back

quinnboslice-120Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Last campaign, I played Fantasy Premier League (FPL) for the first time. You wouldn’t believe how quickly I regretted my decision to do so. This is the story of my team, the Banter Battalion, and its arduous journey on the highway to the banter zone.

The first problem that I had with FPL was brought about by my own naïve fervor. If you have never played before, the most simplistic summary I can offer is that you are given a budget and tasked with assembling a team comprised entirely of players from the “Greatest League in the World”. Players are awarded points for the laudable things they do on the pitch, like scoring goals, making tackles, and telling Diego Costa he has a horrible, horrible face. Crucially, after you’ve done your best Brenden Rodgers and splashed the cash on this year’s disappointments, you can apply that team to as many leagues as you wish. This is where my eagerness became a problem.

The process went something like this: So I know there’s a *CanadianGunners league. Count me in. Oh there’s an Arsenal Canada league too? Yes, please, I’ll join that. What’s next, a T-Dot Gooners league? Oh. (Joins T-Dot Gooners league.) A league for Gooners who like Arsenal? Well that’s.. whatever; sure. It got to a point where I was probably competing against everyone who has ever been annoyed by Michael Owen. I lost control.

I lose control often. Evidence: this is a Frankenstein’s monster I created when I thought about Fantasy sports all too literally. Arteta’s hair, Giroud’s face, Özil’s eyes, and Santi’s eyebrows (don’t ask).

I lose control often. Evidence: this is a Frankenstein’s monster I created when I thought about Fantasy sports literally. Arteta’s hair, Giroud’s face, Özil’s eyes, and Santi’s eyebrows (don’t ask).

My pursuit of silverware across numerous leagues was bad because my initial squad was bad and this made me feel bad. In the first few weeks, being new and all, I had players starting who didn’t end up on the field in the “real world”. Jenkinson got hurt in preseason. José Mourinho somehow brainwashed me into splashing the fake cash on Filipe Luís; that really says volumes. The guy doesn’t look far off of ole’ Goonerstein up there, all you’d need to do is significantly downgrade the hair and weaken the jawline. Anyway, the Banter Battalion was being bantered off at water coolers nationwide. Horror struck me. I had been spending all this time accumulating cred on the internet, writing about Arsenal, and there I was, publicly bumping elbows with the cellar dwellers.

That’s the first reason I regretted signing-up at all. I was running the risk of losing my hordes of screaming fans, my literal tens of followers, my respect, my pride. But that’s not the only reason I regretted my participation. What comes next is not easy for me to reveal openly.

Go on...

Go on…

(Forgive me Dennis for I have sinned.) I employed the services of Harry Kane, Cesc Fabregas, and many of the other monsters you check under your bed for at night. As much as I could, I tried to bring balance to the force, retaining 3 Arsenal players at all times (3 is the maximum number of players you can have from any given team in FPL). But there are just too many players who I/we abhor, regardless of their productivity on the pitch. My hiring of the wicked, of course, brings about a veritable host of moral dilemmas capable of crushing the football fan. Do I play Harry Kane, Sp*rs striker and Vice Scumbag (no one usurps Kyle Walker), against the mighty Arsenal, or do I play some budget striker like Maroune Chamakh against literally any football team of any age on any planet? If I opt for Kane, do I take any solace in his garbage goals at the expense of the Arsenal? If I opt for Chamakh, can I really blame you if you stop reading? Fantasy ain’t easy, folks.

So there the Banter Battalion stood, low in the league and heavy on my soul. I learned though. I learned to enjoy tinkering like Arsène, and before long through equal parts effort and luck, I climbed right up the table. In the end, I plateaued in or around the top 4 (yet never really challenged for title) in most of my leagues, putting my Gooner heart at ease and saving my fantasy reputation (pun intended). I also learned to enjoy it, to maneuver the moral dilemmas and to find other likeable players and clubs in the league. That’s really the joy of FPL, it gives you something to care about during the Merseyside Derby, the Tyne-Wear Derby, the Oil Barron Derby, and so on. I found myself planted on my couch, enjoying QPR against Who Cares FC thanks solely to Charlie Austin. And in that same spot, realizing Chelsea are boring whether you own a number of their players or not.

Ultimately, as I’ve tried to make clear, the highway to the banter zone is a winding one. Your captain will get a red card, forcing you to lose double points. Your best defender will score an own goal. Your fox in the box will go the way of Yaya Sanogo. But that’s fine. It’s out of your hands. Learn, speculate, have some fun. Go as far as writing a less-than-serious blog post about FPL to cover up the fact that you spend hours tinkering and have next to nothing to show for it.

