Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The World Cup Is Here (Thank God)

When Juan and I started The Legend of Carl Awesome in the twilight years of the George W. Bush administration, we never dreamed that someday, ten years later, the blog would still exist exactly as it did back then - with absolutely zero audience, intermittent flurries of activity followed by years of dormancy, and a style and appearance that was somehow outdated even in 2008. Back then we were living in Washington, D.C. and New York City, respectively, and while I don't want to speak entirely for Juan, I think it's fair to say that we were not doing a ton with our lives. We were living in the weird holding period of life that immediately follows college; trying to figure out the next move. And while there was no real hardship in our lives, there was some anxiety.  Soccer (and occasionally blogging about soccer) seemed like an excellent way to pass the time and, at least for me, suppress some of the lurking anxiety about WTF I was going to do with my life.  It's not a coincidence that the vast bulk of our posts came during those first few years after college when our lives were more uncertain: we had something outside our lives that we could fixate on, analyze, obsess over, joke about. Something constant and comforting, like Arsene repeatedly trying and failing to zip up his coat or Jose Mourinho being a tremendous jackass.  Something that provided beauty and art like Cesc Fabregas playing a perfectly weighted pass to a runner that only he could see. And something that reminded us of the possibility of great joy in the world, like David Trezeguet scoring and smiling his incredible, enormous smile that spoke a language that needed no interpretation: yes, life really can be this good.

Over the years, we occasionally dropped in to write something silly or celebratory, but it's been awhile since we even did that. And to be sure, a lot has happened since our last post in November 2014. At this point, I imagine myself talking to 2014 Jim and Juan and not even knowing where to begin. Let's see... Jose Mourinho manages at Manchester United now.  It's not quite as bad as you might think, but it's not great. Messi and Ronaldo are ageless and still outstanding in every way. Arsenal won two more FA Cups but lost their familiar, comfortable grip on the Top Four trophy. There was actually a season where Arsenal finished ahead of United, Citeh, Spurs, Chelsea, and Liverpool and didn't win the League. (Don't ask.) Arsene Wenger retired. (It was sad and overdue.) Real Madrid embarked upon a Champions League dynasty that I did not see coming (and still find hard to understand/fathom even now). Portugal won the Euros over a French team that was superior in almost every single way. (Eder scored; it was extremely weird.) Chile, Italy, and, most devastatingly, the United States, somehow failed to qualify for the World Cup. Lionel Messi and Argentina picked themselves up from their heartbreaking 2014 World Cup loss and bravely made it to the final of the 2015 Copa America, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion; they then picked themselves up from that disaster and bravely made it to the final of the 2016 Copa America Centenario, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion, and here is where I'd pause so 2014 Juan can stop laughing and wipe the tears of mirth from his eyes.

Other non-football things have happened. Juan became an ER doctor; he's about to start his medical practice in Miami. I started practicing law in New York, moved to Sacramento, and am now about to relocate to London for at least a little while. Both of us have married beautiful, intelligent, accomplished women (that indulge or at least accept our love of soccer). I have a daughter, and Juan and his wife just welcomed a son to their family. Our parents and siblings are doing well. We have good friends. Arsenal fandom aside, at this particular moment in time, I think our lives are pretty great by just about every single measure. 

Despite all this, over the last couple years I find myself occasionally feeling the old anxiety that used to creep up in that uncertain time after college. Only now, it's not related to my personal or professional life (or at least not usually). I think we all know why. Maybe you, our nonexistent reader, have felt it or feel it, too.

It's hard to argue that the world isn't noticeably more crap than it was when we wrote our last posts in 2014, the year of the last World Cup. In a way, it feels right that the USA isn't playing in this year's competition. As a nation, we're having a go at genuine isolationism, so it seems altogether fitting and proper that we should find ourselves locked out of this great global party.  When the subject of the World Cup has come up with friends and acquaintances, a number have laughed it off and admitted that they won't be paying any attention. Some shake their heads ruefully and joke about Fox getting what they deserve by spending a fortune to broadcast a competition to a nation that won't even be participating and therefore won't be paying attention.

