I Don't Want to Own AIG

Cesc FabregasFor not the last time, I'm sure, I strenuously disagree with one of Senator Obama's positions. This morning he released a statement seemingly supporting the U.S. bailout (read: taxpayer-funded purchase) of AIG. Now set aside the economic aspects of this transaction for a moment. The real horror here is that you and I now own the sponsor of the despicable Manchester United football club. With business decisions like dropping $100m on that worthless team, is it any surprise they couldn't stay afloat without our help?

Surely the U.S. taxpayer would be much better off owning a piece of Arsenal's sponsor, Emirates. After all, the airline is putting the fear of God into its industry, with annual growth in excess of 20% and profits in all but one of its twenty-two years in existence, including net profits of $1.37b last year. I may have to send the Senator a note about this. Fly Emirates!

Arsenal in for Alonso?

alonso_cesc.jpgWith the news out of Villa Park that Gareth Barry is free to leave for Liverpool, the Reds' central midfield looks to be getting a bit crowded. And as we all know, the central midfield at Arsenal is decidedly uncrowded.

The perfect solution that would make everyone happy (especially me)? Liverpool should sell Xabi Alonso:

Arsène Wenger wants Xabi Alonso to form a Spanish midfield axis with Cesc Fábregas at Arsenal next season, provided Liverpool dramatically lower their £18m price for the marginalised playmaker. Arsenal have made an initial approach for the 26-year-old Alonso, who has been told he can leave Anfield for the right price.

He and Fabregas could be our dynamic Spanish duo. Like Arseblogger I rate Alonso higher than Barry, so I'm very excited at this possibility (slender as it may be based on one British newspaper source). Alonso has quality experience in the Premier League and continental competitions, and is a first team international. Plus, that's a pretty cool name. Come on Arsene, just buy him already!

Gallas Remains Captain, Adebayor Remains At All?

adebayor.jpgApparently, William Gallas will keep the Arsenal captain's armband for the coming season. While I am disappointed that it won't be Fabregas or Toure, I don't see that Wenger had much choice, even if he were inclined to follow my sage advice. Considering Gallas' Birmingham tantrum last season, I can only imagine his behavior if he were demoted.

News from another source of controversy: Emmanuel Adebayor says he wants to stay:

"Now I can tell everyone that, yes, I will sign a contract," Adebayor told the club's official website.

"I never told anyone I would be leaving this club, never ever. I'm very happy we've found a solution."

Adebayor added: "I have three years left on my contract and I'm putting two or three years more, so I'm very happy being part of this family."

Well, I will believe it when I see it. Adebayor and his agent have been nothing but trouble this summer, and part of me wants Wenger to show him the door. Nevertheless, he is a talent, and it appears he has lowered his previously outrageous wage demands:

Adebayor has been tracked by AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid this summer, but decided to stay in London after Arsenal agreed to increase his wages to about £70,000 a week.

That's quite a bit lower than the £100,000 a week that Adebayor reportedly demanded, and is apparently what Arsenal has been offering for weeks. It would still be a significant raise (double, in fact), but who is to say he does not deserve that after the season he had? I do not want to reward his bad off-season behavior, but there are really only two choices: sell him, and lose our most productive striker from last season, or sign him to a new long-term contract so that the fans and the team have a reason to welcome him back.

Arsenal sign Amaury Bischoff

bischoff.jpgJust a few days after Arsene Wenger said he wanted to sign another midfielder, Arsenal has gone and... you guessed it... signed another midfielder: Portugal Under-21 Amaury Bischoff.

Considering this summer's loss of Flamini, Hleb, and Gilberto from the Arsenal midfield, and the general obsession we fans have with the transfer season, this would normally be grounds for great excitement. But let's just say that my eyebrows are raised at this:

He only ever made one senior appearance for Bremen, in a 2007 Uefa Cup tie against Celta Vigo.

