Fan Interview Series: Scousers

In this blog, I continue my fan interview series with a Liverpool fan. Before going any further, let me go over the exhilarating Arsenal win over Leicester F.C. 4-3 might be a thrilling score line for a neutral fan but for a Gunner, the heart was in his mouth until the final whistle was blown. Without getting too much into the details of the game, I would like to point a few things I noticed, New signings Laca and Seo (The Tank!) fared better in their debuts; Elneny is not Ramsey yet; Giroud is invaluable; Ozil, Xhaka (even with 2 assists) and Ox were a mixed bag; Holding had a night to forget and finally; Arsène Wenger made all the right changes. Overall it feels better to be on the right side of that scoreline and win our opening game for a change (Remember our openers against West Ham and Liverpool in the past few years?).

The fan interview questions are the same as in my previous blog. As before, the fan replies are in color and my mind voice here and there would be in italics. I know many good friends who are Reds fans, to choose one over the other was purely on availability (Disclaimer for any of my friends reading this and feeling ignored). For this interview, I talked to Robin from India, a fan of Liverpool since 2004 and continues to follow them now from the USA.

How did you become a fan of this club?

I was a fan of red color and When I started watching soccer in TV, I was looking for teams in Red to support. Also, one of my uncle happened to live in UK who was then a huge fan of Manchester United. In conversations with him, he told how much he hated Liverpool being a United fan and that made me choose the side of Liverpool just for the sake of arguing with him then. However, after watching the UEFA Champions League final of 2004, I was completely convinced that I chose the right side.

What is your honest prediction for the club this upcoming season in EPL, Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup in that order?

3rd in EPL; Reaching semifinals in Champions League (more of a hope), FA cup winners, Reach finals in EFL cup. <FA cup??? For that you had to go past Arsenal!>

Which one team do you think is your biggest title rival in the league for the upcoming season?

No one. But I would say Manchester City. Because I find them difficult to beat in my FIFA17 (chuckles). <You sound a little overconfident!>

Who do you think is your club’s most important signing this summer and why?

Mohamed Salah. Because I feel his signing gives us the option of playing Coutinho in the attacking mid position. Following our preseason games, I feel they both have a good chemistry and if Coutinho stays, this duo would be unstoppable. Only van Dijk signing could top him as it will give us a good defense that we never had in the recent seasons. <If Coutinho stays. . .. >

If your club were to sign the next £150M+ player, who would you like that player to be? 

For me, that would either be Kylian Mbappe from Monaco or Dybala from Juventus. <They are good but I believe they both are headed elsewhere>

Who is the one most exciting young prospect coming out of your club that can make an impact this season?

Ben Woodburn <Watched his strike in one of the preseason games, Kid’s got talent!>

If you are given a chance to recall (hypothetically) one player from your club’s previous teams for this season who would that be?

Daniel Agger or Martin Skrtel. For their defensive attributes and loyalty. <I don’t know about their defensive quality but loyalty sure is hard to come by these days>

According to you, what was the most memorable win for your club last season?

Our last game against Middlesbrough. It gave us a top 4 finish that we craved for under Klopp. <I rooted for The Boro’s>

What do you like about Arsenal as a football club?

Their fan’s passion. Even when they or losing they don’t give up unlike some plastic fans out there (You know who I am talking about). Some of my friends of opposite gender are Arsenal fans and that is quite surprising then. Coming from India, you are aware that girls who follow soccer and that too EPL is not so common. <I guess the plastic fans he is referring to are ManU fans… probably just rival trash talk>

If available, who is the one current Arsenal player you would like to add to your squad?

Hector Bellerin. He is freaky fast. <Bellerin but no Sanchez/Ozil???>

I would like to thank Robin for his time to talk with me for this blog. At the time of our conversations, the season was yet to begin. But now, I believe his mind is full of his team’s defensive frailties against Watford, Coutinho exit talks and other transfer rumors. We will leave him to that and I will see you all in my next part of this fan interview series. Cheers!

