How is the New-Look Arsenal Shaping Up?

Arsenal has played six games this season (5 in the EPL, 1 in the Champions League) so I feel it is a good time for an assessment following the big changes in their lineup from last season.  Through the matches, Arsenal has won 3 and drawn 3.

After a few nervous 0-0 draws to start the season, the Gunners have come alive.  New signings Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have provided excellent goals and the team looks very strong in defense.  Abou Diaby has thankfully stayed injury-free and provides a large force in the middle of the team.  Long forgotten are the high-scoring Robin van Persie and the tackling of Alex Song who have seemingly been replaced with ease.  Theo Walcott has been relegated to the bench over his contract situation, but hasn’t been missed thanks to the good play of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Against Manchester City, Arsenal looked the better side although they did have to fight back for the 1-1 draw.  This match was their first real test of the season, and I felt they came through in exciting fashion, earning a draw away to the Premier League Champions.

One player that I feel is beginning to really add to the team is Carl Jenkinson: the young right back. He has had his share of growing pains, but against Man City he was terrific.  He repeatedly made forward runs and even got completely free in on the end line during the first half, beating Joleon Lescott and setting up a good chance.  He also provides good low cross, which resulted in a goal against Montpellier, and almost beat goalkeeper Joe Hart during this match.  Crossing has been suspect at Arsenal for as long as I can remember, so this is a valuable addition to the squad. I feel that Bacary Sagna may find it hard to break back into the team once he recovers from injury.

It’s not all great for Arsenal though.  Olivier Giroud has failed to take over the central striker role, and Arsene Wenger’s plan B, Gervinho, isn’t necessarily the answer either.  He scored two goals in the 6-1 drubbing of Southampton, and he got a tap-in for the victory against Montpellier, but he sure does make a mess of most his chances and was woeful against Manchester City, the first good defense he has faced.

He is a very unpredictable player.  He’ll get the ball and one simply cannot reason where he’ll go.  The only problem is that 95% of the time he is dispossessed.  He wasted a golden opportunity at Manchester City in the first half when he was free in on goal, and his first touch gave the ball right to Hart.

Personally, I feel that Lukas Podolski ought to be given more opportunities in a central role.  Perhaps place Gervinho back out on that left wing where his trickery and pace are more useful.  Podolski looks the man who can actually score goals in the Arsenal offense.

But what makes me most excited about this team is their defensive improvements.  This is not only evident in their back line, but in the overall defensive effort of the entire team.  Everyone looks far more determined to win the ball back, and rarely does the team get caught on a counter attack.  They have only conceded three goals through six games.  Therefore, I have high hopes for the season and feel that Arsenal could have a say in the title race come the New Year.

What Does Liverpool Need to Do?

Liverpool has been in a state of disarray for roughly three seasons with final standings of 7th, 6th, and 8th in their most recent English Premier League seasons.  This campaign currently finds them in 17th place with only two points from four matches.  The start under new manager Brendan Rodgers has been the worst start to a Premier League campaign in over 100 years for Liverpool.  It seems as if the Reds are a team of the past and that their star is fading fast.  What can they possibly do to correct this team?

Clearly, the team suffered following the departure of Xabi Alonso, who was an anchor in the heart of the midfield.  Quite astonishingly, the club hasn’t really made any serious moves to replace him.  Javier Mascherano, his supposed replacement left the following year.   Recently the club brought in Raul Meireles, who performed very well but then set sail for Chelsea after only one season.

And now, instead of investing in this position, Liverpool has spent their funds on seemingly every position but the one they need, with big purchases like striker Andy Carroll and a host of more attack minded English midfielders like Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, and most recently Joe Allen.  These players are largely inexperienced and have failed to establish a solid midfield at Anfield.

What is most alarming has been the downfall of captain Steven Gerrard.  Gerrard is by far the most acclaimed Liverpool player and was one of the best during the mid 2000’s, leading Liverpool to a UEFA Champions League victory with stunning goals and relentless leadership.

But in recent seasons, Steven Gerrard has disappeared.  Since 2009, after his last season paired with Xabi Alonso, Stevie G has failed to score ten goals a season in the Premier League.  That season he amassed a personal best of 16, but he has yet to rediscover that sort of form.  Worse yet, he has been sidelined for much of the last two years through injuries and clearly Liverpool lacks the depth to replace him.

He seems to play desperately now.  In the most recent match, a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, I saw him repeatedly go for glory and miss on several long-range efforts, the kind that he used to score.  Also, I noticed that he would receive the ball at midfield and hopelessly blast it up to a forward but end up turning the ball over.  This occurred several times throughout the match and perhaps one could suggest that his best days are well behind him.  At age 32, Gerrard should be playing near his top and this drop in play is frightening.

In summary, I feel that Liverpool needs to buy a good defensive midfielder, with experience, who can come in and help re-establish the heart of Liverpool.  Perhaps that will re-kindle the fire in Steven Gerrard, but I worry that we may never see his former greatness again, and that Liverpool may want to part ways with their captain if they wish to once again see sunlight.