Now this was news about four weeks ago, so maybe this is not the signing Arsene Wenger was talking about (fingers crossed). Bischoff left Bremen at the end of his contract, so it is unclear what transfer fee, if any, will be owed by Arsenal.

I like his versatility and his price, but when did we start poaching the Bundesliga bench?

Arsenal 08/09

Last season certainly had its share of triumphs and disappointments for Arsenal. There was a good bit of despair among fans after Thierry Henry departed for Barcelona without a big-name replacement coming in, and the media fed on this with predictions that Arsenal would drop out of the top 4 (with the cursed Spurs tipped to move up).

flamini.jpgSo when the season started rather brilliantly, there was renewed faith in Arsene Wenger's youth and transfer policies. A particularly pleasant surprise was the emergence of Matthieu Flamini and Manual Almunia as regular first-teamers.

Well, the honeymoon ended. Arsenal were embarrassed in the Carling Cup by hated rivals Tottenham, and embarrassed in the FA Cup by hated rivals Manchester United. Along the way Arsenal was hit by a series of injuries, culminating in the horrific broken leg suffered by newcomer Eduardo. Though the weakened squad rose to defeat AC Milan in the first knockout round of the Champions League, the quarter-final matchup against Liverpool proved to be too much. And it was another draw with Liverpool that signaled the end of Arsenal's fading hopes for a Premiership title, finishing a close third, just two points behind Chelsea and four behind champions Manchester United (some consolation: Spurs a distant 11th place).

The end of the season also saw the beginning of a series of prominent departures from the club. The least surprising departure was that of Jens Lehmann, who had not handled his benching with much professionalism. The free transfer of Mathieu Flamini was disappointing to many, but who can blame the player: with no transfer fee necessary, AC Milan was able to offer him exorbitant wages that Arsenal was never going to try to match. In contrast, I have no hesitation in condemning the behavior of Alexander Hleb, whose £11.9m transfer to Barcelona came as a relief after the ridiculous whining the club had to endure as Hleb and his agent tried to force Arsenal's hand. It makes Gilberto's quiet departure to Greece all the more admirable, and burnishes the luster of his six years of solid service in the Arsenal lineup.

ramsey.jpgAnyone can do the math, and see that Arsenal lost three midfielders in rather quick succession this summer. The club has seen only two and a half players brought in. The half belongs to Carlos Vela, who already belonged to Arsenal but is now returning from a loan in Spain and will compete for a spot up front, all the more important considering Eduardo is to not set to return until September at best, and Emmanuel Adebayor is still trying to weasel his way to Barcelona.

The other purchases both look set for roles in the midfield. The first was teenager Aaron Ramsey, brought in from Cardiff in a £5m move and apparently slotted for a role in central midfield. Whether he can complement Cesc Fabregas the way Flamini excelled at remains to be seen. Out on the wings Arsenal will be featuring its recent £12m signing from Marseille, Samir Nasri. Nasri is acclaimed as an ideal replacement for Hleb, and he fits the bill for a Wenger signing: young, French, relatively affordable. With Abou Diaby, Gael Clichy, and William Gallas, Nasri is another piece in the continuing French contingent at Arsenal (supplanting the losses of Henry and Patrick Vieira).

The Adebayor saga remains to be resolved. He still has several years left on his contract, but the status quo is clearly not going to work. I think he misplayed his hand this off-season, and may be the odd man out after the Ronaldinho and Hleb transfers.

Wenger, on the other hand, still seems to be in the market for another midfielder. Gareth Barry has been prominently rumored after his attempts to leave Aston Villa, though Wenger is typically tight-lipped.

Suffice it to say that there will have to be several new faces in the first team fielded against West Bromwich Albion on August 16, with Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky still out injured. Unlike the start of last season, however, I already have a lot of faith in this squad. The youngsters matured tremendously over the last campaign, and Fabregas and Toure have cemented themselves as team leaders. That William Gallas is the captain in their place is a continuing travesty, but Wenger made that choice and the team is stuck with it for now. I am excited to see Vela, Nasri, and Ramsey in action, and when Eduardo and Rosicky are back in form, this should be a fun team to watch.