But I don't really care that the USA isn't here. And I will not be deterred from watching and enjoying this by the fact that everything is awful. The current political situation is precisely why I need this World Cup so badly. I need Olivier Giroud--wearing the only blue shirt that looks right on him--holding the ball up imperiously and laying it off to the Young God™Antoine Griezmann as he bursts into the area like Hermes on winged feet. I need Luis Suarez doing something insane, thus completing his own Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy of wacky World Cup controversy (and so we can all find out just how far Juan's parents will go to justify the actions of a madman so long as he wears the shirt of La Celeste). I need Iran and Morocco and Sweden and Iceland and Costa Rica and South Korea and Australia and all the other underdogs absolutely parking the bus in their best Mourinho homage and trying to kill a game dead, only to have their resistance broken by some late moment of magic from A Big Name or The Next Big Thing. I need Mexico getting out of their group and playing well enough to fool their fans into thinking "this is definitely the year we make the quarters" before some unbelievable calamity a la Maxi Rodriguez or Arjen Robben befalls them and sends the nation into a period of mourning befitting an actual tragedy. I need to see if the new (fake) Trezeguet from Egypt has a smile with one tenth the wattage of his namesake. I need Cinderella Runs and Heavy Favorites Flaming Out in Spectacular Fashion (hello there, Spain!).  I need furious texting sessions with friends and family as we all pretend to know everything about some 20 year old attacking midfielder from Panama or Senegal who comes off the bench in the 85th minute and scores a screamer ("Eredivisie and Ligue 1 teams have expressed interest.").  All of the cliched narratives, constant and comforting, and yet unfolding so as to provide surprise, excitement, and feats and outcomes never seen before. I need it all. Life really can be this good.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Check, Please

If Arsenal were a restaurant it would be a Cafe.
At Arsenal Cafe the menu looks delicious:
Jamon serrano croque monsieur
Bouillabasse with mustard seed toast
Vegetarian paella for two
10oz ribeye with patatas bravas
Lamb schnitzel - (sorry, temporarily unavailable)
Today's Special - Pan-seared Chilean sea bass with a lemon shallot butter

The reviews would be something like this:
5/5 stars - "Great place!  Get the sea bass special... omg, so good.  I can't believe this place has been down the block this whole time!  I can't wait to go back."  - Jenn

5/5 stars - "Seriously get the fish special, unforgettable!!  Great place for a date, quiet chic atmosphere and reasonably priced!!"  - Brit

4/5 stars - "Fantastic noms.  4 stars only because we waited an hour for the paella and when it was being brought out the waiter tripped and dropped it on the floor!  I heard its good though lol.  They were super nice about it and gave us free dessert.  Cash only. - Bryan

2/5 stars - "Lamb schnitzel is super overrated." - Frank

1/5 stars - "Schnitzel not that great - not worth it for that price"  - Bill

5/5 stars - "Sooooo good!  Apparently this place was a dump way back but my dad said they changed management and now it's great! I had the sea bass (of course! Lol) and my boyfriend seemed to really appreciate the schnitzel, said he couldn't believe all the criticism."  - Franny

0/5 stars - "Worst place ever.  My friend used to work there and said he couldn't wait to get out, they make no money and the staff is always changing and it shows.  Also what is up with cash only?  I asked the owner and he was super rude about it and said he'd never change the policy."  - Wayne

1/5 stars - "The food is ok but they ran out of silverware and the owner just told us to eat with our hands.  wtf?!  Just go buy some silverware bro... owner is crazy, the waiters said they've known about this for months.  Nachos for dessert...not going back"  - Tom

4/5 stars - "The sea bass, I mean WOW.  My friends got the paella but it was weird because the serving tray it was on right when they were going to eat it just randomly exploded and paella went everywhere."  - Ashley

3/5 stars - "My boyfriend drags me to this place at least once a week and promised me things would be different this year.  The sea bass was obviously great but I can't get that every single time.  He was bummed about the schnitzel not being available, said he was worried about that since restaurant week is coming up (newsflash, they're not beating Gordon Ramsays place, again #smh).  It's a good restaurant, don't get me wrong.  Every now and then the service is great, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is perfect.  I just don't get how he gets so excited for this every time."  - Melissa

2/5 stars - "What is with the paella though?  Right as I'm about to take my first bite the light fell from the ceiling and knocked the fork out of my hand and splattered the food everywhere."  - AW

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger Ruin a Lovely Game of Football

I enjoyed this game for about 72 minutes.  Until that point, Alexis Sanchez was doing unspeakable things to the Anderlecht defense, running at them, twisting and turning like a live eel, and generally being the wonderful player that he has been since his arrival.  "A more mentally stable Luis Suarez," as I like to say, or "Nicki Minaj in Clappers," as Juan put it last week.  His first major contribution was to open the defense like a can opener with a perfectly weighted pass for Welbeck, who was promptly hacked down in the area.  Arteta half-panenka'ed the pen.  One nil to the Arsenal.  Then, Sanchez scored a goal that deserves to be remembered as more than a footnote to another entry in the "Arsenal Choke Away Big Lead" storybook (BUT NOW IT WON'T BE - THANKS, ARSENAL).  Alexis had turned on the afterburners, running away from Anderlecht midfield and defense and finally forcing them to foul him on the edge of the area.  And when he dusted himself off and took the resulting free kick, it went straight into the wall.  BUT, Alexis followed the rebound and smashed a first-time volley into the bottom corner.  2-0, sheer class, Arsenal cruising.

