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Can I Have a Premier League Do-Over?

April 28th, 2019 · No Comments · Arsenal, Champions League, English Premier League, Football, soccer

A sort of silly string of posts stretches through this blog, going back to 2009, in which I ponder the great question of our time:

“Which English Premier League soccer team should I support?”

This is a weighty and defining decision in large parts of the world, increasingly including (of late) the United States, which is discovering that the Premier League makes Major League Soccer look like minor-league soccer.

People make judgments based on the teams that other people support. Especially those who support a club outside their hometown. “Liverpool? Hmm!” “Manchester City? Ah, nouveau riche.” “Manchester United? How … Ordinary!”

And in my case? “Arsenal? Oh, You Have a Thing for Spineless Sides.”

Looking back at the history of this site, I see where I declared I would have no Premier League favorite, unable to come to a decision that did not involve one of the league’s elite, of the moment (2009-2010).

By 2010, I was in Abu Dhabi and undergoing full immersion in all things Premier League, and I wrote an entry entitled: Arsenal Is My Team, After All. Mostly based on a realization that I paid a bit more attention to them, and I liked their coach, the dignified Arsene Wenger.

Since then, I generally have regretted that decision. I got on the Arsenal bandwagon just as they were turning into the fancy boys of the Premier League, all style and no substance, , a bunch of non-Brits who thought the game should be a non-contact sport.

The blog headlines since then tell the tale.

2013: “Arsenal Fan? Maybe not the best choice”

2014: “The Long Soccer Meltdown” (as Arsenal ceased being a championship contender).

2015: “The Quiet Hopelessness of Arsenal Fans”

2016: “Arsenal Angst, as Always”

2017: “The Agony and Ecstasy of the Arsenal Fan”

2018: “The Trials and Tribulations of the Arsenal Fan”

So, I have been down this road before, but even in previous years “this road” was not quite as rocky as it has been this season. Two defeats to to open the season. A period where the club looked vaguely competent and moved up toward the top-six “big” teams where Arsenal ought to be at all times.

Arsenal climbed up to third place for a few days, last month, ahead of everyone not named Manchester City or Liverpool. Ahead of arch-rivals Tottenham.

Then came Arsenal Being Arsenal — finding ways to lose, losing four of their past five to drop out of the Champions League places (at the moment) for next season.

The effort today was particularly dim-witted and heartless, the sort of showing that refreshes your memory about how gutless Arsenal often can be, particularly when the Gunners face a team with mean boys who like to invade their “personal space”. (“Get your hands off me, when I pirouette!”)

They were playing away to Leicester, the club that stole the 2016 Premier League championship from second-place Arsenal — in a season when Liverpool, the Manchesters and Chelsea were all shaky.

Of late, Arsenal has been so bad that lots of casual observers thought the Foxes would win the match. That belief was given additional credence when the only Englishman in the lineup, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, picked up a second yellow card — and thus, a red) before the first half was over.

Even before going down to 10 men, Arsenal was retreating into its own half, playing a 4-4-2, hoping to launch a counterattack — this from the club that practically invented aggressive attacking, during the early Wenger years. Leicester applied all the pressure, and as anyone who watches Arsenal knows, the Gunners will leak a goal if they remain under pressure. Sure enough, Youri Tieleman scored in the 59th minute, and then Jamie Vardy picked up two more as the game wound down and Arsenal lost its umpteenth PL road match of the season.

Other Arsenal problems? This is a team that recruits guys who pout, who throw their hands in the air in silent condemnation for a teammate not having anticipated that pass into nowhere. It is guys who avoid collisions (looking at you, Mesut Ozil) and who go for the goal themselves, rather than lay it off for the un-marked teammate sprinting to their left or right.

It often feels new coach Unai Emery (as was also the case in the late Wenger period) has rounded up 11 guys who looked good dribbling a ball in an empty stadium but didn’t get around to introducing them to each other before kickoff. No sense of a plan or a style or anything that might show the slightest bit of heart or collective joy.

Arsenal at this point is at real risk of drifting out of the “top six” and leaving it a top five, as the club scrabbles with the likes of Wolverhampton, Burnley and Everton in pursuit of the second Europa League berth. (Oh, and Arsenal last year was ranked the sixth-richest club in world football.)

My history with this club has been one of “buying high” and preparing to “sell low”.

I do not see them as an elite team any time soon, and it wasn’t like I grew up worshiping their latest French or Balkan or Spanish imports. Check their current squad: More flags there than at the United Nations.

Ah, well. I am stuck with this team. One that hasn’t won the league since 2004, hasn’t played in the Champions League since their 19-season streak ended two years ago.

If I had it to do over again, and I do not, I would plump for some mid-table club — or even a Championship side — who send out 11 guys who seem interested in winning.


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