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.

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How far have Arsenal’s standards actually fallen?

2/15/2012

A friend of mine, who is a Barcelona fan (there are worse things he could be, I guess), recently brought to my attention this article Ben Blackmore wrote for ESPN.com about the declining standards at Arsenal. What I wrote in the email response to my friend ended up almost reading like a blog post, so I’ve made it into one.

For reference, here’s a link to the Blackmore article, titled “Arsenal standards reach dangerous low”: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/feature/_/id/1022668/blackmore:-arsenal-dropping-standards-to-dangerously-low-levels-?cc=5901

Also, for reference, his general point is that the quality of players Arsenal have now has dropped drastically from the last time they won trophies, and that the only players currently on the squad that have the quality to wear the shirt are van Persie, Wilshere, and Vermaelen. That’s the extreme CliffsNotes version at least, read the whole article for more; it’s a little off, but the thrust of it is on target.

Like a lot of people who probably have only watched a handful of Arsenal matches this year, Blackmore has some misconceptions based on things he’s heard but not observed himself (Full disclosure: that’s an assumption I’ve made. I have no idea how many Arsenal matches Blackmore has actually watched this season). I think the overall point is well taken, that the level of quality on this year’s squad is significantly lower than it was last year, and depressingly lower than it was back in the early-to-mid 2000s. That being said, he’s got some things wrong.

Blackmore points out Djourou and Jenkinson as not being good enough to be on the pitch. While I agree with this, they are easy targets. Djourou is his better point, because Jenkinson wouldn’t have sniffed the pitch other than in Carling Cup matches, were it not for injury. So yes, they shouldn’t be out there playing first team football for Arsenal, but if you think about the defense last year as compared to now, it’s not so dire. I wrote a blog about this previously, but just as a short recap: Djourou was actually considered one of our better defenders until he got hurt in that game at Old Trafford last season.

I totally disagree with Blackmore on Mertesacker and Koscielny, and actually (a bit) on Vermaelen too. I think all three of them are leaps-and-bounds ahead of our central defenders last year (which included a very lost-looking Koscielny in his first year in the Prem, and featured the likes of Squillaci and almost no time from Vermaelen). As they are playing now, however, I’ll take all three of them (TV5, Kos, & Per) over, let’s say, Gary Cahill and a whole host of others out there playing central defense in the Prem. Actually, I think Vermaelen (though I love him) has been the worst of the three as of late, and Koscielny has been the best. Sure they get beat sometimes, but what defender never gets beat? In sum, I don’t think central defense is the problem with this Arsenal team.

The other real problem is depth, as we’ve seen. A couple of guys go down, and we’re screwed. You only need to look at the full back situation to understand how that works. See earlier point re: how Jenkinson has been pressed into action too soon. In the article, Blackmore mentions Clichy in the same breath as Cesc & Nasri in speaking of the quality that left in the summer… So yeah, he’s totally overrated Clichy as a player, but whatever. Gibbs and Santos aren’t great (Gibbs looked especially lost against Milan), but they’re not that much of a step down from Clichy, if any as compared to his declining form last season. Blackmore also rips Sagna, who I will defend. Bac is great, but he’s just got back from injury, so playing on that abomination of a pitch at San Siro didn’t suit him. That he didn’t look great yesterday was no shock, but that performance shouldn’t be taken to be representative of his quality.

As for the rest of the squad, I’ll defend Alex Song by saying this: I bet you can’t name five clubs in the whole of Europe that wouldn’t take him, and start him, as a holding midfielder. Challenge issued, take it if you wish. That is all.

As for the rest, Arteta and Ramsey are no Cesc & Nasri. They can’t even lick their boots, and on a team like Arsenal they should probably be complimentary players. Arteta especially has done well to stabilize the club since coming on, but he and Ramsey should be fill-ins and substitutes for an Arsenal squad. So yes, Blackmore has that part right.