The second half was more of the same, with the indefatigable Alexis harrying Anderlecht in their own half and winning a tackle that allowed the Ox to run onto the ball and slot home coolly.  3-0  Game over.  Then, something really funny happened when Anderlecht were able to score a goal that was miles offside.  Hilariously offside.  Not even close offside.  But I wasn't even annoyed at that point, mostly just amused.  It was too bad to lose the clean sheet, but 3-1 at home with the way we had been playing seemed pretty secure.

Then Nacho gave away the penalty, and I stopped laughing.  Was it a dive?  Possibly, probably, who knows, but when you're the wrong side of your man like that, it's hard for the ref not to call it.  So then it was 3-2, and I got that feeling, the one I had against Newcastle, the one I had against Spurs that one time.  That feeling of inevitability.  Helplessness.  Arsenal were absolutely going to cough this one up.  And when they did, it was almost a relief.

I say "almost," because it wasn't actually a relief, it was extremely annoying.  It ruined our chances of topping the group.  It ruined the good feeling and the confidence that had been building in the club's supporters over the past fortnight.  It ruined a wonderful performance by Alexis Sanchez, who must be wondering how many he'll have to score and/or assist before Arsenal can safely see out a game.  (In case he ever reads this: it's five, Alexis.  The answer is five.  We've never pissed away a lead that big before, as far as I can recall, so five should be enough.  Watch us do it this season, though.)  And on a personal and petty note, it ruined my ability to gleefully watch the first half highlights and remember this game fondly and talk about how things are looking up with Juan and Adam, which is what I was most looking forward to at the 72nd minute.

One can rage against the refereeing crew all day, but this one is on Arsenal, and most of all, it's on Arsene Wenger.  You could blame Monreal for being wrong side of his man, but HE. IS. NOT. A. CENTERBACK.  He's just not.  Frankly, I think he's been doing a pretty good job there all things considered.  Yes, this time, he got beat (and maybe the ref got conned).  But the fact that he was even playing there is (1) a result of our failure to get more depth and defensive cover (yes, it's the brokenest of broken records), and (2) a reflection of Wenger's unwillingness to trust Hector Bellerin or even Flamini at right back so that Chambers can play in the center, which, you know, he can actually do.  And it's also on Arsene for not changing things up sooner when it was clear his team were about to crap the bed.  Could Theo Walcott, who looked so lively during his cameo against Burnley, not have come on and helped provide an outlet against a team that were pressing for an equalizer?  We'll never know.

It's going to be a long week now since Arsenal don't play until Sunday.  Every sports journalist in the UK is going to have a field day with this one.  Thanks to this game and certain likely political outcomes, I plan on being one very poorly-informed individual until next week.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alexis is Nicki Minaj in Clappers

There are two contributors to this blog, and I'm the wrong person to write this, but hear me out.

The Arsenal is the song, and Alexis Sanchez is Nicki Minaj.  (That makes Wenger Wale, and Juicy J Aaron Ramsey.)

It's a solid song, a fine song; catchy, unique, well budgeted in a world where some videos are funded by Arab sheiks or Russian oligarchs.

But where would Clappers be without Nicki.  The song fits her, and she fits the song perfectly.  Nicki is a force to be reckoned with, extremely talented, physically gifted, yet somehow underrated.  Do people realize how incredible Minaj is?  Has she had a bad verse, or even a bad cameo?  And in case it isn't clear, she beat Yonce.

She enters the video at 2:45, gulp.  She literally fixes her hair at 3:15 and struts around- that was the transfer.  From 3:15 to 3:28 she gets to know the team, what she'll be working with.  And then the video counts her in - 3, 2, 1 - that's the kickoff.  From there, hold on to your hats.

Alexis Sanchez is to Arsenal what Nicki Minaj is to Clappers, ohh yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Counterpoint: Why You Should Definitely Boo Cesc Fabregas

Yesterday, Juan wrote a post on why you should boo Cesc Fabregas.  Today, I'd like to take issue with that post and explain why you should absolutely, definitely boo Cesc Fabregas.

1. He's an extremely good player.  Probably one of the five best central midfielders in the world.  People who aren't Arsenal fans never really understood this completely.  The subject of Fabregas would come up with fans of other teams, and I would repeatedly insist: "no, he is a truly special world-class player," and then they'd say "hmm sure alright" and then add something nonsensical about Lampard or, even worse, Michael Carrick, and I'd shake my head and say: "no, you don't understand," and then we'd get frustrated with each other.  (And I mean no disrespect to Lampard, who was brilliant and still is sometimes brilliant, especially when he scores against Chelsea because that ish is hilarious.)