Come on then, what are you waiting for? Think of a nifty name, tinker away, and compete against Gooners near and far.

Also, feel free to discuss the merits of Clyne versus Darmian and much more with the former manager of the Banter Battalion and current manager of Mesut for Mayor, me: @quinnboslice_

*There will be a CanadianGunners FPL league again this season. It’s not up yet, but follow @CanadianGunners so you don’t miss the details!

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Home Away from Home

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Ich bin ein Gooner.

Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory against Reading brought me back. To the Fox, to my basement, to the true north strong and free. For those who aren’t aware (read: everyone; you), I am currently travelling throughout Germany, and have been doing so for three weeks now. At the time of writing, I’m in my room in Berlin, accompanied only by a few empty Berliner Pilsner bottles and an empty bag of curiously flavoured “Balsamico” chips. I only ate the whole bag because my curiosity never faded, and because I was testing my willpower to withstand this disgrace to one of my favourite preparations of veg. Anyway, a lot of things are different here in Germany. The love of Arsenal however, is not.

Saturday, the 18th of April was a day of football to rival all others. Just 50 metres from my room, there’s a dusty football court. On Saturday morning, I laced up, threw on my Özil (Germany) kit, and kicked around as if I was Mesut’s slightly less-skilled, long-lost (in more ways than one) younger brother. The excitement of Arsenal’s looming semi-final was pumping through my veins and the skill of Gervinho on one of his oft off days was present in both of my left feet.

It was like trying to beat Federici.

It was like trying to beat Federici.

After about an hour of pretending the left post was Michael Owen, the right post was José Mourinho, and the crossbar was the lady from Bulk Barn who didn’t hire me years ago, I returned to my flat. Before long, however, I was to walk out the door again. I had a ticket to see Hertha BSC host Poldi’s beloved 1. FC Köln at Olympiastadion Berlin. Besides beers and brats, a nil-nil result meant there wasn’t much to write about. I should point out that Hertha played Chelsea-reject, Solomon Kalou, up front, so I suppose “goals” were a bit too much to ask for from the home side.

Next, I was one of those fans who you shake your head at for leaving a match early. I wasn’t racing to get ahead on the Lakeshore or the Gardiner, but I did have places to be. I had to go to what turned out to be a home away from home. Blarney Irish Pub in Kreuzberg, the home of Berlin’s gooners, was the endpoint entered into my phone’s GPS. In the end, I didn’t need my phone to navigate, for in the U-Bahn I saw one of those red torso’d, white sleeved jerseys that I am/we are so fond of. The man’s name was Stefan, he was German gooner, and he went out of his way to help me feel welcome in his little part of the big #GoonerFamily. He didn’t just let me walk with him to the pub; he personally introduced me to the other gooners and kindly opened a beer bottle with his teeth for me upon arrival. Germany.

It starts to get hazy from there for a number of reasons. Blarney’s is owned by a Manchester United supporter, and since our cup tie was at the same time as their league match against Chelsea, gooners were relegated to a separate, small room in the back. Germany’s smoking laws are a lot less strict than Canada’s, so it was a bit like watching a game from inside a telephone booth with Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny. The rest of the haze came from the clinking, sloshing, beers, and perhaps the pandemonium of the match itself.

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One of the loudest cheers that filled our little room came as a response to the sound of United fans cheering in the other room. The Berlin Arsenal contingent was optimistic, willing to cheer for United at the expense of Chelsea and thus to the benefit of our title hopes. Anyway, it was an interesting dynamic to be in a pub split with two rival fan bases, whose teams were playing in two separate matches, and as a gooner, to be cheering that rival team on too (though I suspect they weren’t doing the same for us, the Fellaini loving jerks).

What I remember of our match, besides the goals and Ramsey hitting the post, was my feeling of confidence throughout. At no point in last year’s cup run did I ever feel like I did at Blarney Irish Pub. We’ve done this already. We’ve played ourselves into worse corners before, and we’ve prevailed, over clubs big and small. Every gooner wanted last year’s silverware to push us on for more this year, and while our haul will at best match last year’s, I’m adamant that progress has been made. Our current squad can compete with the rest of the Premier League, we just need to put together a full season for once.

But that’s a post for another day. For now, soak up the win, the return to Wembley; get excited for Sunday’s match versus Chelsea and the prospect of a symbolic victory; and know that there are some German gooners half the world away who will welcome your help in letting a bar of United fans know who we are (the famous Arsenal), where we’re going (to Wembley), and exactly what colour ribbon she wore (yellow).

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