The Mystery of The Eastward-Facing Cannon

I know I haven’t exactly been on my blogging game as of late. To be honest, between work and an increased load of classes I just haven’t been able to muster the time or energy to write anything worthwhile about Arsenal lately. That being said, I have noticed something over the past couple of weeks that has puzzled me to the point of compelling me to write.

This puzzle is as follows: what’s the deal with Arsenal’s cup kit numbers, and why do they sometimes feature an eastward-facing cannon detail, but other times they do not?

In the recent Champions League match away to Montpellier, Arsenal wore their traditional red over white kits, and for the first time in competitive play featured their new cup name and number font (seen to the left).

In case some of you aren’t as much of a kit nerd as I, the kit name and number font for at least the past two seasons (I don’t recall if it goes back further than the 2010/11 season) formerly featured all lower-case letters and somewhat curvy numbers (as seen below).

Well, this year things have changed; the font is more blocky, which is fine that’s not the problem. The problem is that against Montpellier, the new numbers were plain white, but in the home League Cup match to Coventry City, the numbers featured a small eastward-facing cannon detail at the bottom (as seen below).

Now my question is this: why was there no cannon detail in the Champions League match? The kit they were wearing was exactly the same (with the exception of the special patches worn during Champions League play) and the number font was exactly the same, so why the inconsistency?

At first I wondered if perhaps UEFA has some asinine rule about no graphic details inside numbers during European play, but if you look at the pictures from the Chelsea-Juvuntus match from this year’s Champions League, Chelsea’s kit numbers clearly feature a Chelsea crest detail at the bottom (as seen below).

Just out of curiosity, I also looked at pictures from the recent Chelsea-Wolves League Cup match, and that only served to make me more confused. In their League Cup match, Chelsea wore their Premier League font names and numbers on the back of their kits (as seen below). Now I’m totally befuddled; why would some teams wear cup fonts in the League Cup while others wear their Premier League font (and Patches to boot, in the case of Chelsea!)?

Unfortunately, I have no answers for you, except for to say that there appears to be little to no regulation of what kinds of name and number fonts are worn in different cup competitions. If anyone who reads this has an actual answer to any of these questions, please let me know in the comments section.

Albert Pujols hasn’t been missed, and Robin van Persie won’t be either.

Have we seen the last of RvP in an Arsenal shirt? – photo via Reuters

You know those times, in sports and in life, where you’re watching events unfold and you can’t help thinking “I’ve seen this before”? I’d wager a guess that many Arsenal supporters have felt this way about the Robin van Persie transfer saga, feeling that they just went through this with Cesc last summer, and while that has merit, I see it differently. You see, in addition to being somewhat Arsenal-obsessed, I also love my hometown St. Louis Cardinals, and these days, when my team’s best player spurns the club and fans who supported him for years in favor of bigger money (though under the name of “trophies” or “respect”), I can’t help but think of recent Cardinals deserter and St. Louis pariah, Albert Pujols.

While it’s painful for me to open up the Pujols wound and talk about it again, I think it’s worthwhile, because in addition to being a LeBron-esque story of hometown betrayal, the story of the Pujols-less 2012 St. Louis Cardinals offers hope for a van Persie-less Arsenal.

Let me start by coming right out and saying that I don’t buy the whole “van Persie’s goals can’t be replaced” argument. I heard it just this morning on my way to work when Charlie Stillitano proclaimed on The Football Show (broadcast on the SiriusXM Soccer channel) that goal scorers were special, and Arsenal couldn’t possibly hope to replace the goals they would lose if van Persie does go. In addition to being factually wrong by going on to say that Arsenal doesn’t have any proven goal scorers to step in for van Persie (I guess he missed the fact that Giroud scored 33 goals in Ligue 1 last season, and that Podolski netted 18 in the Bundesliga), he was also conceptually wrong in asserting that a group of players can’t collectively elevate their play to absorb the loss of a star’s production. I am a firm believer that when a quality team doesn’t have one primary goal scorer to rely on, the rest of the squad will pick up the slack, and I fully expect that to be the case for Arsenal this year if van Persie does leave. For the explanation of why I believe this, it’s time to go back to baseball.

When Albert Pujols decided to throw away his chance at being a beloved figure in St. Louis until the day he dies, a la Stan Musial, and instead chose to dive head-first into Arte Moreno’s $254 million mountain of cash as if he were a 7 year-old diving into a pile of leaves, many in St. Louis, myself included, wondered how the Cardinals would ever replace the middle of the order production that Pujols had provided for the first 10 years of his career. To that end, the Cardinals brought in one proven hitter, Carlos Beltran, but beyond that largely relied on the rest of the team picking up their own production in order to fill the fat-headed Pujols-size hole. And the craziest thing has happened this summer… it worked. Beltran has had a resurgent year, which has certainly helped, but the rest of the team has stepped up as well, and the Cardinals are still in the top 5 of all major team offensive statistics in the National League despite not having big #5 in the heart of their lineup.

