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Friday, June 17, 2011

Arsenal Transfer Talks: Should Arsenal Sign Free-Agent Patrick Vieira?




As of June 16, 2011, the Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira is a free-agent after finding himself outside the plans of Manchester City’s manager Roberto Mancini. The 34-year-old Senegalese-born defensive midfielder spent a year-and-a-half long spell at the Blues, scoring three goals in 28 matches.

Now that he is a free-agent, we can’t resist but ask the question: Can he be the salvation for Arsenal’s arguable lack of winning mentality?

On the surface, Vieira looks like a transfer target that Arsene Wenger may not be quick to dismiss. He is free to join any club he wants, has rich history with the Gunners, and is very experienced. But what makes him most considerable for Arsenal’s signature is his much-familiar character.

Who could forget his indomitable spirit and leadership qualities?

Patrick Vieira was the captain of Arsenal for four hugely successful years in the club’s history: from 2002 to 2006. He was a key member of the “Invincibles” squad of 2003/04 and was the man who added the last significant trophy to Arsenal’s accolade room in 2005: scoring the winning penalty in the final of the FA cup against Manchester United.

But it was his character, more than his abilities on the field, which was in the root of many successes for Arsenal. He was the leader, a man who team-mates could look up to in difficult times. He still has it in him.
Roberto Mancini has reportedly offered Vieira a coaching role at Manchester City because of his influence on the other players, but the soon-to-be-35 player has refused with the belief that he still has something to offer to the game the most likely reason.

“It is still 50-50 at the moment [to retire or keep playing].” Vieira said earlier this month  

“It would not be a problem for me to stop tomorrow because I have been lucky enough to experience everything… I still want to play and if I have an exciting proposition here (France) or somewhere else in England, I would probably play on.”

“If I have nothing exciting, I will stop. There is a chance I could stop, but at the moment my mind isn't telling me that I will be stopping in a couple of months.”

Quatar, where he can still find clubs who will be able to match what he was earning at Manchester City, the Major Soccer League, where his Arsenal ex-team-mate Thierry Henry is playing, or going back to France remain some of the probable destinations for celebrated midfield veteran.
But could it be Arsenal?

He could play an important role as a player/coach and will definitely offer something to the considered “green” squad of Wenger. Undoubtedly, he can exercise positive influence on the players in the dressing room by infecting them with that much-sought-in-life attitude of “never give up”.

The biggest block to such a move would, of course, be the wage the Arsenal club is willing to pay to the aging player. At 34, he is unlikely to be offered an astronomical wage, but his motivation may lay elsewhere: he is a fan of Arsenal and is likely to play Champions League football again.

Whether Arsenal signs him or not, there is no doubt whatsoever Vieira will remain one of the club’s all-time legends.  

But as in fairy tales, wouldn’t it be wonderful for the great performer to perform in front of the audience that witnessed the best of his years as a footballer yet again?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Patrick Vieira to end his career at Arsenal?
 
It certainly will.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Arsenal FC: Steps To Avoid the February/March Collapse Next Season


In the past four years, Arsenal have been a step away from going through the Premier League finish line triumphant. Losing several key players during the transitional phase of moving to the Emirates robbed the Gunners not only of depth, but also of experience.

Inevitably, results suffered. But what was interesting was how and when the negative results were more likely to occur. Logically, lack of adequate depth of the team meant limited resources. A player just cannot play all season without adequate rest. Injuries also go hand in hand with fatigue.

Hence, by mid-February or March, Arsenal’s strengths start to diminish to a level where they are title contenders no more.

Already in the pit hole of dwindled resources, the light that could bring them out—a nice blend of mental strength and experience—was also nowhere to be seen. Usually, after a negative result follows another negative result, if the chain is not interrupted by wise decisions—wise decisions that experienced players can take.

Arsenal have lacked that.

Those two factors contributed to the repetitive occurrences of negative outcomes in the months of February and March in the past four seasons—what we may call the winter collapse of Arsenal.
How to deal with that collapse? What to do to improve the chances of that not happening again next time?

There are ways. Here’s one:


Step One: Strengthen the Squad by Bringing in a Few More Bodies

The first step would be to buy yet another defender of close-to-world-class ability and partner him with Thomas Vermaelen, or promote a defender with huge potential and use him as cover for the rest.

Arsenal already have three very good defenders in Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci.
Based on style of play, they are different from each other. Djorou, for example, is good in the air, marks well, positions himself adequately as well as reads the game well. Koscielny is brave, not afraid of challenges and is a great tackler. Squillaci is also good and very experienced, but tends to have lapses in judgment occasionally.

The Gunners also have one world-class defender in Thomas Vermaelen. He is tenacious, brave and good in the air, positions himself well, a good passer and a leader. On top of that, he possesses a formidable shot.

