Sunday, August 15, 2010

My First Date With Arsenal

This weekend was all about EPL in our household. "Eat, Pray, Love" starring Julia Roberts for my wife, and the opening weekend of the English Premier League for me. I think I had more fun.

I was pretty excited about seeing my newly adopted Arsenal Gunners play a match that mattered. I had watched a couple of the preseason "friendlies" as they are called, but that's like watching preseason NFL football--you know it doesn't matter, so you are quickly bored. By the way, there are WAY too many "friendlies" in soccer--just like we have too many NFL preseason games, too many college football bowl games, and too many Globetrotters games each year. Give us a break. Let us enjoy the stuff that really matters, and quit the sham that is exhibition sports. And in the case of the Globetrotters, at least give them someone else to play besides the Generals so that buying into it isn't so difficult.

This weekend's action had the same feel to it that the opening weekend of the NFL has--except that it's only been a two month off-season for the EPL, and the NFL makes us wait seven months (have I really just made a 10 month commitment to a sport that I might not like?). I watched the EPL preview show on the Fox Soccer Channel (which is now in HD--thank God), and I've read up as much as I could on my new team. Arsenal hasn't won anything in the last four seasons (except that glorious weekend last month when they retained the prestigious Emirates Cup), but they are highly thought of which makes it fun to watch a team that may be on the cusp of something big. I was ready to go.

The Gunners were taking on Bob Sturm's Liverpool club. A classic Musers vs BAD Radio clash, and a classic season opening matchup of two sides who are almost always among the best in the league. The game was 0-0 at the start, and 0-0 at the half (what have I gotten into, again?). Liverpool scored quickly to open the second half, and in the last minute of action, Arsenal got a cheap goal to tie the game at 1-1. I was thrilled with the cheap goal--there is nothing worse than losing your opener in any sport. Today, I learned to appreciate kissing my sister.

Other thoughts from my first regular season Arsenal watch:

Is there a sport where going a man down matters less than in soccer? A Liverpool chap was red-carded (kicked out) late in the first half, which meant the Reds played with 10 men to Arsenal's 11 the rest of the way. "We'll kill them!" I thought, thinking of my Gunners now on a hockey-like power play for the second half. In reality, you couldn't tell a difference. Instead of being a man down, Liverpool looked like they were three men up.

The flopping is outrageous!! Don't these guys know that we have instant replay and can clearly see that they were not touched?? They will writhe around in pain as though they've just been Joe Theismann'd. Floppers in the NBA are actors, but they are Oscar winners compared to soccer guys. The cheap playlet often ends with a stretcher being brought out--I've never seen that during an NBA game--I think even Rudy T. walked off under his own power.

The atmosphere at the stadium looks great. The fans are singing and chanting all game long. Is it because they are drunk, or bored, or simply because they're such great fans? I'm thinking all of the above.

Penalty kicks and free kicks are fun. Corner kicks, however, are incredibly overrated. How many times does a team convert a corner--once in 100 tries? There were a ton of corner kicks in the Arsenal game today. The announcers would build them up, and then every time the ball would be poked 600 feet into the air and nobody would ever come close to scoring a goal. Corner kicks are not what they are cracked up to be.

I love Arsenal's road uniforms. I love their home look, too, And I like Liverpool's red. In fact, soccer uniforms, in general, are really cool. Looking forward to watching games each week just to take in the uniforms, stadiums, etc.

I noticed one thing today that may be the key to enjoying soccer. It's the struggle. It can be so frustrating to watch a soccer match because so much goes on, but so few points are put on the board. When your team falls behind 1-0, it seems as though they have to climb Everest to get that equalizer. It's really, really hard to score a goal, and that's frustrating to watch. But maybe that's also the beauty of it all.

So far, so good. I think I'm going to like this. At the very least, I know I'll end up liking in more than a Julia Roberts movie.