Arsenal Financials

emirates.jpgBy reporting a loss for the second half of 2006, it might seem that my beloved Arsenal have joined the financial dregs of Chelsea and their spendthrift tycoon. But the overall news for Arsenal is actually quite good:

Arsenal have announced a loss of £6.2m for the six months up to the end of last November.

The Gunners cite one-off exceptional costs of £21.4m relating to their move to the Emirates Stadium as the reason.

But during the same period, turnover rocketed by almost 77%, which Arsenal attribute to increased ground capacity.

Chairman Peter Hill-Wood said: "The stadium project's objective was to provide Arsenal with financial strength to compete at the highest level."

When my wife and I travel to London in May, my first visit to Emirates is one of the most exciting prospects. I doubt we'll be able to attend a match, but no matter. Just to visit the area, grab a bit of Arsenal gear, and maybe catch a match in a pub will be more than enough excitement.

The news out of Holland last night was less good, but I think Arseblogger has the right outlook on an overall dreary match:

Anyway, as shite as we were, and we were shite, PSV were not much better. They had their one shot at goal and scored - we really do have to work on this - and that was about that. Some relatively tidy football but nothing more. For that reason I'm baffled why people are so negative about the second leg at the Grove. We know we can play a lot better, we've risen to the occasion for the big games this season and scoring two or more at home is not really such a big task if we play the way we know we can - with more urgency, more desire and at a much faster pace.

The key will be not to allow PSV to slip in an early away goal and thus necessitate a three goal performance (as a 2-2 aggregate would go to PSV on away goals). Henry needs to remember that he can dance circles around the PSV defenders, and his confidence should infect the rest of the team as well. Hopefully the boys can get their heads on straight, take PSV seriously, get comfortable at home, and go through to the next round. We'll be hosting Reading a few days before PSV visits in March, so the team should be settled at home and I'm confident of a win.

Chelsea Hemorrhaging Money

While I will not be fully satisfied until Chelsea has been relegated to League Two and Jose Mourinho is coaching Dagenham & Redbridge, the latest Chelsea financials are a good start:

Billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has no intention of walking away from the club.

That reassurance came this morning from the club's director of public affairs Simon Greenberg as Chelsea released figures for the year ended June 2006, revealing losses of £80.2milllion.

Costs have been cut by 42.9%, which keeps the big-spending Premiership champions on target to break even by 2009-10.

Greenberg believes cost is important to Abramovich, who has ploughed around £500million into the club.

There is nothing like spending a billion dollars just to hope to break even by 2010. Abramovich might as well be running an American automaker.

Arsenal 2-0 FC Porto

hlebMy beloved Arsenal further proved their resurgence tonight in a clinical 2-0 victory over FC Porto. While Porto's fortunes have waned since the glory days of Jose Mourinho's reign, they are just the type of opponent that can be dangerously underestimated and thus wreak havoc upon a European campaign. With last season's loss in Paris still haunting the team, a confident start in the Champions League was an absolutely necessity. Fortunately, the Gunners are starting to show their quality:

Arsene Wenger celebrates 10 seasons at the north London club on Thursday - and the Gunners boss firmly believes he has never had more potential within his squad, despite what had been a sluggish start to the new campaign.

There was certainly plenty of evidence of what a free-flowing Arsenal side are capable of, having finally made superior possession count when captain Thierry Henry headed the hosts in front with his 50th European goal eight minutes before half-time.

Alexander Hleb also got on the scoresheet at the start of the second half as the Gunners made it two wins from two in Group G, where another maximum-points haul from the trip to CSKA Moscow in a fortnight's time would all-but mathematically secure a place in the second phase for last season's European Cup finalists.

