Saturday, December 24, 2011

A View from the Sidelines

So I think The Beautiful Game is gonna be taking an extended winter holiday.

  On Monday December 19, 2011 our twin baby girls came into the world!!  We got to bring them home Wednesday after all the adoption paperwork was finished.  Needless to say, the past few days have been a whirlwind!  Feeding, wiping, and not sleeping are the new normal.  But we've been waiting for these girls forever and Chloe Justice and Mercy Dawn absolutely amazing.

Since two little babies are now bossing the show, that leaves little time for the soccer blog.  Not to worry though, the girls already have their first soccer ball (their first present, btw) and it won't be long before they're watching games with Dad and even coming to Battery matches.  But for now, its reading the match reports not writing them and catching highlights when I can.  Its a view from the sidelines, but thats alright with me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Catching Up with the Charleston Battery

I know in recent weeks its been exclusively Arsenal here at The Beautiful Game, but honestly, the offseason for lower division soccer clubs is usually pretty quiet.  There has been some transfer news and the Carolina Challenge Cup has been set, so its time to share what's been going on with the Battery in past few months!

First, a few player updates:

Cole Peverley
After completing the 2011 season with Charleston, the midfielder returned home to New Zealand and signed with Canterbury United.  Peverley has featured in every game so far for the Dragons, and his team sit at fourth in the table.  The ASB Premiership season runs from late October to mid-March.  The New Zealand international is expected to return to the Battery after his spell with Canterbury but will likely miss out on the CCC.

Brandon Massie
His fellow Battery midfielder, Brandon Massie has enlisted with the Norfolk Sharx in their first season in the Major Indoor Soccer League.  Also in the squad is the Richmond Kicker's and USLPRO leading scorer Matthew Delicate.  The Sharx are still looking for their first win, but Massie has played an important role already, featuring in every game for Norfolk this season.  He is also expected to return to Charleston in the spring.

Nickie Patterson 
Brandon Massie won't be the only Battery player to grace the MISL however.  Scottish international Nickie Patterson has joined the Baltimore Blast.  So far, the Blast have exhibited stunning form on the road but have been unable to find victory before their home fans.  Patterson looks to rejoin the Battery in their upcoming season.

Mike Zaher
As per Rochester's press release at the close of November, Battery left back Mike Zaher has signed with the Rochester Rhino's for the 2012 USLPRO season.  Having sported the black and gold for the past two years, his experience and defensive resolve will be certainly be missed in the coming year.  Charleston will be hard pressed to fill his shoes when it comes to new signings.

And speaking of new signings...

Recruiting in Jamaica
The Jamaica Gleaner reports that a delegation from the Battery has their eyes on a handfull of young athletes in Jamiaca's Red Stripe Premier League.  Coach Anhaeuser and President Mike Bell have been scouting again and plan to invite several Jamaican footballers to the player trials and possibly Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston.

Carolina Challenge Cup
And speaking of the Carolina Challenge Cup, the teams and dates have been announced!!  This year, Charleston will host D.C. United, Chicago Fire, and Columbus Crew!!  I'm sure another exciting round of the Coffee Pot Cup awaits and it will be great to see former Battery striker Tom Heinemann as he returns with his new club, the Columbus Crew.  The dates are Feb 25 and 29, and March 3!!  See you at the 'Baud!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Happy Birthday Arsenal!!! Arsenal 1-0 Everton

Arsenal have cracked the top four for the first time this season and the Gunners picked a fitting day for the accomplishment as it was the 125th Anniversary of the club.  Emirates was in a festive mood and the pregame party and unveiling of monuments honoring Chapman, Adams, and Henry set the tone for an incredible celebration.  The latter of the three was in attendance and a joyful participant in the days festivities.

Pushing to preserve a substantial unbeaten run in the league, Arsenal's main concern was with the role of full back.  With the injury to Santos, it was Vermalen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Djourou, all center halves for a back line.  Everton started brightly, challenging the hosts in the opening quarter hour.  This was an important game, not only for commemorative purposes, but in its Premier League implications as well.  The Gunners grew in confidence and soon took the game to the visitors.  Walcott instigated nearly early good chance for Arsenal and his contribution to the game should not be understated.  Early on, he received a good ball from Arteta and made haste down the right side.  Sensing opportunity, the young Englishman crossed in for Ramsey and Gervinho but an intruding defending just managed to break up the play.  Arsenal surged and it was Walcott leading the charge.  Ramsey had a good crack at twenty-nine minutes and Gervinho tried his luck a moment after.  Arsenal were moving in the right direction, but had little to show for their progress.  Walcott would continue to break away and cross in for the remainder of the half, but it would finish scoreless.