  1. Hey Junior,

    I am doing what you are doing with getting into soccer and adopting a team to root for. I, however, am now a Manchester United fan. They play tomorrow vs Newcastle. It is just good to see another new fan like myself. Keep up the good work, Cody

  2. I need to find a team to choose as my own. Almost made the mistake of choosing Chelsea until Sturm made me realize that would be front running.
    One thing you should also notice about the beauty of soccer is, the placement of their stadiums. You won't see major highways just outside them but cities, with people casually walking down streets. You don't even need a car to get to most of their stadiums, they're a part of neighborhoods.
    Imagine that.

  3. Enjoyed the post, getting into the Premier League as well. Watched the Preview show on Fox Soccer, looked like something I would have produced at the campus TV station. Surprised you didn't decide to go with Tottenham (which is where I've started), they are the "Spurs" after all. I don't know where this is going, but at the very least provides another weekend sports watching opportunity until American football comes back in September and after it leaves in February.

  4. Yo tambien. I adopted West Ham United, who got throttled 3-0 on the road at Aston Villa in a brutal thunderstorm. Listened to the call of the game on BBC London.

    I picked W Ham as they are the "hammers" - Hard Liners? - and the home kits look like my beloved Texas Ags, well except for the light blue. Road kits, meh.

  5. I'll ring in as another new fan. I let the world cup win me over this year. I chose first time relegated and immediately re-promoted NUFC. So me and Cody should fight at Fight Night maybe?

    Anyway, a quick comment on the lack of scoring. I think forcing myself to watch all the World Cup games taught me something. Yeah the scoring is sparse but I get so elated when they do finally score. When the Cowboys score on an opening drive, I say, "Alright good, Play some D get the Ball back and make another good drive." We need 21 points before I start getting impressed by scoring. I EXPECT scoring.
    In soccer, scoring is almost never underwhelming. One gets a real impression of how many things have to go right, therefore the payoff is much greater.
    The problem is finding stuff to be excited about the rest of the time. I've been studying Defense really hard trying to learn what's what so that I can get some emotion up when the ball is at that side.

  6. While NFL preseason and most CFB bowl games are pretty much meaningless, soccer friendlies serve as brand marketing by developing new out of market fans. Greater merchandise and advertising sales (not shared among teams as with most US leagues) bring in more money for buying and paying players.

    And regarding the struggle, good sport as with good art, film, literature, etc. should require work and struggle. It should at times be very frustrating. It should often have ambiguous outcomes where there are no winners.

    That's life. That's reality.

    But as in life, success and victory in soccer is far greater, far purer, and the emotions attached to them far more real because the game is not designed to cut corners in getting to cheapened results; as we Americans, raised largely on a highly contrived and gratuitously violent sport, have been conditioned to think is normal.

  7. MillerMan ( I am one too), you got this. You and RoofPukeBoy Followill picked the exact team to follow. Gunners will build and be great again with Wenger. If Fab played it would have been 8-1 result...ribbie agrees. enjoy your courage! look forward to the D&M EPL corner this season!

  8. Being a man down is much worse in soccer than in Hockey, as you never get back the advantage unless your opponent gets tossed or hurt without any subs left. I was hoping for the short-handed Reds victory, but that cheap of all cheap goals prevented our 3 pts. Two things to take away from this game, Liverpool played extremely well for being a man down, the team down almost always succumbs to the #s. Next, Arsenal did not play up to their level by any stretch, this is something to pay attention to as the season progresses. I realize Fabregas and Van Persie weren't in the starting 11 (both played in WC Final), but sloppy play from them, vs scrappy play from Liverpool. The great saves from each of the goalkeepers kept this one interesting throughout, so close to 3pts, but I'll take my one considering the man down.

  9. I think you missed the most significant event of the match, which was Liverpool deciding to push a concussed Daniel Agger back onto the pitch rather than play with a two man disadvantage. Think the EPL needs a player's union?

  10. Not to be too nit-picky, Junior, but it's either Arsenal or Gunners...never both.

  11. Good to know about the nickname thing. Very confusing to me. So, officially they have no nicknames? Or are the nicknames official, just never used with the club name?