I think you can see my point now: I believe that Podolski, Giroud, & Cazorla will be Arsenal’s Carlos Beltran and then some, and that Gervinho, Walcott, Chamberlain, Arteta, & Song can step up just like Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, David Freese, & Allen Craig have for the Cardinals. I guess if you wanted to extend the analogy Wilshere would probably be Chris Carpenter & Rosicky would be Lance Berkman, but I digress.

All that being said, here’s a final word of warning: I would still like to see the team get deeper at right back, and in the midfield. The need at right back is glaring, as the depth chart behind Sagna (consisting of Jenkinson and Yennaris) is, at best, young and unproven, and at worst, not ready for prime time. In the midfield need, however, is more subtle. One might look at the depth chart and be pretty content, what with Cazorla, Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Rosicky, Diaby, Coquelin, and the promise of Jack Wilshere’s return, but I warn you: take a closer look. Ramsey is still unproven at this level, Diaby has yet to show he can stay healthy, Rosicky is coming off an injury, Coquelin is promising but unproven, and we all are far too familiar with Jack’s health struggles this past year. So, when you break it down, it’s Cazorla, Arteta, Song, and a bunch of question marks. Somebody else needs to be brought in to provide reliable depth and more flexibility for the manager. Nuri Sahin would fit this bill, as would a revival of the interest in Yann M’Vila. Victor Wanyama of Celtic is another name that has been thrown around, as has Malaga’s Isco Alarcón. I’m not going to pretend I’m a scouting expert or even that I’ve seen much of these players in action (save M’Vila, who I have watched a fair bit), but I believe Arsene needs to being in one of these guys or someone else of similar talent, as midfield depth could quickly become a problem.

Robin van Persie, Loyalty, & the Modern Athlete

Following the 2009-10 NBA season, LeBron James became a free agent. His choice, to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers (the team who drafted him, and for whom he played his first 7 NBA seasons) in favor of the Miami Heat, sent shockwaves through American sports. LeBron was widely criticized for the move, which saw him jump ship to join fellow all-stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to create the “Big 3” in Miami, more for the manner in which he left Cleveland, and less because he left Cleveland. LeBron held an hour-long ESPN special, all culminating in the announcement that he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” This display of arrogance, by publicly breaking the heart of an entire city, was beyond comprehension for many, even in American sports, and the backlash that followed was largely justified. On Wednesday July 4, 2012, Robin van Persie released what was, in effect, his own “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” on his website, when he proclaimed to the world that he would not be signing a contract extension with Arsenal. In doing so, he became the second Arsenal captain in as many summers to force an exit from the team, and caused most Arsenal supporters equal parts intense anger and severe depression. As LeBron had, he proclaimed for all the world to hear that he was turning his back on the fans who had supported him through the good times (37 goals in 2011-12) and the bad (missing long stretches because of injury in each of his first 7 seasons with the club). Thanks to the wonders of satellite radio, I heard the news over the radio as I was driving to the store in the late-morning over-100-degree heat, in preparation for my Independence Day celebrations scheduled for later in the day.  As the talkSPORT radio personality read the statement to me, all I could get out was a defeated “fuck”, which drew the attention of my lady friend, who was riding along with me. “What is it?” she asked me, and I told her that an Arsenal player was leaving the team and that I had just heard the news. As a bit of background, my lady is not a big sports fan, and only nominally supports Arsenal in that when they win, my mood on the day is better than it is when they do not, but she must have sensed that this was a big deal, because she followed up by asking me which player it was. When I responded “van Persie” even she knew what that meant. “Oh no, seriously?” she replied, and I felt the same way. Seriously? Again? You have got to be kidding me. To be clear, I was not surprised that it was happening, but until the moment comes, do you ever really know if you are prepared? I certainly was not prepared for this. Not now, not this way.