He makes a weird move in talking about the wing play, and focuses on Walcott & Arshavin. The little Russian hardly plays for Arsenal right now, so I’m not sure why he’s even mentioned in the article. Blackmore should be talking about Walcott, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain if he really wants to get it right. That being said, let’s talk about them: The Ox is young, and I think every other team in the Prem wishes they had him, so there’s that. As for the other two, they’re too inconsistent, and frustratingly so. Gervinho, despite not being able to finish since he got here, is probably better overall, but they could certainly both be upgraded. They’re not awful though, in my view the problem is greater in the midfield.

In sum, Wenger has to buy distributing midfielders with creativity, wingers who don’t disappear, and a decent backup for van Persie (everyone agrees that Chamakh has lost whatever magic he had when he first arrived, and I assume there’s a reason Wenger won’t play Park, but no one can tell what since he never even sniffs the pitch). None of that is at all groundbreaking, but at least it provided a vehicle to assess the team heading into the final stretch of the season. It will be imperative for Arsene to hold on to what he’s got (and add more quality to it in the off season. Arsenal cannot afford to lose more talent, as it’s already behind on replacing what they lost last summer, but we all knew that already. Doesn’t make it any less important though.

Reassessing the 2011/12 Gunners After Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City

Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

The Stoke City match wasn’t on live in my parts of the States, and didn’t show until 7:00 pm Monday night my time, so I feel like a traditional match reflection would be pretty worthless because of the timing. That being the case, I’m going to forego the match reflection and instead take a minute to ask (and answer) a few questions, and in so doing maybe reassess my expectations for this year’s version of The Arsenal.

Was the Stoke City match Gervinho’s breakout performance?

Arsenal supporters have been waiting all season for Gervinho to start producing goals consistently, and boy did he do that against Stoke on Sunday. Gervinho not only scored the opening goal, but he created both of van Persie’s late goals. Gervinho has consistently looked dangerous in his time with Arsenal, but that has not translated into goals as much as was expected. I look for his performance against Stoke to be a real confidence-builder for Gervinho, and will propel him into a consistently productive player for the Gunners.

Is Arshavin best suited coming off the bench?

The much-maligned Russian has struggled in his starts this season, but has been looked much better the last couple of times he came off the bench. I look for this to continue, with Walcott & Gervinho getting more of the starts, with Arshavin coming off the bench.

Can anyone stop Robin van Persie?

No.

How soon will Man City and/or Barcelona start tapping up our new captain, promising to double his wages?

If we all agree to not talk about it, and not even think about it, it won’t happen… right? (read as: soon)

Is Koscielny’s good form of late sustainable?

If I knew, I’d be more than just a want-to-be blogger in middle America. Let’s hope the answer is “yes.” It doesn’t hurt that Mertesacker appears to be settling in to the English game, but has his improved form raised Koscielny’s play, or vice-versa? Chicken and egg, my friends.

Will we ever see Park Chu-Young?

I would love to know what the deal with Park is. Chamakh hasn’t impressed in his last couple of chances, so it baffles me that Park has remained on the bench in all except Carling Cup matches. I thought this guy was supposed to be ready to step right into the squad. I would love to know what Arsene and his staff candidly thinks about Park’s skill. Is he not living up to what they expected from him?

Why can’t Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain crack the squad?

It’s not like Walcott has been setting the world on fire, surely there’s space for The OC to get into the squad. I don’t expect to see him in the Champions League, or against Chelsea this weekend, but with Premier League matches upcoming against West Brom, Norwich, Fulham, & Wigan, I’d be surprised not to see his name in the starting XI at least once during that four-match stretch.

With Liverpool stumbling, is 4th place back within reach?

I don’t see why not. Arsenal currently sit 7th in the table, and while I don’t think they’ll challenge the top 3, I do think Sp*rs, Liverpool, and certainly Newcastle will all falter enough for Arsenal to finish in the last Champions League spot as long as they don’t drop points in a bunch of matches they should win (you know, like the end of last season).