Fan Interview Series: Red Devils

Hello, Everyone… We are less than 24 hours away from the first EPL game of the 2017-2018 season. Friday games in the Premier League are highly unusual but Arsenal fans sure won’t be complaining much about this one. In an ideal scenario, I would like to write about my expectations/preview of Arsenal F.C for the upcoming season. But Hey… Things don’t go by plan always, hence, I decided to do a fan interview series for now. Perspective from the other side is always interesting (Almost always ends in an argument of titles won). Anyway, towards this, I prepared a set of 10 questions designed to know a little about our fellow title contenders and as well their outlook on our soccer club. I have quite a few friends who dearly follow EPL and other European leagues. However, getting a varied perspective within the EPL is surprisingly difficult. Knowing someone who follows EPL sides outside of ManU, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal (of course!) is more difficult than you think. For this blog, I wrote about my conversations with a Manchester United fan (Dinkar from India since 1998) and his replies are in color. It would be unfair to not have my mind voice during my conversations registered here and hence they are given in italics.

How did you become a fan of this club?

It all started with David Beckham for me. He was the most high profile name at that time. He was sent off in 1998 WC against Argentina and then came back to win the treble with United. He also took England to the 2002 WC. So, that kind of laid down the foundations. <Well… I don’t know much about soccer at that time!>

What is your honest prediction for the club this upcoming season in EPL, Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup in that order?

4th place in EPL. Anything above that would be a bonus! Last 8 in UCL is the max I can expect. Anything between FA CUP and League cup will lift up the boys. Team is still in transition (and I hate to say that after spending more than 500 million pounds!). <You got the final part right!>

Which one team do you think is your biggest title rival in the league for the upcoming season?

Liverpool and Arsenal. It’s all about the 4th place. <4th?? Grrr… I want to be more optimistic and like Arsenal for the title. It’s only August!>

Who do you think is your club’s most important signing this summer and why?

It can be Matic or Lukaku. <He didn’t bother explaining!>

If your club were to sign the next £150M+ player, who would you like that player to be? 

There aren’t many out there who is worth that money. So I guess, it would be Kylian Mbappe. But again, there seriously isn’t anyone. Ousmane Dembele is another exciting talent. But the market is so f*****g inflated these days. <Inflation part I completely agree but coming from a ManU fan???>

Who is the one most exciting young prospect coming out of your club that can make an impact this season?

Marcus Rashford. It’s a make or break season for him. It is not the end of the world if he doesn’t make an expected impact but the boy can become a man this season. <Mourinho sure knows all about make or break. Ask De Bruyne>

If you are given a chance to recall (hypothetically) one player from your club’s previous teams for this season who would that be?

Paul Scholes, maybe Roy Keane or Cristiano Ronaldo. Even Nemanja Vidic. Dennis Irwin also. Tough question really! <Tough question indeed…>

According to you, what was the most memorable win for your club last season?

We played seriously only once in that 2-0 win over Chelsea. <Man marking of Herrera on Hazard was brilliant!>

What do you like about Arsenal as a football club?

Honestly, there isn’t anything to like about them now. But I respected them when they had real men in their team. That period between 1997-2005. Those intimidating warriors who could play the game in any way they required. They had everything you would want in a modern day footballer. These days, kids like Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, and liabilities like Mertesacker are simply killing this club. Wenger simply cannot match Sir Ferguson when it comes to rebuilding. Every year, they are contenders for all trophies till the first week of February. By the time, April comes, it is all about the 4th place. I think they should really go for Europa league this year despite Wenger already making the excuse that he doesn’t like the route. As***le needs a European trophy on his resume. <Share his views partially. Which Gunner wouldn’t want those glory days back?>

If available, Who is the one current Arsenal player you would like to add to your squad?

Hector Bellerin or Alexis Sanchez. <Bellerin was a surprise choice. No more Valencia mate?>

I would like to thank Dinkar for taking the time to share his views with me. See you all in my next blog hopefully in a joyous mood after our victory against Leicester F.C. The wait is over!