All in all, Arsenal have four defenders—a good number for any team out there. But in order for the next step in eliminating the February/March collapse to be put to work, another defender must be brought into the picture.

This can either be a defender brought from outside—a very good, experienced defender to partner Vermaelen—or a defender from the youth ranks to cover for the others, like Ignasi Miquel. The former would be the best choice.

On the defensive flanks, the need of good cover for Bacary Sagna on the right side is evident. A player with qualities similar to Sagna’s could be brought in and through Step Two, could contribute to Arsenal’s endeavors.

In midfield, Arsenal will benefit from bringing in yet another great midfielder. With the probability of Cesc Fabregas leaving in the summer, a void would be left, most likely benefiting youngsters as Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. But with his departure, the midfield line will be weakened minus one body and the skill of the Spanish captain.

A good choice would be a player who is in his mid-20s and has proven himself—one that has the necessary skill and vision to serve as a rock in difficult times. Of course, that will require some money to be spent, but with the club’s debt diminishing by the month that is likely to happen.

In the front, four attackers contribute to finishing off the Arsenal attacks: Nicklas Bendtner, Maroune Chamakh, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott. It’s a potent forward line capable of dismantling even the most resilient defenses, but if we are to see Step Two put to work, we’ll need another attacker.

Of course, the hypothetical forward would need to possess skills worthy of world-class club’s forward line.
Now, we are ready to proceed to Step Two.


Step Two: Use Rotation

Give the opportunity for other players to take part in Arsenal’s hunt for trophies every other match. By having a squad with an almost evened out class spread among the players, the opportunity of giving rest to every one of them and creating an atmosphere of “friendly” competition is presented.

In defense, for example, a good mix of central defenders could be used, along with playing the covers for the full backs every third or fourth match, depending on the fixtures.

For example, Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou could start sometimes to rest Thomas Vermaelen and the guy who partners him. On the flanks, more playing time should be given to Kieran Gibbs on the left, and the cover of Bacary Sagna on the right side.

In midfield, there are plenty of talented players in the squad to make the use of rotation possible as it is, but Arsenal will surely benefit from signing one more talented and experienced player with a slightly more defensive-minded attitude. He could serve as a partner of Alex Song, playing just behind the more creative midfielders; this would also allow Jack Wilshere to develop his attacking game.

The probable departure of Cesc Fabregas can be a blessing in disguise.

The Arsenal captain has not given his best season this year following the huge speculation of him leaving for Barcelona during the previous summer. Also, he was plagued by a recurring hamstring injury. This, however, gave the chance to Jack Wilshere to rise to the challenge and, so far, he has done it perfectly.

In case Fabregas left Arsenal, the money could be used for buying the aforementioned midfield player and one more to serve as his replacement.

In attack, there is a wide variety of strikers in terms of style. Arsenal has Theo Walcott who could play either on the wing or as a striker; his speed puts him in a different dimension to the other strikers.

Nicklas Bendtner and Maroune Chamakh are of a similar mould. They are both good in the air and imposing in terms of physical stature. They could be rotated depending on current form and to give rest to other strikers.

Robin van Persie’s skill and deadliness in front of goal will ensure that he will start in most of the games, except when he needs rest. He could be partnered by either Walcott or Bendtner/Chamakh, depending on the opposition.

Another striker could be bought in the summer to serve as a cover in case of injuries, or the talent of Carlos Vela could be finally used to its full potential. In truth, he deserves to play for Arsenal, but so far, hasn’t received a real chance to prove himself.


Step Three: Increase the Tactical Variety

More than once Arsenal has been branded a predictable team. They like to play attacking football bent on possession of the ball. While this has been effective in the past and in the beginning of the season, it has also become predictable and easy to counter by other teams.

Arsenal suffers against well-organized defensive teams, and it is especially against those teams that something must be added on to increase the chance of snatching all of the points. While there is an entirely different game on the field, the psychological one could improve results with the implementation of several other tactical innovations.

For example, more shots from outside the box could be taken; more chip balls above the defense; more individual play; and last but not least, more traps should be laid. Passing the ball in their own half could draw out the oppositional team which would present a chance for a quick attack to be more effective amidst their more dispersed ranks.

Consistent tactical innovation along with rotation throughout the season—and especially during February or March, when the second fixtures between Premier League teams are played and fatigue is taking its toll—could do wonders for Arsenal.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Manchester United-Barcelona: The 10 Times They Previously Met

What a cracker of a game we are expecting to see in the Champions League final at Wembley stadium.

On the one side, we have arguably the best club in the world, Barcelona, and on the other, the indomitable spirit of Alex Ferguson’s selection.

The two clubs are no strangers to each other.

They have met 10 times before, sharing the spoils with three wins each and four draws. The goal ratio is slightly in favor of Barcelona with 17 goals against 14.