Arsenal 2-1 Olympiakos – Match Reflection

Andre Santos celebrates his first Arsenal goal

Pat Rice led the Gunners for the third time in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday at home against Greek Champions Olympiakos. With the North London Darby looming on Sunday, Rice (Wenger) decided to rest captain Robin van Persie, and midfielder Aaron Ramsey so they could be fully fit for the weekend. Given the swath of injuries, including Walcott, Gervinho, Diaby, and a quintet of defenders: Vermaelen, Djourou, Squillaci, Koscielny, & Miquel; to say the squad was thin would have been charitable. Alex Song filled in at center half due to the lack a healthy center half to pair with Mertesacker, and did so admirably. That left Song’s usual holding midfield role open, which was filled by Frimpong; Chamakh got the nod in place of RvP, and Rosicky started in the middle in Ramsey’s stead. Before the match I was excited that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got the start, and boy did he not disappoint. Watch for him in the awards section, I bet he pops up.

Speaking of The OC, he opened the scoring in the 8th minute, making a great diagonal run to the top of the box, where Song dropped in a beauty of a long ball, right to his chest. The OC stuck with it, past a defender, and finished calmly in the box. His goal made Oxlade-Chamberlain the youngest English player to ever score in the Champions League. Oxlade-Chamberlain was very involved early, showing up all over the pitch. My only criticism of his game in the first half was that he seemed to get knocked off the ball too easily. Olympiakos should have equalized on a corner (surprise, surprise!) but Arteta bailed the team out with a miracle block on the goal line. Andre Santos made it 2-0 in the 20th minute, scoring his first goal for the club.Santos streaked down the left side, put in on a ball by Rosicky, and delivered a great ball into the box to the feet of Chamakh. A great defensive effort blocked the pass, but when the ball came back to Santos, he cleaned it up with a right-footed finish. At this time, I’ll admit that I already prefer Santos to Gibbs. Both can put themselves out of position with their forward runs, but Santos delivers better balls into the box, and is stronger on the ball. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Santos after Gibbs’ inevitable long-term injury, but I hope that he gets the lion’s share of the time even before the as-of-yet-undetermined Gibbs injury.

Chamakh should have made it 3-0 when his well-timed run and good service from Arshavin put him one-on-one with the keeper. Even though Chamakh failed to finish, he had a nice game overall, and is showing signs that he may shake his poor form from the end of last season.

Olympiakos pulled one back only seven minutes after Santos’ goal, on a simple short corner play which undid the defense, and left Fuster completely unmarked, and he made an easy finish with his head. Arsenal’s defense immediately gave away two chances after the first Olympiakos deal, again not responding well to adversity, but was ultimately able to hold it together and go in still up 2-1 at half. Despite the score, Olympiakos looked the better squad from the 27th minute until half. I was unimpressed by Arshavin and Rosicky in the first half. Sometimes I don’t think I would recognize Arshavin if he wasn’t standing flat-footed on the pitch.

The second half yielded no goals, and while Olympiakos hit the bar in the 64th minute, that was their only real chance in the half, and Arsenal looked better defensively in the second 45’. The game was wide open for large portions of the second half, with Arsenal having many chances to go up 2 or 3 goals. Chances that come to mind include the 59th minute, when The OC should have had his second of the night, but didn’t take his shot on his first touch. He also should have been able to attack left back Jose Holebas better, as he was on a yellow from the 34th minute on. Overall, Oxlade-Chamberlain played confidently, and really stood out in this Arsenal squad until he was substituted in the 67th minute for Ramsey. I thought Ramsey did well in his limited time, creating two chances immediately after coming on, though neither led to goals. Arshavin woke up from an hour-long nap after the 60th minute, and looked better in the final 30’. Overall, the defense held in the second half, and despite missed opportunities, the team still came out of the match with an important 3 points. It was a great result given the squad that Pat Rice put out there, and despite still looking weak on the back line in the first half, the team pulled together in the second half and played well together for long stretches.

And now for the awards…

Man Of The Match – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Match Savior – Mikel Arteta (that goal would have changed the match)

Jose Oquendo “Secret Weapon” Award – Alex Song (who looked pretty good at center half)

Hottest WAG – Walcott (at least she can console him if Theo loses his job to The OC)

Jim Henson Best Beard Award – Olof Mellberg