The second half repeated the first as Walcott continued to pull from his limitless supply of crosses.  Vermalen had a respectable long range effort, but it would take a bit of magic to best Tim Howard this afternoon.  Everton were reduced to only breakaway efforts, but with each attempt the visitors looked more likely to score.  The tension was building and at the hour mark Everton made a defensive substitution.  Everton nearly scored, and almost immediately, but a patient Arsenal were able to keep calm and carry on.  Koscielny found Song who lifted a searching long ball downfield.  And finally...that bit of magic had come.  In a graceful sweep, Robin Van Persie volleyed and majestically sent the ball sailing, unstoppable, into the lower right corner of the net.  The Arsenal skipper has had his fair share of wonder goals this season, (only one shy of the club's calendar year record by the way) but this was something special.  It was a top-drawer finish from a world-class striker on a momentous occasion in celebration of 125 years of glorious football.  Credit to Everton, restraining themselves from taking to the locker room at that moment.  This match was struggle but that goal certainly sapped the fight from a previously dogged opponent.  And that jewel of a goal was enough to see Arsenal through and enough to break into the top four of the EPL.  It was a great day for the club, and a memorable milestone for Arsenal fans far and wide.
A great day and a great goal!
A week's repose and then the dreaded trip to Manchester City.  It will be interesting to see the result of the Chelsea-City game and I can only hope it will work towards the Gunner's advantage.  We'll have a few key players missing for the fixture but no big surprises.  Arsenal will be determined to leave with a good result, and perhaps will be the first team to give Citeh' a number in the 'losses' column.  They're no Invincibles, thats for sure and Arsenal will be more than happy to play the spoiler!!  Come On You Gunners!!

Oh, and a Happy Birthday to my wonderful Mom today too!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gutted in Greece, Olympiacos 3-1 Arsenal

Its a rare thing in football to have a match you don't need to win.  Arsenal had previously secured the top spot in Group F of the Champions League and its a good thing because they absolutely got thrashed by Olympiacos on Tuesday.  Despite their vibrant display, the Greek champions were eliminated due to Marseille's late comeback in Dortmund.  So the loss proved a disappointment for both sides, but at least the Greeks had the satisfaction of a job well done.

The evening at a glance...
Arsenal fielded a side not unlike their Carling Cup lineup, with a mix of experienced and younger players.  One real plus from the match is that the starting XI were given the opportunity for some much needed R&R.  Wenger celebrated his 200th match in European competition, but I've no doubt he'll be wanting to forget that milestone.  The crowd of 32,000 within Karaiskakis Stadium boasted a volume equal to perhaps twice their numbers and one could quickly grasp this team were fighting for a European lifeline.  The hosts did not disappoint having a chance gone wide in under the first minute of play.  Arshavin countered with a shot of his own, Mirallas for the home side, then Santos and Frimpong for the likes of Arsenal.  A back and forth rhythm was developing.  The game was not a pretty one, but it was fast and intense.  And then, the goal.  Squillaci and Djourou attempted to clear the same ball but they had instead hand delivered it for the onrushing Djebbour to scoop up.  Deftly rounding Fabianski, Olypiacos were a goal to the good with only sixteen minutes on the board.  Two more strikes and moments later, Fabiaski was stretchered off, the injury resulting from a collision with Djebbour.  So at twenty-five minutes, third string Vito Mannone took the field.  The Ox and Benayoun combined to nearly level the deficit, but the recovery remained incomplete.  With thirty-six minutes gone, Manonne came off his line with a fine headed clearance, but Fuster gathered the ball thirty yards out and had a crack at goal.  Sadly, Manonne misjudged his position and attempted a kick-save when he could have used his hands.  It was the second fortunate goal for the hosts and they showed no signs of stopping.  