I spent the better part of the afternoon contemplating what this meant for the club. The greatly lessened price Arsenal will get in return for him because of his big fucking mouth. What this means for Walcott. What the starting lineup will look like when the season begins. What should be done to fix the pit that was growing in my stomach. But most of all I just kept thinking about sports, and modern athletes, and loyalty, or more properly the utter lack of loyalty that the modern athlete has. This brings me back to LeBron James, and the state of the modern athlete. I’m sorry to get so basketball-heavy with my analogies today, but that’s what is working the best for me, so I’m going to stick with it. What bothered me most about LeBron fleeing the Cleve for sunny South Beach & the cozy embrace of two fellow superstars was not as much the way he spurned Cleveland, but the fact that he was trying to take the easy way to a championship. This is not what the sports heroes of my youth did. When Michael Jordan was early in his career and he couldn’t get over the Pistons hump, when his Bulls were beaten in the NBA playoffs by the Bad Boys in 1987, 1988, & 1989, Jordan didn’t jump ship on Chicago and try to team up with Patrick Ewing in New York to try to ensure he would win a championship. When Michael Jordan ran into a wall that was keeping him from a championship, he worked harder and got better and made himself great, and eventually he won. That was the mindset of the pro athlete that I grew up idolizing. Jordan would have never thought of leaving the Bulls to try and team up with other superstars to guarantee him a championship every year, and none of those other stars ever thought of teaming up with Michael, because they were focused on beating the best, not simply having the best carry them along to glory. LeBron and the Heat’s Big 3 got their NBA title this year, but does anyone really think LeBron is a greater player now than two years ago when he left Cleveland? Someone probably does, “it’s all about the hardware” they might say, but I don’t. To me, LeBron took the easy way out, he chose to join up with others who could carry him along to glory, rather than working harder to achieve it on his own. Sure, LeBron hoisted the trophy this year, but I’m still not impressed, because to me, that win was cheap, he got there by a shortcut, and I don’t respect him like I would have had he done it in Cleveland, for the fans that loved him all the way up his rise, unlike the front-running Miami fans who only back a winner. Watching LeBron win the NBA finals felt very much like watching Samir Nasri win the Premier League. Nasri isn’t a better player now than he was last year, in fact I would argue he is worse because he spent so much time on the bench, yet there he was getting his medal for winning the league, because he hitched his wagon to a front-runner & in doing so took his shortcut to glory, just like LeBron did, and just like van Persie is trying to do now. Robin may get his silverware elsewhere, but those who are paying attention won’t be impressed, because the real accomplishment is becoming the best yourself, not just riding the coattails of the best to success.

The only loyalty in sports today is that of the fan to their club. Everyone else involved is a mercenary, as LeBron showed us in 2010, Nasri showed us in 2011, and van Persie has shown us in 2012. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that van Persie is refusing to re-sign, but I was saddened. I had hoped that I was wrong, and that not all athletes were mercenaries. I had held out hope that there might be a little loyalty left in our captain, but I was clearly wrong. At the end of the day, as supporters, we pull for the club not the players. The club goes on even when players leave. I’ll still be excited when the season kicks off in August, and I’ll live and die with the Arsenal all the way through May. To the current Arsenal captain, I say good riddance. My only hope is that Arsenal’s next captain is nothing like the last two, as I’m not sure I have it in me to write this article again next year, for the third summer in a row.

UEFA Euro 2012: Surprise XI

Everybody and their sister has come out with a Euro 2012 Best XI by this time, so I thought I’d offer something a little different. That being the case, I thought I’d make a list of the 11 players that (nearly) no one was talking about coming into the Euros, who made a splash and really made a dent in the global football consciousness, whatever that means. Remember, these are my opinions, and is by nature they are subjective, but feel free to chime in and tell me how wrong I am, or in the unlikely event you think I got it right, you can tell me that too, though I won’t expect it. Let’s get right to it then:

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Jordi Alba won the Euros with Spain, but will he win Stan’s Army Surprise Player of Euro 2012?

GK: Przemyslaw Tyton – Poland (PSV Eindhoven)

The biggest surprise performer in goal had to be Tyton. No one was talking about this 25 year-old coming into the tournament because Arsenal’s own Wojciech Szczesny was solidly Poland’s #1 keeping coming in, however, when Szczesny had a howler of an opening match against Greece, getting himself sent off and suspended for one match in the process, the way was paved for Tyton’s ascension. In his first action he did the impossible, coming off the bench cold to stop a penalty, and from there on he shut out the Greeks for the rest of the match, and gave up only one goal each to Russia and the Czech Republic over the next two matches. It was sad to see Szczesny have such a disastrous Euros, but his fall made way for Tyton’s rise.

RB: Theodor Gebre Selassie – Czech Republic (FC Slovan Liberec)

This relatively unknown 25 year-old Czech right back burst onto the scene during Euro 2012, flashing exceptional speed and a desire to get forward and attack throughout the tournament. While Selassie was at times exposed defensively, particularly in the quarter-final against Portugal, his work in attack and knack for getting dangerous crosses into the box made him an attractive prospect. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him out of the Czech league and onto a bigger stage this coming season.

CB: Laurent Koscielny – France (Arsenal)

This is an admittedly homer pick, and it wasn’t exactly like no one was talking about him coming into the Euros, as he had a breakout year for Arsenal in the Premier League, BUT he was certainly not given the respect he deserved, especially by his own manager, who inexplicably kept starting Philippe Mexes ahead of him. In his only appearance of the tournament, against eventual champions Spain, Koscielny was the best player on the pitch for an admittedly poor French side that day. Is it ridiculous to say he had a breakout performance in the Euros when he only played 90 minutes? Sure, but for someone who is still trying to break into a regular starting role for Les Bleus, Koscielny did everything he could with the time he was given at the Euros, and for that I salute him.