Arsenal: Emirates Cup Observations, Transfer Rumors, And Community Shield Game Preview

Preseason Game 5: 29-July-2017, Arsenal 5-2 Benfica

Goals: Arsenal (Theo 24’, 32’, Lopez(OG) 52’, Giroud 64’, Iwobi 70’); Benfica (Cervi 11’, Salvio 39’)

Preseason Game 6: 30-July-2017, Arsenal 1-2 Sevilla

Goals: Arsenal (Laca 62’); Sevilla (Correa 49’, Nzonzi 69’)

Arsenal stepped up a notch on their preseason preparations last week under sunny yet relatively cooler climate in London. English defensive duo of Holding and Chambers joined the team in training after their extended time off due to international commitments earlier in the summer. Jack also featured with them and he seems to be gaining strides in his recovery after suffering a broken leg on loan at Bournemouth. Mustafi joined the team as he watched Arsenal’s second Emirates cup game from the stands while Sanchez was initially due to join Sunday but that changed to Monday night (Superfluous drama over his ‘sick’ insta post). With so many of our player’s future up in the air (Eyes on you Sanchez, Ox, Jack, and Ozil), nothing can be more detrimental than losing Alexis Sanchez! With every passing day, the time to bring in an adequate replacement (Screaming Lemarrrrr….) for him gets shorter. However, the gaffer’s press conferences recently have been reassuring and it seems to be certain that the club has made a stand not to sell him this transfer window especially to a title rival.

Elsewhere, Ospina looks set to stay; Stoke’s bid for Gibbs was deemed lower than Arsenal’s valuation and; Perez is supposedly upset with the club’s approach to changing his squad number. Looking at the overall squad, I believe Arsenal could really help themselves with a quality central midfield player. And the incoming rumors of Lemar, Seri, and Carvalho affirms the club’s interest in that position.

Over the weekend, Arsenal won one and lost one but the peculiar scoring system of the tournament meant Arsenal won the cup over an unbeaten Sevilla team. I enjoyed watching Arsenal play their slick football in the Emirates stadium and noticed a few things that I felt is worth sharing here in this blog. I am no expert to review the game of soccer and all my knowledge of the sport comes from watching games, listening to podcasts, reading articles and talking with people who play it. However, as an Arsenal fan following the team over a few years, I give myself the privilege to comment on the performance of the team. My observations from the weekend games are, Elneny is not a centre-back (Need to find him some room in midfield); Seo is a way better LWB than a CB; Per is  our club captain but certainly not a starter week in and week out; Bellerin is rusty; Ox a mixed bag performer; Xhaka is unquestionably the boss of the midfield; Theo, Iwobi, and Giroud will give a manager headache when it comes to team selection (Looks ready for the season); Laca needs time (Be Patient!); Ramsey looks fit; Nelson is certainly one for the future and hopefully gets more playing time as the season goes; Bramall and, Willock needs to continue their development with U23 ‘s to push for a first team spot.

With the observations and transfers out of the way, what can we expect from Arsenal for the community shield game tomorrow? First up, I don’t know how serious AW views this game. Does he look at it as another preseason game or as a morale boosting game with a trophy (When Jose calls it a trophy Why can’t we???) before the league commences? Either way, I believe the manager will field the strongest possible lineup at his disposal. Secondly, How many of his first choice XI from last season are available? Obvious omissions include Mustafi and Sanchez, Both of whom joined the team only after the Emirates cup game. Coq has a fitness issue and might sit out. One of Chambers and Holding might feature in the starting XI considering how depleted Arsenal are in the CB position at the moment. Ozil and Rambo sat out the latest training session but should be available for the game. Everyone else who is part of manager’s plans (Sorry Gibbs, Debuchy, Jenko, Perez) should be available. In my overview, the possible lineup (3-4-2-1) for the game would be,

Cech

Holding                Koscienly             Monreal

Ox          Ramsey               Xhaka                   Seo

Ozil                       Welbeck

Laca

Possible Subs: Ospina, Mertesacker, Niles, Elneny, Theo, Iwobi, Giroud

Community Shield victory would put us in a good stead ahead of the season opener against Leicester City F.C. I keep my fingers crossed for a good performance from the team and I will see you all in my next blog. Come on Gunners!