There was little improvement from the Gunners after the break.  Instead another injury to report, as Santos limped to the byline after only six minutes.  Miquel took his place and would soon take part in the Arsenal goal.  Just before the hour, Miquel's cross was chested down by Chamakh and confidently finished by Benayoun.  A good strike but far too early to celebrate.  The goal did seem to take the edge off Olympiacos and Arsenal crept back into the game as Rosicky came on in the seventy-fourth minute.  The Gunners nearly equalized as Benayoun fed 'Super Tom' who was narrowly quenched by the GK.  The hosts soon found their footing and renewed their attack.  The Greeks had an argument for a penalty with a handball in the box late in the game.  That third goal would come however, with a minute to spare as a ball headed off the bar was neatly tucked in by Modesto.  So too had the game and resulting Group F standings been put to bed.  
Would that it had gone in...
Now its not all bad news, several youngsters put forth strong performances in their Champs League debuts.  Miquel, the tenacious Frimpong, and of course the Ox all had good showings.  Far less can be said of our reserves between the sticks, but it would be a difficult situation for any keeper, much less one with very little first team experience in recent months.  Szczesny just can't get hurt, thats all.  The injury to Santos may prove costly in coming weeks as the backline had finally seemed to work out all the kinks.  Another encouraging note from the game was Benayoun's involvement as midfield maestro.  His experience will be called upon with our fixture congestion the rest of the month as our top players will need rotation.  Also, the blow is considerably softened when viewed from the angle of Manchester, England.  Both the red and the blue will be kicking about in the Europa League come the new year, and I'm sure this loss will be long forgotten.  Looking forward, Arsenal awaits a favorable draw for the knockout round as AC Milan, Napoli, and Bayer Leverkusen, by no means unbeatable, are perhaps the stiffest opposition to progress.  Saturday is Everton and the 125th anniversary match at Emirates Stadium.  This opponent is no push-over, but it should be all three points this weekend.  Also, if Chelsea fall to Man City, we're back in the top four, and who knows? maybe even the title race!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gunners Cruise, Wigan 0-4 Arsenal

The Gunners achieved a fine victory on Saturday, one they've had coming for some time.  Scoring from all angles, it was a complete performance and showcased the style of vintage Arsenal.  Granted, their opponents have been locked in the cellar of the Premier League for most of the season, Wigan were lifted by their 2-1 win over Sunderland.  And in recent memory, this fixture has been an occasion of stolen joy for Arsenal.  Although certainly the underdog, Wigan were unlikely to bow out of this contest, especially in front of a testy crowd at the DW.

The hosts opened the affair with pluck and had Arsenal penned in early on.  The Latics were on the offensive and congested the visitors final third for a solid twenty minutes.  Six minutes from the start, Wigan were pressing for the opening goal.  A dangerous cross was swatted away but Szczesny but fell kindly for Jordi Gomez.  Were it not for a superb block by Santos, the Gunners would be left to chase a very early lead.  Shortly after, the Latics' attack petered out and Arsenal asserted dominance.  The change of play was telling; the entire Arsenal squad had moved up the pitch and effectively camped there for the rest of the match.  Wigan's tactics were curious, when the Gunner's backline had possession, their forwards refrained from the slightest challenge on Arsenal's defense.  This allowed Arsenal to defend from the front, and once it developed, the result was in little doubt.  With more of the ball Arsenal began chipping away, and the goals would soon arrive.  Mikel Arteta found a bit of space and seeing the keeper just off his line, fired a brilliant shot that kissed the keeper's gloves and powered its way into the top left corner of the net.  Almost as impressive was an RVP corner, taken hardly a minute later, that was expertly headed home by defender Thomas Vermalen.  Two goals in two minutes and with twenty-nine gone, the game was all but over already.  Another corner and Walcott nearly capitalized from a scramble in the box.  Fluid passing gifted Van Persie with a shot that was also narrowly saved.  It was a tale of two very different sides at the break, and I'm sure Wigan were more than grateful for fifteen minutes' respite.

Astonishingly, Arsenal were denied a blatant penalty early in the restart as it could be said the officiating was a touch neglectful on the afternoon.  Wigan looked refreshed and attempted to claw their way back into the match.  However, the surge was short lived; on sixty minutes, Van Persie worked into space and forced a save from Al Habsi...and the rebound was bundled home by Gervinho for his third of the season.  The Ivorian was having a breakout performance and may have just outshined his Dutch counterpart.  Either way, the two were unstoppable.  Arsenal had several more chances and with goals flowing this freely, Van Persie was destined to score.  With ten minutes to play, Walcott broke down the right wing and faced the keeper in the box.  He could have elected to shoot himself, and may well have scored from that position, but there's an unbeatable understanding between he and the Arsenal skipper, and cutting the ball back, Van Persie smashed the goal home.  Captain 'Vantastic' was quick to award his teammate with the glory, and such a partnership remains unrivaled in the League.  Arsenal would nearly have another as Benayoun had a crack that was narrowly nudged away.  The Gunners were left to content themselves with four as they had virtually undone a submissive Wigan side.