CB: Olof Mellberg – Sweden (Olympiacos)

Coming into the Euros, the 34 year-old Mellberg was assumed to be a known quantity. His long run with Aston Villa in the 2000s certainly made him familiar to Premier League fans, but who saw that game against England coming? If you have your hand raised right now, you’re lying to me and to yourself, put it down. Thank you. Yes, I know, he was only credited with 1 goal against England, but we all know he scored 2! Yes, I do have an affinity for Olof because of his awesome beardlyness, but damnit he was a revelation for Sweden and damn near ruined England’s tournament single-handedly! While not an up-and-comer like the majority of players on this list, Mellberg certainly made waves in the “where the f*ck did that come from?!” sense, and for that, he makes my Euro 2012 Surprise XI.

LB: Jordi Alba – Spain (Barcelona from Valencia for £11 million)

Coming into the tournament, Jordi Alba was probably the most anonymous (if that’s even possible) of Spain’s starting XI, but he is no longer an unknown. While fans of the Spanish Primera División probably already knew of the 23 year-old immense talent, now the whole world knows. And guess who scooped him up for a paltry £11 million? Yep, that would be Barcelona, as the rich just keep getting richer. At this point you have to assume that every young Spanish phenom will end up at the Nou Camp. How long until Juan Mata starts making a Cesc-esque ruckus at Chelsea and forces a below-value sale to Barca? Probably not long, and I can’t say I’ll feel one bit sorry for Chelski when he does. There should be no arguments here, Jordi Alba is a no brainer for the Surprise XI and probably the breakout star of the whole tournament to boot.

MF: Andrea Pirlo – Italy (Juventus)

Can the a player as high-profile as Pirlo, who played for the undefeated champions of Italy, truly be a surprise performer at an international tournament? I say yes, because who outside of Italy truly believed he would continue to perform at such a high level due to his age (33 isn’t ancient, but he’s definitely getting up there in years). Early on in the Euros Pirlo provided one of the signature goals of the tournament when he put in a beautiful bending free kick against Croatia, and he kept going from there. While not dazzling with another goal after that, his midfield mastery was perhaps even more impressive, as he was the main force that powered the unlikely Italian squad to the finals. A great player, yes, but the performance was far beyond most pundits’ expectations for him coming into the Euros.

MF: Alan Dzagoev – Russia (CSKA Moscow)

The Russians always seem to have a surprise star at the Euros, and while they don’t always pan out with major clubs who purchase them on the heels of their Euro success, ahemArshavinahem, sorry I had to clear my throat, they are still spectacular to watch. This year’s version was Alan Dzagoev, who scored an opening game brace against the Czech Republic, and followed that up with Russia’s lone goal in their 1-1 tie with hosts Poland. Though the Russians went out early after only 3 matches, Dzagoev showed plenty of skill to convince a big club to snatch up the 22 year-old in the coming months. I would be surprised not to see him playing in one of Europe’s big leagues this coming season.

MF: Vaclav Pilar – Czech Republic (VfL Wolfsburg from FC Viktoria Plzen for €880,000)

Group A certainly provided the most surprising results, as the Czech Republic topped the group with Greece going through in the number 2 position, sending Russia and host Poland, both favorites to advance, home early. A big part of the Czech Republic’s success was the work of Vaclav Pilar in the middle. Pilar stepped in for the injured captain and Arsenal man Tomas Rosicky, who played scarcely more than one game in Euro 2012. Overall, there was no more influential man on the pitch for the Czechs than Pilar. Some could argue that Petr Jiracek was the real Czech star, because of his goal scoring, but in watching the games it was evident that Pilar was the key component to the Czech Republic’s success in linking up the defense with the attack. After playing last season in the Czech league for Plzen, Pilar made his presence known in the Euros, and will look to continue that success in the Bundesliga next year for Wolfsburg.

F: Michael Krohn-Dehli – Denmark (Brøndby IF)

Krohn-Dehli burst onto the scene in the opening match against Netherlands, scoring the game’s only goal and marking the beginning of the Dutch squad’s horror show tournament. While Bendtner grabbed the Danish spotlight with his brace against Portugal, Krohn-Dehli again found the back of the net against Germany, and looked dangerous throughout the whole tournament.

F: Mario Mandzukic – Croatia (VfL Wolfsburg)

If anyone was talking about a Croatian striker coming into the Euros, I can pretty much guarantee it was about Everton man Nikica Jelavic, and not Mario Mandzukic, but it was Mandzukic who showed up big in the Euros. He started the tournament out with a bang, netting two against tournament whipping boy Ireland, but continued his hot form against Italy, scoring Croatia’s lone goal in a 1-1 tie. Croatia went out in the group stage after failing to score against Spain, but on the tournament Mandzukic scored 3 of his country’s 4 goals, and in doing so staked his place in the Surprise XI.