2. He wears a blue shirt when he plays home games.

3. He does not wear a red and white shirt when he plays home games.

4. He intentionally passes the ball to this old man who was recently spotted on a bus, and the old man then uses his devil magic skills to magic the ball into the other team's goal.  (Sometimes the other team is wearing red and white.)

5. He was so good and he was the captain and then he said he wanted to go home and he said that it was all he ever wanted and he had Barca DNA and Pepe Reina put that shirt on him and then he went home and OK that's fine it's just like Henry but then three years later he is not at home but instead playing for a terrible man who is completely without honor and class and who would definitely, definitely lose to Arsene Wenger in a fistfight and he is being paid with money that is dripping with the sweat and blood of the Russian people who were swindled and I hate him and I love him and I hate him

(deep breath)


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why You Should Boo Cesc Fabregas

It's been over 3 years since Cesc Fabregas played his last game for Arsenal; it was a 2-1 loss to Bolton.  He left for his hometown of Barcelona, where, before anyone cared where he played soccer, he was just a kid.  In Northeast Spain, nothing is given.  Everything is earned.  Or something like that.

He wanted to win we were told.
But he won't play! We responded (correctly).
He'll fit in perfectly they said.
But where exactly? We exclaimed (correctly).
The weather, the tabloids, the women, the food, the culture - they're are all better in Spain!
But... but...yeah ok fine.

In between watching perhaps the best team I will see in my lifetime I watched him on the bench, desperate for a frown, a twitch, something that I could point to.  Something that would let me know that maybe he regretted his decision.  That's all I really wanted.

I know, I thought, he won't play in El Clasico, and that's when I can move on.  He came on in the 80th minute, Barcelona lost 2-1.

But then he started playing, and then he scored a few goals, and then they won the league, and then they won everything.  He looked happy.  Ouch.

Time will fix this, and it did.  I was happy for him.  He was right, Arsenal was a sinking ship.  He'll always be a gooner.

Until he wasn't.

What in the holy christ fuck is he doing back in England and with goddamn Chelsea with goddamn Mourinho and Drogba, and, jesus!  And don't come at me with this, "Arsenal didn't want him" bullshit.  First of all Arsenal have a right to pass on him, I'm glad they did (no I'm not), and that's not what happened anyway.  If he's capable of forcing himself onto Barcelona, and he'll take a pay cut to do it, and he'll swim the Mediterranean just to get there, then if he really wanted to come back he would have.  It wasn't about competitiveness when he left because athletes in their prime want to contribute - he was the captain of a Champions League team in Englad at 24!  His first games were with an Arsenal team that went undefeated in the league!  It turns out we were right, he was wrong.
And that's why you should boo him.  Because with this it's not often you're right, but this time you were.
So let him cross it to an offside John Terry, which of course won't be flagged, of course, it's Chelsea.  And let him hug all up on Willian, and Terry, and let Mourinho keep trolling Arsenal fans since he's still mad that Pellegrini trolled him with Lampard earlier in the year - thanks for that by the way - and hopefully Fabs has some advice for Costa and his Van-Persie-hamstrings.  To hell with it all.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Manchester United Are Must-See TV

One season of football can really change the way you feel about a club.  As long as I've been watching, Manchester United have been Public Enemy No. 1.  A team to be hated and feared.  Respected and admired, certainly.  But mostly hated and feared.  And ever since Cristiano Ronaldo left, United have never been at the top of my non-Arsenal soccer viewing.  Even when they were putting out title-winning sides, I took no particular enjoyment in watching them play.

Until now, that is.  United's utter ineptitude last season laid the groundwork by removing most of the fear and loathing and replacing it with grateful, long-awaited feelings of schadenfreude.  And this season, they are probably the most entertaining side for a neutral viewer.  Their attacking options are like something that was dreamed up by Roman Abramovich after a few lines of fine Colombian (not talking about Falcao) a few years ago, who then shook his head and laughed at his own silliness.  Meanwhile, their defense is playing like someone told them that the FA has changed the offside rule to five yards behind the last man.  And that the ball is made of hot lava.  Basically, it means that the viewer is guaranteed a minimum of four goals per game, and it's not entirely clear which side is going to score them.

Anyway, if this doesn't convince you, watch and admire at Rafael screaming in desperation at Saido Berahino as he peels away, trying to put him off scoring the way your annoying friend yells right before your shot in a game of H-O-R-S-E.  (Note: it didn't work.  At all.)  Good stuff.