Team USA Needs to Regroup after Jamaica Setback

America is usually one to dominate the World Cup qualification from the CONCACAF region, which is filled with Caribbean island nations and Central American teams.  Currently in the second round of qualifiers, America is joined in a group with Guatemala, Jamaica, and Antigua and Barbuda.  Though on paper these teams hardly pose a threat, the reality of the situation is that through three games played America has earned one win, one draw, and most recently a loss when they played Jamaica in Kingston.

This leaves them tied for second in a group where only two teams will progress to the final round to decide who makes it to Brazil 2014.  For a team like America, this is unacceptable.  As the youth team learned when they were denied a place at the 2012 Olympics, there is little room for error and complacency in these high-stakes matches.

Yes there are excuses to be heard, such as the injuries to Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley that prevented them from playing in the Jamaica matches.  Yes, Clint Dempsey is way out of form because of his summer transfer saga that saw him refuse to play for Fulham while he secured a move to Tottenham.  Dempsey played 90 minutes in the Jamaica loss, and although he triumphantly scored a tap-in goal after only 30 seconds, he didn’t do much else and looked sluggish.  I’m not sure how much he will be able to play during the home match tomorrow, nor am I certain that he will be able to influence the game.  So, yes, without three key players, the Americans are hardly the lively bunch that they usually are.

But the other players need to win this game against Jamaica on Tuesday.  They will have the home support and typically perform much better at home.  Players like Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea, and Herculez Gomez need to seize upon this opportunity and earn a crucial win.  Anything less and America will head into their final two matches with everything on the line, and it could prove troublesome.

Jamaica will have strong belief coming off of their historic victory, which was produced from two fine free kick efforts.  They are on top of the group and will be ever hungry to reproduce another victory that would likely push them through.

I do see the home field advantage being a huge benefit to America here.  The crowd in Jamaica was ruckus and definitely helped swing the momentum to their favor.  Such crowd support will be in America’s favor and could possibly help them to a big victory.  I predict that America will earn a solid 3-1 win and help ease the fears of fans across the nation.

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Who Had the Best 2012 Sumer Transfer Season?

The transfer window officially closed this past Friday so it is now time to observe which European clubs were best improved.  This is an inexact science and only time will surely tell who which clubs have benefited the most, but the following three clubs look to have emerged on this side of summer in the best shape.

1.  PSG – Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the most famous of the French club’s incoming transfers and is sure to bring world-class ability to the attack at PSG.  Having played at Inter Milan, Barcelona, and AC Milan, as well as amassing 80 appearances internationally for Sweden, Ibrahimovic is as good as they come and should help take PSG to the next level.  Also arriving at the club were experienced Brazilian center back Thiago Silva and the exciting Argentinean talent Ezequiel Lavezzi.   Further, they signed a young 19 year-old named Marco Verratti, a creative midfielder who has been compared to Andrea Pirlo.  Expect PSG to dominate France’s Ligue 1 and make some noise in the UEFA Champions League.

2. Manchester City – Although it was a rather quiet summer until just a few days ago, Manchester City showed again why having infinite funds is so much fun for assembling a squad.  They decided to buy up a great deal of young English talent with Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell.  Sinclair, a winger, has been an integral part of the recent success for Swansea City.  Rodwell came through the ranks at Everton as a defensive midfielder and has recently been called up to the England national side.  They also bought Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia from Benfica and young Serbian defender, Matija Nastasic.  Finally, they purchased right back Maicon from Inter Milan, a veteran right back.  Although most of these signings will be seen as projects, the club is already an incredible squad and they have displayed a strong desire to build for the future.  Last year’s Premier League champions were also to hold onto all their stars so they have merely improved.

3.  Manchester United – They basically upgraded two positions that they were already strong in with buying two superstars.  They offloaded struggling Dimitar Berbatov and brought in the EPL’s best striker Robin van Persie.  The Dutchman had a world class hat trick this weekend and probably could have scored 6 if he had converted a penalty and scored a few of the other numerous opportunities that he just missed.  Also, the club bought Shinji Kagawa, a wonderful Japanese midfielder who has been impressive in Germany for Borussia Dortmund.  The great thing for this team is that they didn’t sell anyone of note.  Yes, their midfield is aging and they should have bought some more youth there, but Giggs and Scholes are still quality and their strikers are the best in the world now between Van Persie and Wayne Rooney.

Many teams bought and sold players this summer, and although many teams will feel that they improved, those teams were also guilty of selling their best players.  Chelsea, for example is thrilled with new signings Eden Hazard and Oscar, but legendary striker Didier Drogba left the club.   Players like these will be missed and their former clubs will have to make do without them.  Therefore, since Man United, Man City, and PSG retained their best players and merely upgraded by purchasing great talent, I felt that they had the most successful 2012 summer transfer season.