F: Andriy Shevchenko – Ukraine (Dynamo Kyiv)

I would be remiss if I ended my Euro coverage without talking about the legendary Andriy Shevchenko. A great footballer and a gentleman, this Ukrainian legend took the stage one last time for his national team in the Euros on his home soil, and at least for one game, he did not disappoint. As with Pirlo, it is not as if Shevchenko was an unknown, quite the opposite, but he makes the Surprise XI because he was able to do what so many great athletes can, and that is to reach back for one last little bit of magic to dazzle us one more time. His opening game brace to put Ukraine past Sweden in their opener was one of the most memorable moments of the tournament. It was truly amazing to see a love affair between an entire nation and a player play out on such a grand stage. While the Ukrainians went out early, Shevchenko scored their only 2 goals of the tournament, and rightfully retained his place as a national hero, and in doing so and defying his age (35), he earned his spot on the Surprise XI.

Will Olivier Giroud Break the #9 Curse?

It’s not exactly the Curse of the Billy Goat, or even the now-broken Curse of the Bambino, but there is a widely-held belief amongst Arsenal supporters that there is a current Curse of the #9 Shirt. For confirmation of the curse, look no farther than Arsenal’s current (for now) #9, Park Chu-Young. Frankly, there have been more Bigfoot sightings during the 2011-12 season than there were Park sightings in Arsenal’s first team. Before him was the promising, yet some say cursed, Eduardo, who suffered through an injury-plagued Arsenal career and never reached his potential with the club. If you go back in time you can read names such as Davor Suker, Francis Jeffers, Jose Antonio Reyes, and even a post-Bergkamp Paul Merson, but this is not an article about looking back, but rather one about the future.

Will Giroud wear the #9 shirt for Arsenal?

I don’t think it too much of a stretch to think that should the widely-reported but as-of-yet-unconfirmed signing of Olivier Giroud be confirmed by the club, he has a good chance of taking over the #9 shirt from Park, who seems likely to be on the way out. Even if Park stays, Giroud, the current France International #9, is much more likely to take the number 9 off Park’s back than he is to keep his current #17 at Montpellier by taking it from Alex Song (basically no way that’s happening). There is a third option, that Giroud could take a currently unassigned number, but I bet when he pulls on the Arsenal shirt it will have that possibly-cursed 9 on the back.

Giroud will be successful for Arsenal, where other strikers coming from the French Ligue 1 have not (see e.g. Chamakh, Marouane, & Park, Chu-Young) because his production in Ligue 1 far surpasses those of other recent strikers Wenger has brought from the French league to Arsenal. In this last season for Montpillier, Giroud was the joint-leading scorer in Ligue 1, putting away 21 goals in 36 appearances. That’s over one goal for every two appearances. By contrast, in his last season in Ligue 1 (2009-10), playing for Bordeaux, Chamakh scored only 10 goals in 38 appearances, and in the season before joining Arsenal (2010-11), Park scored only 12 goals in 33 appearances for Ligue 1 side Monaco. Giroud’s 21 goals in 2011-12 is only one shy of the combined totals of Chamakh and Park in their last seasons in Ligue 1. Accordingly, I expect his production for Arsenal to be similarly more impressive than have been those of Chamakh and Park. If he does dawn the #9 shirt for Arsenal, Giroud looks to have a great chance to break the curse and produce for Arsene Wenger in 2012-13.

Euro 2012: Who Wore It Best?

So we’re now a week into Euro 2012, and quite a few Arsenal players have been mixing it up on the fields of Poland and Ukraine. Since there are a million people over-analyzing every moment of play in every game, I thought it might be fun to look at the first round of Euro 2012 group matches from a different perspective. Perhaps a more aesthetic perspective. Oh yeah, take a seat Joan Rivers, it’s time for the Stan’s Army Arsenal Edition of Euro 2012 Fashion Police! Footballers will appear in order of their team’s appearance in the tournament.

Disclaimer: The following opinions are my own and are completely subjective.

First on the runway is Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who made an inasupicious start to the tournament by getting sent off in Poland’s opening match against Greece. While he was on the pitch, however, he stood out from the crowd in this solid yellow number.

That kit was red card worthy on its own

I have to say, I’m a huge fan of the Poland kits for Euro 2012, produced by Nike, especially the white “home” kits. If Arsenal had a player who was out in the field rather than in goal, I’d go so far to say that they would be the favorite to win the Stan’s Army’s Best Dressed at the Euros 2012 award, but I can’t say the same for our man Szczesny. I’m just really not digging that goldenrod shade of yellow, and his woeful performance in the first match didn’t help his cause. No hard feelings, but he’s closer to worst-dressed than best.

Moving on, recently-loaned forward Andrey Arshavin captained his Russian side against the Czech Republic, and while his Arsenal future is currently in question, he is still technically an Arsenal player, so let’s see how he looked.

Andrey “I only show up for the Euros” Arshavin

Not too shabby from the little Russian. He was looking sharp in the opening match in this red on red kit, featuring a two-tone white and blue diagonal sash, along with gold numbers and Adidas’ trademark three striped sleeves. The red socks also have a sharp two-tone white and blue horizontal stripes. These kits are pretty classic in style, I can’t say I have any complaints at all. A strong entry from the Russians.