Arsenal bids adieu to fans in China as they return to familiar surroundings

Preseason Game 3: 19-July-2017, Bayern Munich 1-1 Arsenal (Arsenal won 4-3 on penalties)

Goals: Bayern Munich (Lewandowski 9’); Arsenal (Iwobi 90’)

Preseason Game 4: 22-July-2017, Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea

Goals: Chelsea (Willian 40’, Batshuayi 42’, 49’)

Arsenal players head back to London as they wrap up their two-week long preseason tour to Australia and China. The last two weeks gave thousands of fans a chance to see their players in real, to take selfies, to sign autographs and more importantly, to watch them play the beautiful game that made them fall in love with Arsenal in the first place. Apart from the obvious financial benefits that come with these preseason travels across the globe, it plays an important role in team building. It provides a chance for the Academy prospects to watch and train with the first team players such as Ozil, Cech, Kos, etc; to see firsthand how a complete soccer professional carries himself on and off the field. During these preseason tours outside Europe, the players experience the massive fan base of the club they are playing for and what it means to be a gunner.

This past week Arsenal played against Bayern FC and Chelsea in Shanghai and Beijing respectively. As I have said before, results do not matter in these games and it is all about preparations for the upcoming season. But if you pause for a moment at the opponents we were playing and ponder, you see the last season’s memories flash across. In my opinion, the absolute extremes of emotions for Arsenal fans last season were undoubtedly the games against these two opponents. Being title contenders with a 3-0 win at home; to fading title hopes when Coquelin was spun into the outer space by Hazard’s dribble; to winning the FA cup final against all odds, games against Chelsea have been significant, to say the least. A 10-2 thrashing at the hands of Bayern is enough to say about the psychological impact it had on our players and the results that followed. At least to partially slay those demons by defeating Bayern albeit on a penalty shootout gives me peace. When it comes to Chelsea, If I had to pick a loss out of the three recurrent fixtures (Why we always play Chelsea?), I would pick the preseason game over the community shield and the league any day.

From a fan’s perspective, what have we seen from Arsenal so far in this preseason? Patched up defense doesn’t work; fullback depth is a mild concern; midfield effectiveness entirely depends on Rambo’s fitness; new boys Laca and Seo certainly need time to adjust; Theo’s role in the team is a mystery; Giroud is an asset (Please do everything to hold onto him); contract negotiations are a sleeping giant that might raise its ugly head anytime; and finally, player exits are happening (Farewell Szczesny!). In the upcoming week, the team will be back in the familiar lush green scenery around the London Colney stepping up their training regiments (Jens is watching you!) in preparation for the Emirates cup. Meanwhile, I will be moving time zones to go back to the loveliest village on the plains, Auburn! Cheers!

Arsenal preparations continue with another friendly win over Western Sydney Wanderers

Preseason Game 2: 15-July-2017, Western Sydney Wanderers 1- 3 Arsenal

Goals: Arsenal (Giroud 33’, Rambo 38’, Elneny 44’); WSW (Lustica 57’)

Arsenal wrapped up their preseason tour in Australia with a comfortable win over Western Sydney Wanderers. Giroud scored the first goal reminding yet again how critical he is to our attacking threat. For the second goal, Nacho picked up Rambo’s run from the midfield with a long through ball that landed right behind the opponent’s backline which the latter finished with a nice lob kick. This moment was undoubtedly the highlight of the game and it was really refreshing to see the team create a different type of goal. Generally, preseason games are all about preparations to play at a very high level when the actual season kicks off. So, to delve too much into the player’s performances and manager’s tactics are inconsequential. Having said that, the honest reason for not discussing games in detail are the kickoff times. Both this game and the previous started at 3 am in my time zone, far from ideal for watching soccer that even my alarms fail.

Aside from the game, transfer stories around the football club have been relatively quiet since the team left London. Sanchez, Mustafi, and co. are enjoying their well-deserved summer vacation by mostly spending time bathing in sun around some water-body. Having fallen out of manager’s plan for the next season, Debuchy, Jenko, and co. are back in London busy dialing their agents to get them some form of regular football. Finding a club for the out of favor XI has been relatively difficult in the EPL due to wage issues among many other reasons. Hence, I do not expect a lot of movement in the upcoming week but more towards the end of transfer window. Hopefully, My favorite club Arsenal gets things sorted early without affecting the team’s preparations.