The Catalans finished top of their group with relative ease and eliminated Arsenal (1-2, 3-1), Shakthar Donesk (5-1, 1-0) and arch-rivals Real Madrid (2-0, 1-1) to reach their second Champions League final in three years.

Manchester United also topped their group and went on to eliminate Olympique de Marseille (0-0, 2-1), English rivals Chelsea (1-0, 2-1) and Shalke (2-0, 4-1) to play in the Champions League Final for the third time in four years.

If history is to play a role in the build-up of this game, here is how it will:

1984 European’s Cup Winners Cup, Q/f, Barcelona: Manchester United (2-0, 0-3)

 

On the day Mathew Flamini was born, two of the clubs he will never play for met at the magnificent Nou Camp. It was to be their first ever encounter in history.

The intimidating atmosphere of the stadium and the presence of Diego Maradona in the Barcelona squad proved too much for the Red Devils, and they were already trailing 2-0 prior to the second leg.

But on the night of March 21, miracles existed outside of fairy tales. A shrilling noise filled the air of the 58350 Old Trafford to rival that of the magnificent Nou Camp.

If the Red Devils had not believed they could overcome the deficit from the first leg, then it was all surely forgotten when they heard the will of the people on that stadium and taken by the initial euphoria they lurched at Barcelona.

The Catalans held until Ray Wilkins found Bryan Robson inside the 6-yard box from a corner. From a close range Robson duly converted, sending the crowd into frenzy, 1-0 to United.

In the second half, it only took two minutes to crush the mighty Catalans. After a careless back-pass by Vitto, Barcelona defender, the ball rolled in no man’s land. A cross caused a melee near the box which somehow gave the chance for Ray Wilkins to shoot. He took it unsuccessfully, but the rebounded ball was blasted into the net by Bryan Robson for the second time, 2-0 to United.

Two minutes later, the momentum led to another goal. A cross from the left side landed on the head of a United player, his shot inaccurate, sending the ball to the far post where Frank Stapleton had the easiest of nudges to do, 3-0 to United.

The crowd went ballistic.

The Red Devils overcame a deficit of 2-0 to win 3-2 over two legs against Barcelona.

1991 European’s Cup Winners Cup Final, Manchester United – Barcelona (2-1)

 

A year after the lifting of the ban on English teams to participate in European competitions, Manchester United met Barcelona for the third time.

They had already inflicted a wound on them seven years earlier, after eliminating them in the quarterfinals of the very same European’s Cup Winners Cup.

On the night, Barcelona suffered the absence of key players—first-choice goalkeeper Andoni Zubizaretta, influential midfielder Guillermo Amor and efficient striker Hristo Stoichkov.

After 66 minutes of goal drought, the Catalans had to relive the nightmare of 1984. Bryan Robson, which to them might have become the Boogeyman after that match, lobbed the ball from a free-kick, and the attempted header left Mark Hughes alone against the goal on the far post, 1-0.

But Robson’s looming figure had not had its last word. A through ball by him released Mark Hughes into one-on-one with the Barcelona goal keeper. Hughes went around him and scored his second.

It was clear United were going to inflict further damage on their Spanish counterparts. Nonetheless, Barcelona walked out with their heads up. Ronald Koeman reminded of his shot power materializing a 30-yard free-kick.

It ended 2-1 to Manchester United as they became the first English club to win a European trophy after the lifting of the ban.


1994 Champions League Group Stage, Manchester United – Barcelona (2-2, 0-4)

 

Barcelona had suffered a devastating 4-0 defeat at the hand of Milan in the League’s final of the previous year. Motivated to the limit and against a crippled by the new foreigners rule side (only a limited number of foreigners allowed), the Catalans destroyed the Red Devils 4-0 in front of 117,000 people at the Nou Camp.

United managed to get a draw at home through goals by Mark Hughes and Lee Sharpe, but without their goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, their defense was ripped apart by the deadly attacking duo Romario-Stoichkov in the second leg.

Two goals by the Bulgarian, one by the Brazilian and one more by Albert Ferrer served cold revenge on United for past crimes.


1998 Champions League Group Stage, Manchester United – Barcelona (3-3)

 

Two of the best games in the history of football happened as Barcelona and Manchester United exchanged blow after blow over the length of two legs in 1998.

At the prime of his career, David Beckham’s crossing might have served as a tutorial for army sharpshooters. A pin-point accurate cross from the right made it the easiest thing in the world for Ryan Giggs to head the ball home.

Another one found Dwight Yorke, who attempted a spectacular scissors kick only to be parried by the goalkeeper. The rebounded ball, though, was found by Paul Scholes who doubled United’s lead.