Next up we have Tomas Rosicky, who has the advantage of having two looks for us, the first, and in my opinion best look, (red on red) is from the Czech Republic’s recent 2-1 defeat of Greece, while the second look (white on white) is from the their 4-1 pounding at the hands of Russia.

Better look, better result for the Czechs

The lesser of the Czech’s looks

Let me just say straight away that I’m a huge fan of the Czech Republic’s red kits. I think the blue field behind the crest on the left shoulder is very slick looking, and the deeper color red used is top notch. I’m a bit of a Puma fanboy, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoy the Czech kits. To me the white kits leave something to be desired. Though not poor, the white kits just don’t do it for me, and are a bit too plain for my taste. My only complaint about both kits is the font the numbers are in. I’m not a big fan of that modern pixelated look on the numerals. Overall though, Rosicky gets high marks from me, and may be tough to beat.

Another Arsenal man with an unknown future with the club is our old pal Nicklas Bendtner. We all know that Nicky B. is the greatest striker in the world, but will the Danish target man also be crowned the best-dressed Arsenal player in the Euros? Take a gander.

The greatest kits at the Euros?

I recently discovered that Bendtner is not only the best striker in the world, but also a high end jewelry designer. So, will Nicky B. take home some more bling? Not likely. While I don’t hate these Danish kits, they’re pretty bland, and those red stripes on the shorts that point in are just a disaster. The black and red horizontal sock stripes are a nice touch, but they don’t save the entire kit. I give it a C, it’s solidly average in my mind.

edit: Not only did Nicky B. and Denmark break out the red against Portugal (pictured below), but he caused a uni-based stir by revealing his boxers, which bore the name of a sponsor, “Paddy Power” which is an online betting service. For his trouble, Bendtner received a £80,000 fine and a one-match UEFA ban. In doing so, Bendtner’s fashion statement has taken center stage, making him a dark horse candidate for Euro 2012 best dressed, so stay tuned!

In the shock of the tournament, Bendtner did something stupid to draw attention to himself!

Arsenal captain Robin van Persie is next on the scene, sporting the traditional orange of the Dutch national team. This year’s version, produced by Nike, is a very modern design. Here’s a look:

What number is RvP wearing? Is that a 1b?

I’m usually a fan of Holland’s kits, but I can’t say I am this time. For me, the number font is just too modern and blocky. I mean, the 6 on van Persie’s kit looks ridiculous without a top. I’m also not a big fan of the two-tone orange. And what’s up with the trim on the sleeves and bottom of the kit being black, but not the neck? Let’s keep it consistent, guys. Overall it’s just a big mess really. I have liked the black change kits I’ve seen the Dutch wear in the warm-up matches, but they are still plagued with those horrible numbers, so overall it’s just not their year. Who knows, maybe those awful kits contributed to how terribly they played in their 1-0 loss to Denmark. Stranger things have happened.

edit: Though it did not help them on the pitch, the Dutch broke out their black kits in their final game against Portugal. The team looked sharp, but their play again fell flat, as the Dutch went out without a single point in Euro 2012. While the black kits won’t erase the memory of their poor play, perhaps we’ll at least remember the Dutch looking decent while playing like shite, and that’s only thanks to these black change kits (pictured below).

RvP looks good in the black Dutch shirt, but will we ever see him in an Arsenal shirt again?

New Arsenal signing Lukas Podolski started for Germany in their opening match 1-0 win over Portugal. Germany usually represents pretty strong in the national team kit department, and this year’s entry is no exception.

I hope we get to see those beautiful green change kits

What the Mannschaft lacks in flashy color options, they make up for with a typically classy design. This year’s version features three very thin diagonal stripes creating a sash effect. The top stripe is black, the middle is red, & the bottom is gold, mirroring the stripes on the German flag, a nice touch. While not eye-catching color-wise, the Germans look sharp in this kit. If, however, the Germans get to break out their fantastic green change kits during Euro 2012, that will be a game-changer. I’ve got my fingers crossed already.

Arsenal youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a surprise inclusion in Roy Hodgson’s England starting lineup against France, let’s see how he looked.

Definitely the best of the white and red bunch

I know I harped on similar kits from the Czech Republic and Denmark, which also featured primarily white with red numbers and details, as too bland, but I really like what Umbro designed for the Three Lions to wear in Euro 2012. I can’t really even explain what it is about the kit that I like better than other similar kits, but it just looks good to me. This kit was somewhat controversial, as it was the first England primary kit ever to not include any blue, but controversy aside, I think Umbro hit a home run with this design. Will it be enough to secure Chamberlain the coveted best-dressed award? Only time will tell.

Damn you Stevie G. for ruining a beautiful Arsenal moment!

edit: Oxlade-Chamberlain came off the bench against Sweden, almost combining with Theo Walcott for what would have been a delicious Arsenal-to-Arsenal goal for England, but alas Steven Gerrard’s ego got in the way and stole the cross basically off Chamberlain’s boot. All the same, check out Alex sporting the England blue kits.

edit: Theo Walcott not only played a starring role for England in their 3-2 win over Sweden, but he also looked sharp in England’s blue-on-blue change kit (pictured below). Personally, I prefer the red & whites, but Umbro did a nice job with both England kits. Have a look.