Henry is a goal machine, of course, but it great to see him scoring with his head, and being a creative playmaker as wel. It is great to see Hleb put one in the net, he deserves more credit than he gets, and it also seems Toure and Van Persie could easily have added another pair.

This game really illustrates just how many diverse tools Arsenal can attack with when they play their best, particularly when you add names like Ljungberg, Rosicky, Fabregas and Baptista to those already mentioned. It is still a young team, with several additions that have surely not yet fully settled into the side. It is frightening to think of their potential if they can further improve on the form they've shown over the past several games.

That's a Lot of Viewers

In an altogether bizarre statement in which he suggests Zidane and Materazzi should clear the post-headbutt air by meeting on the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, FIFA President Sepp Blatter also makes this curious claim about the 2006 World Cup:

He insisted, however, that despite its controversial denouement, the four-week tournament had been an overwhelming success, with more than 30 billion viewers worldwide. "I am still a happy Fifa president," he said.

While I'm sure there is some way of counting the television statistics that produces that number, it seems pretty safe to conclude that there were not, in fact, 30 billion viewers. There may have been half a billion viewers who watched each of the 64 matches, or something along those lines, but that's a somewhat different number, isn't it? Let's just say I'm embarrassed to admit that I spent at least 15 seconds trying to add up the number of people in China and India with access to televisions before determining that 30 billion different people did not watch the World Cup.

Reading the World Cup

Sure, reading the World Cup is not ideal. I would much rather be sitting on the couch, watching ABCHD. But that won't pay the bills, so I've got to work with what I've got. And the best I've got, in my opinion is the text commentary from Britain's Guardian newspaper. ESPN's Gamecast comes in a close second for its visual features, but the wit and wisdom of the Guardian commentators (and readers who submit their thoughts) stand it far above the rest. Not to mention that it seems rather appropriate to read about the World Cup with English slang:

"You miserable bugger," writes Bernie Ross. "Fancy not mentioning that this is by far England's best showing for years. And it's a great game of footers. And, by the way, Owen Hargreaves isn't doing too bad at all, eh?" Agreed on Hargreaves - he's getting plenty of tackles in. But if this is England's best showing for years, then it's a particularly damning indictment of Sven's regime. They're doing okay, but hardly pulling up any trees.

And there you have it.

Arsenal v. Barcelona

solI can barely stand the agony of "watching" the Arsenal/Barcelona Champions League final on ESPN's Gamecast, but that's the best I can do from the office. A horrific start saw goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, the hero of Madrid, sent off after 17 minutes, leaving Arsenal with only 10 men against Barcelona for more than an hour of soccer. Yet beyond all hope, we've gone into the half with the lead, thanks to Sol Campbell!?! The erstwhile stalwart of our central defense has seen his place in Arsenal's first team disappear this year, but he has returned with a vengeance in place of the injured Phillipe Senderos and certainly all will be forgiven should Arsenal hold onto this lead for 45 more minutes. Expect unbridled joy or unconsolable anguish to appear on this page within the hour.

UPDATE: Oh, well. I'm actually not too upset, since I think Arsenal put on an impressive display with a backup goalie and 10 men on the field. It would have been nice to see how these two teams would have fared had there actually been an 11-on-11 match, but sometimes that's not to be. Frustration and sadness will be felt all around the world by Arsenal fans tonight, and the wound will surely fester should Thierry Henry make the much-discussed move to Barcelona this summer. But there is much to be hopeful about, not least that there was no reason to believe at the start of this season that Arsenal would even be in this match today, and it is only the tremendous growth shown by our youngsters, from Fabregas to Flamini, Toure to Eboue, that got us this far. That gives something to look forward to after the move to Ashburton Grove. Thanks for the ride, boys.

So Long Patrick, It Was Good to Know You

So long Patrick, it was good to know you. Best of luck in Italy, and thanks for the memories. You will be missed.