A big win is always a boost, but on the heels of the draw with Fulham and Carling Cup loss to Man City, the rout was important to keep the momentum going.  Arsenal are now unbeaten in seven League games and face Everton next.  This was a very strong all-around performance from the Gunners.  Perhaps the only complaint could be with Aaron Ramsey's finishing.  He's unquestionably a valuable midfield asset, but his poor finishing often seems to result from poor decision-making: taking the shot or playing the ball.  Gervinho, on the other hand, produced (in my opinion) his finest display in an Arsenal shirt.  He was all over the place, plaguing the Wigan defense with his own efforts but also by supplying his teammates.  This striker has already greatly improved since moving to North London and we can only hope for more greatness to come.  Along the same lines, Van Perie + Walcott = incredible.  At times it seems the two are simply scoring for fun!  There's a chemistry in this squad thats been missing for many months and this truly is a dangerous Arsenal!  Come On You Gunners!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Honorable Exit, Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City

I regret to announce that Arsenal have finished their Carling Cup campaign this season.  The lads of North London put on a tremendous display at the Emirates Tuesday evening and although they were defeated, sent the clear message that money can't buy quality football.

A sellout crowd welcomed Mancini's line-up of football mercenaries and it was strange to see the names Toure and Nasri among those listed on the "Away" roster.  The Professor elected to field a youthful side, as is his custom in this tournament and the Arsenal youngsters would outshine them all by the game's finish.  This was a big game and the both sides tested each other early on.  Within ten minutes, Arsenal had what would be one of their best opportunities of the game.  Chamakh worked wide and played on Coquelin whose low cross was met by Park at the far post.  The Korean ratcheted a good shot but the keeper managed to claw it away in the nick of time.  Right at thirty minutes, the Ox delivered a fine shot towards the top corner and again Man City's GK was somehow equal to the task.  The first half became a showcase of attacking football, but the break left both sides goalless.  Forced to chose between the two, perhaps the Gunners produced a more convincing display.  

The second half picked where the first left off; the teams exchanged shots but the scoreline was unaffected. Halfway through, Gervinho was brought on for Park, shifting Benayoun to a more central role.  Arsenal immediately gained the advantage.  Chamakh had another go and Frimpong was beastly in his midfield play.  His dogged possession and grit allowed you to forget that Nasri was his midfield oppostion.  Gervinho closed in on goal only to be squeezed out by Toure.  Vermalen was brought on with ten minutes remaining.  Someone had to win the contest, it might as well have been Arsenal!  With everyone thrown forward, Djourou's misallocated cross came at precisely the wrong time.  Once the Citeh' regained the ball, their counterattack developed in a flash.  The opponent surged forward, easily slipping through a threadbare defense.  It was a heartless goal.  The home crowd lifted their team, knowing it was hardly a fair result.  With moments remaining, Gervinho sent in a perfect cross.  However, Chamakh failed to commit and the chance went begging.  Loss in the Cup, and at the hands of Man City...certainly a tough pill to swallow.  But our boys can hold their heads high; this was a job well done.  

Implications:  it was certainly a fine show by a young Arsenal squad.  They looked better than their opponents and there's comfort in knowing what is effectively your second string outplayed the most expensive lineup in the Premier League.  In about two weeks, Arsenal face City in the League...what could we see here??  Arsenal's current League form is incredible and if they hold pace, should give City a good run for their money.  The missing element of the Carling Cup loss was a lack of killer instinct in the final third.  But here's the thing: Man City can't front a much stronger line-up, Arsenal sure as heck can!!  So, its a trip to Wigan over the weekend.  This one's not in the bag, but Arsenal should expect all three points from a team battling relegation.  Greece and Olympiacos at midweek; Arsenal has already locked top of the group, even with a loss here.  That'll be a good opportunity to rest some starters, good experience for the fringe players, and then...a rematch!  Let's see how those moneybags hold up in two week's time!!  Oooh To Be a Gooner!!!!