Super-sub Walcott shows off England’s blue kits.

edit: Now that Arsene Wenger has confirmed that the Olivier Giroud deal is 90% done, I think it’s safe to add Giroud into the best dressed mix. Here he is sporting the new France shirt by Nike (below). I think these kits are sharp, and prefer them to England’s similarly-colored two-tone blue change kits (above).

Arsenal’s newest man, Olivier Giroud

Overall a fairly vanilla kit, but I do like the thin hoops around the end of the sleeves.

edit: Laurent Blanc finally came to his senses, starting Koscielny over Mexes against Spain, but even a heroic performance from Kos couldn’t bail out the rest of the largely-listless French squad, as they went out 2-0 to Spain in the quarterfinal. Here’s a shot of Koscielny looking sharp in the France all white kit (below). Giroud, who will soon be officially announced as an Arsenal man, also got some field time in France’s all white kits (above).

Despite the loss to Spain, Koscielny showed his quality.

As it stands, I would say that Rosicky is my leader in the clubhouse, with strong pressure from Podolski and Chamberlain, but as I said before, those green change kits are Podolski’s ace in the hole. Szczesny and our dear (for now) captain are battling it out for worst-dressed, and I really can’t see anyone else challenging them for that dubious honor.

Should Arsenal Make Benayoun Move Permanent?

Yossi Benayoun, May 8, 2012

Arsenal had a player in the 2011-12 season who started 15 matches, and appeared in 10 more off the bench. He scored six goals in all competitions (4 BPL, 1 UCL, 1 CC), which tied him for third-most on the squad. This player has been used effectively both in the midfield and as a winger. He also notched three assists, scored an 87’ winner as a substitute against Aston Villa, and was the Man of the Match in the most important game of the season. This player is not wunderkind Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (4 goals, 2 assists), nor is he Tomas Rosicky (2 goals, 4 assists) with his shiny new contract, nor is he the star of Arsenal’s 2011 summer transfer period, Gervinho (4 goals, 7 assists). He is Yossi Benayoun, on loan from Chelsea, who struggled to get in Wenger’s side consistently, yet did nothing more or less than show up in big games and give maximum effort. Now the season has ended, and Arsenal have come third in the Barclays Premier League, guaranteeing them a spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage next season, and Benayoun is headed back to Chelsea, who likely don’t have much use for him. The question is this: has Benayoun’s performance, especially late in the season, earned him a chance at a permanent transfer to Arsenal? And if so what price should Wenger be willing to pay to retain the Israeli captain?

Before I make a decision, let’s look a little deeper at the games in which Benayoun played for Arsenal this season…

In games he started, Arsenal were 5-2-3 in the Premier League, 0-1-1 in the Champions League, and 2-1-0 in the Carling Cup, for an overall record of 7-4-4 in games that Benayoun started this season. Included in the Premier League games that Benayoun started and Arsenal won were the 5-2 win at home to Spurs, the 2-1 win away to Liverpool, the 1-0 win at home to eventual champions Man City, and the 3-2 final match win away to West Brom.

In games where Benayoun came off the bench for Arsenal, the team went 7-2-0 in the Premier League, and 1-0-0 in the Champions League, for an overall team record of 8-2-0 in games that Benayoun made an appearance off the bench. His largest impact as a substitute was against Aston Villa away on December 21, where as I already mentioned he scored the game winner with his head in the 87th minute.

Altogether, Arsenal were 12-4-3 in the Premier League, 1-1-1 in the Champions League, and 2-1-0 in the Carling Cup when Benayoun played, giving the team an overall record of 15-6-4 in all competitions for games in which Benayoun appeared. For context, Arsenal were 21-7-10 in the Premier League this season, 6-2-2 in the Champions League, 2-1-0 in the Carling Cup, and 2-1-0 in the FA Cup, for a total mark of 31-11-12 in all competitions.

Benayoun scores opening goal at West Brom, 5/13/2012

Okay, so that’s a lot of numbers I just threw out there, so let’s take a second to step back and think about what it all means. I’m going to exclude the domestic cup competitions from this analysis because (a) the Carling Cup is, well, the Carling Cup, and (b) Benayoun didn’t play in the FA Cup, so what we’re really looking at here is the difference between his performances in the Champions League and in the Premier League. My question is this: is Benayoun a Champions League player, is he a regular contributor in the Premier League, or is his value mostly in coming off the bench in the league and providing depth for cup matches?