Racial Divide in Soccer

The Guardian has an interesting article from a British perspective on the lily-whiteness of soccer in America:

Boston's Pop Warner "urban suburban" American football league collapsed earlier this month. Parents of the suburban 7-14-year-olds said that the urban kids played too rough. And urban playing fields were "unsafe". And that the urban kids played "intimidating" rap music.

You'll have worked out that "suburban" and "urban" are euphemisms and that this is a row about race and class. League director Al Perillo told the Boston Globe that white middle-class parents have been scared off by TV news reports of drive-by shootings. But they're also sick "getting beat 30-to-nothing every time they go to Boston".

As Wells notes, the European clubs and their contigent of racist fans are not models for healthy race relations. But at least the sport is integrated.

Manchester Crybabies

The fans of Manchester United are all in an uproar of today's news that Malcolm Glazer (owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has taken control of the club with an aggressive takeover bid:

US sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer has won control of Manchester United in a �790m ($1.47bn) takeover bid.

The American has secured the 28.7% stake owned by Irish racing tycoons JP MacManus and John Magnier, and now has 62% of the Premiership club.

Red Football Ltd, acting on behalf of Mr Glazer, said the Irishmen had sold their stakes for 300p a share.

Club fans have vehemently opposed Mr Glazer's ambition all along and fear that ticket prices will soar.

The bid comes five days ahead of the 17 May deadline when Mr Glazer had to make known whether he planned to bid.

The thing of it is, Glazer can only do this because Manchester United is a publicly traded company, something which has brought them great revenue since they first went public. It seems more than a bit ridiculous to happily reap the benefits without recognizing the potential consequences. And now that those consequences have come to fruition, they want to cry and scream and rip up their season tickets.

Of course, the fact that I'm an Arsenal fan has nothing to do with my opinion on this matter.

Arsenal 3-0 Blackburn

vanpersieA fantastic outing for Arsenal, crushing a nasty Blackburn side that ought not have even shown up:

A Robert Pires goal and a late Robin van Persie double saw Arsenal book their place in the FA Cup final.

A poor semi-final saw more bookings than goalscoring chances in front of a disappointing below-capacity crowd.

Pires finished off from close range after good work from defender Kolo Toure three minutes before half-time.

Van Persie came off the bench to seal it with a fine individual effort and then a curling left-foot shot past Brad Friedel after being set up by Pires.

I was a bit worried, seeing the Gunners go in without Henry or Campbell. But Vieira never took the bait offered by the dirty-playing Rovers, and we got a glimpse of the potential of our young Dutch sharpshooter. With the career of my favorite, Dennis Bergkamp, coming to a conclusion in the next year or so, I have high hopes that van Persie will carry on a proud Dutch tradition at the club.

Here's to hoping Manny-U can hold their own against Newcastle, so we can be the ones to add the last indignity to their sad season.

Wenger Signs New Contract

Sure, the loss to ManU was disappointing. But every streak has to come to an end. 49 games in a row undefeated, including an entire season... yeah, that's pretty good. And here comes more good news:

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has signed a new contract to stay at the club until May 2008.

Wenger has ended speculation about his future by agreeing a long-term contract that takes him beyond the opening of Arsenal's new stadium in two years.

He said: "Signing a new contract just rubber-stamps my desire to take this club forward and fulfil my ambitions.

"I still have so much to achieve and my target is to drive this club on. These are exciting times for Arsenal."

Yes, they are. It is a great time to be an Arsenal fan. They are playing beautiful football and having fun doing it.

England is Out

If you happened to miss the good news, England went crashing out of Euro 2004 last night (with the ever pretty David Beckham missing his third straight penalty for Queen and Country). For a unique and bizarrely addictive look at the match, check out the BBC's Virtual Replay feature. Especially cool is watching Sol Campbell's disallowed goal at full speed from the first person perspective of Campbell himself.