  12. The nicknames are not officially part of the club name. It is just Arsenal FC or The Gunners (or affectionately The Gooners).
    I have been an Arsenal supporter since 2005. When they are on, it is beautiful to watch. Crisp passing, intelligent runs. When they are off (like yesterday) it is painful. Couple of things about our club:
    1.Manuel Almunia is a calamity in goal. I thought they were addressing this in the offseason, but everything has fallen through.
    2. Robin Van Persie is the most oft-injured player in the history of the world. When he is healthy, he shows flashes, but personally, I think he is overrated.
    3. Andrei Arshavin is a joy to watch.
    Enjoy the or lose, following Arsenal is always a rollercoaster!

  13. Don't forget to set the DVR on ESPN2 for season record. You will catch the periodic Monday game, which is usually a pretty good match-up. This week it was ManU/Newcastle. It's not every Monday though. Also if you have DirecTV, in the 400's are some UEFA channels where there are the mid-week European club matches. If your going to dive in, might as well watch it all week long. Pretty much until may you will a regular choosing of live matches on Sat, Sun, Mon(sometimes), Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri (UEFA Champions League and Europa tourneys). If you have Directv you can also get a taste of La Liga and the Bundesliga on GolTV. Pay for the extra Fox soccer channel, and they have the Frenchies too.

    Back to the Arsenal/Liverpool match, one of the best matches I have ever seen was a 4-4 draw between the two where Arshavin had all 4 goals for Arsenal, believe it was Spring 2009. It's worth reading about if you can find an archived recap.

    1 match down, 37 to go :) Enjoy the season Spank.

  14. I got into watching soccer 3 years ago once my daughter started playing the game. There are 3 things that drew me into the sport: the energy of the crowds, the play callers and the passing. I listened to your Monday broadcast and you talked about the crowds. I honestly don't know of an American sporting event that is like it when the English fans start their chants. And when I hear Liverpool fans sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' I always get goose bumps.

    The English play callers are story tellers helping the game along. I don’t feel like they are reading from index cards trying to make a salient sports opinion every 3 minutes. I actually cannot listen football announcers now.

    Growing up I got into basketball by watching the Celtics and Lakers play against each other in the 80s. The thrill for me was always the great passing those teams did. These days I have a difficult time watching NBA basketball because of the over emphasis of isolation plays. Yup, Lebron scored 40 last night. He must have played great? But how did he play? How did he incorporate the rest of the team?

    Yes scoring is an important part of soccer but I watch to see which side is imposing their style on the other team. Some teams like Jose Mourinho's teams focus on defense first while teams like Arsenal and Barcelona play a free flowing style. My suggestion for you is to focus on the passing and the decision a player makes once he receives the ball. Then when someone scores it is like icing on the cake.

  15. Junior Miller Man,
    Glad to see you expanding your horizons a bit. At it's best, soccer is a symphony to hockey's four-man band. Both are so great with their constant action and knowing that a goal could come from anywhere at anytime. Hope you enjoy the season and, not sure if you're following Arsenal in all competitions, but look out for the Champions League...especially the knockout rounds. It's like the fantasy league of soccer and the quality of games is unlike any other. Imagine taking all of the best players from the World Cup and their teams' different styles, and then have them train together for the entire year (instead of a few weeks to prepare foe the WC) and the result is simply amazing.

  16. Good job Meeeeler. Good article and glad you gave it a go. Hope you also watched the Blackpool game, when Arsenal are on...they are ON. Champions League gets going again pretty soon...those are good matches to watch too, especially b/c you get them mid-week.

    Remember, "Victoria Concordia Crescit"

  17. Hi Junior,

    Glad you are on board with the Gooners! I've been a lifelong fan and love the ticket also.

    Here is a little gift from me to you. Two short youtube vids that may help illustrate my point. While I totally agree on your "flopping" point, there are times when players will actually get airborne in order to avoid contact and potential injury. These flops or, as they are call in the soccer world, "dives" are often miscalled by the refs. We all want the players to be honest rather than cheat.... but isn't that true of EVERY american sport too??? We could spend months listing all the cheats in the good old U.S.A.

    Anyway... VIDS. These both happened in the past three years. I couldn't find the third one anywhere. Maybe thats a blessing.

    and 2

    I was watching live for both. But it happens so you see why there is a fine line when it comes to diving to sell the ref and diving to protect one's self.

    Thanks and keep up the fantastic work!