In the two games played so far, Arsene Wenger has picked some interesting team combinations exploring different pairings within the playing XI. Ox in midfield with Xhaka; Laca as a secondary striker with Giroud; Elneny & Seo in a 3-man defense; and our Academy prospects showing up in different positions outside their comfort zone. It will be quite interesting to see how this will all pan out by the time we line up for our first game against Leicester. Exciting week to look forward to us fans with big warm up games coming up against Bayern (YES! I still remember the 10-2 defeat) and Chelsea (Hahaha, FA cup Losers) in China. Not so much for me personally, as the kickoff times do not improve much not until we return to London. Cheers!

Arsenal starts off preparations for the upcoming English Premier League season with a friendly win over Sydney FC

Preseason Game 1: 13-July-2017, Sydney FC 0- 2 Arsenal

Goals: Arsenal (Per, Laca)

The new season is finally underway as the players took the field in their shiny new pink/grey third choice kits. Arsene Wenger (AW) fielded a mix of experienced players in a 3-4-2-1 formation and the starters primarily included players who reported the earliest to the training camp. Cech between the posts. Per marshalled a 3-man back line with the new boy Seo and Academy prospect Bielik who returned from a successful loan with Birmingham in the championship. Right and left wingbacks include Reiss and Bramall, two of the most exciting prospects to look forward this season. Coq and Willock (the brother who stayed) pair in the midfield. Front three include Theo, Welbz, and Ozil.

It was a typical preseason game to start with, misplaced passes from our young guns and a lack of coherence overall. The pace of the game was very good considering it’s only our first game. Early on Sydney FC players could not handle Per in the box as he tucked the defender comfortably behind him to flick the ball into the net for our first goal. As the game progressed, Reiss was constantly showing flashes of potential and why he is so highly rated among our academy prospects. Theo and Welbz troubled the defense with a lot of runs but mostly ended in weak shots. Sydney FC did their best to match our pace but their passing left a lot to be desired. Time and again the opponents lost the midfield duels and their attacks broke down with misplaced passes.

The second half started with Martinez manning the posts. Cech produced a good low save when called for, deflecting the ball away but largely remain untroubled. AW decided to give the starters a longer run as he persisted until the 70-minute mark. Bramall and Reiss flashed down the flanks at every opportunity and Willock displayed some nice dribbling skills in the middle, while Coq broke the opponent’s rhythm with tackles and interceptions. Link up play in the final third with Theo-Welbz-Ozil continued to lack. It hardly surprised many given the players themselves rarely featured together in the past season. Welbz was everything but spectacular for most of the game. He did miss a penalty with a weak effort to the goalie’s right while our most expensive signing to date watched uncomfortably from the sidelines.

The manager decided to send the Aussie crowd into a euphoria by replacing everyone on the field except for the GK Martinez. New boy Laca along with a host of others received a thunderous applause while their substitutions halted the game for a couple of minutes. Pretty much everyone I thought of in our tour squad featured except Ospina, Kos, and Rambo. Nketiah and Malen as wingbacks; Xhaka and Ox in midfield; French-Nigerian trio of Laca, Giroud, and Iwobi made up our attacking threat. The team compensated for the lack of chemistry brought with such wholesome change using good pace and some fantastic linkups in isolation. Ox getting past players at ease produced mixed feelings with his impending contract impasse. Laca showed some great first touches while he dropped back to receive and played for the runners going forward. Finally, the moment everyone waited for arrived as Iwobi sprinted down the right to send in a fantastic cutback pass to the box. Right man at the right place as Laca scored his first goal with a nice cool finish. Some sporadic moments of encouragement for our hosts in offense during the 2nd half, but nothing to trouble Martinez much even with our patched up back three of Niles, Elneny, and Nacho. The last 20 minutes of the game went past rather quick like a good teaser leaving us wanting for more. Lot more to look forward as the preparations for the upcoming 2017-2018 season gather pace.