Just looking at Arsenal’s record in games Benayoun played in, his value seems to be higher in the Premier League (5-2-3 when Yossi starts) than in the Champions League (0-1-1 when Yossi starts). This does not necessarily mean that Benayoun isn’t a Champions League caliber player, as this analysis has two main problems: (1) Small sample size! I mean, we’re only talking about 2 games in the group stage where he started, so that’s not much to go on; and (2) Benayoun didn’t really hit his stride until later in the season, when he started to get more regular playing time, but by that time Arsenal were out of the Champions League, so Benayoun’s Champions League performance may not be indicative of his true skill as a player. All that being said, for the sake of this analysis, I’m still going to say that Benayoun is a borderline Champions League player at best, so any contribution Arsenal get from him in that competition should be seen as a bonus.

That being said, I definitely believe that Benayoun has value in the Premier League, and he proved that this year. His four Premier League goals put him tied for 5th with Gervinho, and his development as a big game player cannot be ignored. Down the stretch, Benayoun started every big win that Arsenal had, with the exception of the 2-1 home win against Newcastle, from February through the end of the 2011-12 season. Arsene Wenger only began to trust Benayoun later in the season, and his performances in those games certainly justified his selection. He also finished with a flurry, starting the last two games against Norwich and West Brom, and scoring the game opening goal in both, each inside of 15 minutes of the opening whistle. He was the best player on the pitch in the most important game of the year, against West Brom, where Arsenal clinched third position and an automatic berth into next season’s UEFA Champions League. With all this in mind, I believe Benayoun has value in the league, not just as depth or a nice option off the bench, but as a regular contributor.

Even though I believe in his value, the harsh reality of a club like Arsenal is that the quality it takes to get regular minutes is much greater than at most clubs, and I do not believe that Arsenal will challenge for silverware if Benayoun is one of Wenger’s top 11 players. If all goes well in the transfer market and with injuries this summer, Arsenal’s midfield and wing situation could get crowded with quality, making it much harder for Benayoun to find time in the potential 2012-12 squad. If we assume that Wilshere will be back and 100% to start the season, and that the deal for M’Vila does get done, Benayoun will have to contend with those two, plus Song, Arteta, Rosicky, and Ramsey for only three spots in the midfield. On form I believe Benayoun is a better option than Ramsey and can push Rosicky for his place in the squad, but that still leaves him behind Wilshere, Song, Arteta, and the looking-ever-more-likely addition of M’Vila. The picture isn’t any les crowded on the wings, with Walcott, Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and now Podolski in the picture. With a year of experience in the Premier League each going into next season, I expect (and I’m sure Wenger expects) more production out of Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain, so I really can’t see Benayoun getting much time on the wing other than as a fill-in.

Benayoun scores winner at Aston Villa, 12/21/2011 (via Arsenal.com)

Ultimately, despite Benayoun’s production this year, ideally he would have a tough time getting into an improved Arsenal squad next season, and that’s a good thing, as the overall talent level at the club must be upgraded this offseason in the club is to compete for anything in 2012-13. Hell, ideally Wenger will not only bring in M’Vila, but another midfielder as well. I know Lucas Biglia of Anderlecht and Younes Belhanda of Montpellier are two names that seem to be linked with Arsenal more each day, so adding one of those young players would present yet another hurdle to Benayoun getting picked. Just today news started to trickle out that Arsenal had agreed to terms with Borussia Dortmund (still unconfirmed) for Shinji Kagawa, who would likely play on the wing, again clouding the picture for any possible playing time for Yossi should he stay. Admittedly, the talk of M’Vila, and Kagawa, and Belhanda, and Biglia is all just speculation at this point, but I have to believe at least one if not two of those players (or another as-of-yet-unknown midfielder or winger) will be in an Arsenal shirt next season, so it is going to be a struggle for Benayoun to get even as much time as he did this year.

This, of course, does not account for injuries, which as an Arsenal supporter, I know are inevitable. As we saw this year with Wilshere, Diaby, and our fullbacks, injuries seem to always hit Arsenal hard, which leads me to my ultimately conclusion on whether or not to keep Benayoun: for the right price, absolutely. I don’t think Wenger should blow £5 or £6 million on him, but Chelsea should be motivated sellers, and cannot be counting on much of a return on him, so if Arsene can snatch Benayoun up for around £2 million, I’m all for it. Yossi Benayoun is the exact kind of depth that Arsenal need: he’s a proven, experienced Premier League-caliber player, that can make the most of his opportunities even in limited time, and he appears to be a good teammate. Yossi may not want to accept that role at Arsenal, as it will not come with a guarantee of regular playing time, but past experience should tell him that opportunities will appear in the way of injuries, and he is the right kind of player to capitalize on those opportunities.

I think Yossi is a good guy, I’ve enjoyed watching him play for Arsenal this season, and for the right price, I’d love to see that little #30 in red, flailing his arms as he buzzes around the pitch next season at The Emirates.

unrelated edit: it looks like that purple and black striped away kit I posted yesterday may be the real deal; take a look at this training gear for next season that seems to match the colors (via @rodedra6). 

likely 2012-13 Arsenal away kit + training gear