Reyes' First Goals

reyes.gifGreat news from England, as Arsenal topped Chelsea 2-1 to move on in the FA Cup, and even better, Jose Reyes scored his first goals for Arsenal:

The 20-year-old's brace showcased the talents that persuaded Wenger to pay �17 million for him - a 25-yard howitzer followed by a predatory second - and turned the tie around...

I wish I could have seen it. Reyes has all the makings of a truly great player, and it's good to see him move so quickly past the often difficult barrier of the "first goal" for a new team. More details from Visible Hand.

Reyes' Debut

A fellow Arsenal fan sent along this summary of yesterday's victory over Manchester City:

Henry nearly put us ahead after 6 minutes, but slipped as he went to toe-poke Lauren's cross, ending up splayed on the ground in the splits while the ball bounced off the post, missing a wide open net. It looked for a second like Reyes would come on then, as Henry's slip looked to have tweaked his groin, but he was able to run it off. We created a couple more decent chances, while Anelka posed a constant threat on the counter--once nearly making it in but for an outstanding recovery and tackle from Kolo Toure. He has been an absolute revelation this year; apparently he's quite the crowd favorite and it's easy to see why. He is all hustle, loads of pace (apparently, after Henry and reserve left-back Gael Clichy, he's the 3rd fastest in the squad), reads the game well and is a good tackler. Most imporantly, his enthusiasm and passion are plainly evident when he's out there.

We got out first goal on a quick break, Henry curling in a low cross searching for Ljungberg, but Tarnat slid in first. Fortunately, his redirection sent the ball into the net.

Reyes came on around the 70th minute, and showed a couple of quick, classy touches, turning his mark with ease. He linked up well with Pires and Henry, who fed him in alone 1v1 with the City keeper, but David James pulled out a fantastic save to deny him a goal. Moments later, Reyes played Pires in, and that move nearly ended in a goal, but again DJames did very well to deny Henry. It was just moments later that Henry hit his 20-yard rocket into the top right corner--it was an absolute beauty. Somewhat like the goal Pires scored v Liverpool at Anfield earlier this season, but hit with a lot more power.

In all, Reyes looked quick and sharp, was full of hustle and already seemed to have a good understanding with Thierry and Bob.

Excellent news all around, with the Gunners atop the table by two points, and a rising star already contributing on his debut.

Arsenal Lands Spanish Starlet

It's been a long time since Arsenal fans like myself could get excited about a new signing. This week brings the excellent news that Arsenal has landed 20-year old Spanish international Jose Antonio Reyes on a transfer from Sevilla. Arsenal has been in the midst of a rash of injuries to its attacking players, and there is a lot of uncertainty at the striker position come next summer. Berkgamp is almost certain to retire, and he'll be much missed (he was the source of my first interest in Arsenal). I'm hoping we'll hold on to Thierry Henry forever, but I wouldn't mind saying goodbye to Sylvain Wiltford.

Regardless, Reyes is a welcome addition, a good investment, and I can't wait to see his contributions in the next several years.

Rising Powers

Though I was sad to see the U.S. lose in its semi-final game on Sunday, this women's World Cup has displayed a broad base of talent in countries that have not been strutting their stuff in recent years. Sweden and Canada in particular have played outstanding soccer, and I'll be rooting for Sweden in the finals this coming Sunday. I've always enjoyed women's soccer better (ever since many of my high school friends played on our school team), and have been impressed by the efforts in this tournament. I just wish they still had a league to come back to.

Manchester UTD Business

I've been a huge fan of European football since a trip to Europe during the European Cup '96 and another during the World Cup '98. In particular, I follow the English Premiership pretty closely. Today I read this story about the ownership landscape of Manchester United, and thought I'd post it for other football fans. (Mea culpa: I'm an Arsenal fan. This will be quite obvious after awhile. Also, any Arsenal (or Premiership) fan who hasn't read Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby must do so ASAP; it's fantastic and he gets right to the heart of being a football fan).