The Catalans responded: First, through Sonny Aderson, and then through Giovanni from a penalty.
Not long after, the ubiquitous David Beckham curved in a trademark free-kick of his, 3-2. Just like that, he became a megastar overnight.

Twenty minutes from the end, a great melee inside United’s box culminated in a one-handed save by Nicky Butt—a penalty and a red card resulted. Luis Enrique duly converted putting an end one of the most spectacular matches in some time.


1998 Champions League Group Stage, Barcelona – Manchester United (3-3)

 

Four words could describe this match: Rivaldo, Yorke, Cole, Brilliant!

If there was a partnership that could rival the one of Hristo Stoichkov and Romario, it was undoubtedly the one of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole.

Their communication was on another level on that night.

But not before Barcelona opened their tally inside the first minute through Sonny Anderson.

It was United’s turn. In their very first attack, Dwight Yorke received the ball from the left and with a calculated beautiful, low shot made it 1-1.

One more golden opportunity Barca had in the first half, saved by a terrific Peter Schmeichel.

Eight minutes from the renewal of the game, the telepathic conversation between Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke happened.  A pass from Roy Keane was destined to Yorke, but he let the ball roll to Cole; Cole passed it back to Yorke; Yorke flicked it back to Cole; Cole scored. Wicked.

The defense was left standing in amazement. 2-1.

And then the brilliance of Rivaldo came to ruin the perfect evening clad in white (away shirts). A perfect free-kick made it 2-2.

United kept on pushing. A wonderful chance presented itself to Yorke after a cross from David Beckham. He wasted it.

A bit later, another cross came from the same man, and Yorke did not ask if he could score this time. 3-2.

Insistent Rivaldo came knocking at the door for the second time. He received a cross from the left and, in a moment of pure brilliance, tamed the ball with his head and made a spectacular over-head kick. The Brazilian in him spoke in poetry.

It finished 3-3, but no one in his sane mind wanted this match to ever finish.


2008 Champions League Semifinal, Barcelona – Manchester United (0-0, 0-1)

 

Not many teams go to Nou Camp and manage to leave without conceding a goal.

The Red Devils did that in 2008 gifting themselves a chance to proceed to the final if they beat Barcelona at their own Old Trafford.

Only 14 minutes since the first whistle, Paul Scholes found himself facing the goal from 25 yards with ball comfortably in front of him and no Barcelona player near him— the ingredients of beauty. A long drive, rivaled only by few others for beauty, sent the ball into the upper left corner of Victor Valdes’ goal.

One goal was a fragile lead as the outcome of the match was to show.

United pushed on to score a second but missed many golden chances. Barcelona was also very close on several occasions, but once again, they were left with a bitter taste in their mouths as the Red Devils proceeded to the final and eventually won the tournament.


2009 Champions League Final, Barcelona – Manchester United (2-0)

 

Another titanic clash in 2009 did not disappoint. Chances flew from one side to the other.

Manchester United started strongly with Christiano Ronaldo fired up to the maximum. He missed several good chances to score before Samuel Eto’o came out of nowhere to shock Alex Ferguson’s boys in the ninth minute with a powerful shot that went underneath the arm of Edwin van der Saar.

Barcelona could have added a second in the first half, but the shots of Messi and later Xavi whiskered over the bar.

In the second half, Xavi hit the post from a free-kick, further asserting the will of Barcelona to put an end the match.

Just three minutes later, Ji Sung Park was an inch away from connecting with a rebounded ball a couple of meters away from the goal line.

Then, Thierry Henry changed direction several times inside the box and produced a shot which proved to be easy prey for the experienced Van der Saar.

In the 69th minute, it was all over. Messi, left unmarked inside the box, elegantly deflected the ball over Van der Saar and doubled the lead of his team, sending the big-wigs in the boxes in a delightful mode.
United worked their way to a couple of more fruitless chances, and, soon after, there was already a scent of fiestas in the air.

Barcelona was crowned champions at the expense of the team that eliminated them from the tournament a year earlier.

 


 


 


 


 


 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Must-Watch Documentary: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Who are we? Where do we come from? Exceedingly difficult yet fundamentally important questions to answer. Every single one of us is on a life-long quest for searching for the answers of those two questions. It's a natural urge more powerful than what we have come to be now - more powerful than us. Putting a reign on it, or rather, answering to the call of the beckoning, undeniable mother-hood, seems to lay in curiosity to learn, indefatigable faith that we'll find our way back to our true roots, and awareness of our own restrictions.

Cosmos originates from Greek. It means "order" - the "order of the universe".Since the dawn of time, man has been trying to uncover this order. "We've only reached the shores" Carl Sagan would say. The road is long, but armed with those three virtues, in the end, we'll reach it.

Lay back, relax, and allow yourself to make a journey of self-discovery. Here's Carl Sagan's Cosmos: