When Top 4 Ain’t Enough

The league season is over for Arsenal and all that is left is the FA Cup Final against rival and this season’s English Premier League Champion Chelsea. This is Chelsea’s third EPL Championship since I started following the League in 2009-2010. Remarkably it was a defeat to Arsenal in September that changed the course of Chelsea’s season. And in a way changed Arsenal’s too. This is the first time in 20 years that Arsenal missed out on a Top 4 finish and failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Arsenal hasn’t won the League since “The Invincibles”  2003-2004 season.

There were many common themes throughout the season for Arsenal but the most costly was “poor defending”. It started on the opening weekend of the season and was constantly a problem in various matches. Arsenal’s defense was especially treacherous against the other “Top 6” teams in the League. The Gunners allowed 18 goals (14 in 5 defeats) against the other clubs in the Top 6 while only scoring 15. Arsenal failed to win any of their away games against the other teams in the Top 6. They also allowed the most league goals (44) amongst teams in the Top 6. So by season’s end there was no surprise the Gunner’s struggles against the top clubs continued.

Record versus the Top 6 (Arsenal finish) : W- 2 D- 3 L- 5

Premier League Standings (Top 6 Final Standings)

Team                    MP         W            D             L              GF          GA          GD          PTS

Chelsea               38           30           3              5              85           33           52           93          

Tottenham         38           26           8              4              86           26           60           86 

Man. City             38           23           9              6              80           39           41           78

Liverpool             38           22           10           6              78           42           36           76

Arsenal                 38           23           6              9              77           44           33           75

Man Utd              38           18           15           5              54           29           25           69

*MP – Matches Played, W – Wins (3 points for wins), D – Draws (1 point for draws), L – Losses (0 points for losses), GF- Goals For, GA – Goals Allowed, GD – Goal Differential, PTS – Points

 

The struggle against in the Top 6 was enough to wreck the season but Arsenal took it a step further and dropped points against teams in the middle to bottom third of the league standings. I often listen to the Men In Blazers Podcast and on many occasions one of the co-host – Michael Davies – always talks about how Arsenal fared against teams in the lower half of the table(standings). In recent years Arsenal has been seen as a club that only showed up against weaker opponents. Until this season that was one thing Arsenal could hang their hats on during League play. As you see above, Arsenal finished 18 points behind this season’s champion. Below I singled out 7 matches versus teams outside of the Top 6 (in the final standings) where Arsenal dropped points. The Gunners were only able to get 3 of the possible 21 points available.

Leicester City 0-0 (a)

Middlesbrough 0-0 (h)

Everton 2-1 (a)

Bournemouth 3-3 (a)

Watford 2-1 (h)

West Bromwich Albion 3-1 (a)

Crystal Palace 3-0 (a)

These matches occurred at different points in the season and there are too many ifs, ands, and buts to consider to  say “what if?” But it was unacceptable for the manager Arsene Wenger – in a recent interview –  to blame other clubs when Arsenal only have themselves to blame for how this season played out. Now all that is left is the FA Cup Final which will be followed by a bunch of questions that need to be answered quickly. Arsenal fans can only hope that they take care of those matters better than they handled the season.

Today’s post was inspired by Rick Ross’s song Sixteen

 

Table and stats courtesy of

https://www.google.com/#q=english+premier+league+table&spf=1495559620978

The Arsenal App on Android and iOS

 

 

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When Top 4 Ain’t Enough

The Truth

I have a lot to cover. This sports weekend was one to remember and one to forget for me. We had a World Championship Boxing match that gave us some great action. The 2nd Round of the NBA Playoffs are finally here. We also had the only Game 7 of the Playoffs thus far on Sunday. That Game 7 also saw the end of a career for “The Truth” Paul Pierce. Finally and most sadly for me Arsenal was thumped once again. This time by their rivals Tottenham in the North London Derby.

First the boxing, Anthony “AJ” Joshua was able to defeat – via 11th Round TKO – Wladimir Klitschko in an EPIC Heavyweight match. Both guys looked like some giants or as many proclaim “Super Heavyweights”. No fat to be found on either fighter. Both all muscle and chiseled. The fight moved along well and took off in the 5th Round when Anthony Joshua came out of his corner swinging and caught Klitchko with a good right. Joshua would then chase down his opponent until he was able to drop him. Joshua, a bit too excited had celebrated prematurely AND punched himself tired. Wladimir was able to get up off of the canvas and nearly drop Anthony in the same round. Smartly AJ either leaned against the ropes or held onto his opponent for dear life. The 5th ended with me going nuts. When the 6th Round started it was Wladimir that came out like a house on fire. He set the tone in the round and dropped AJ with a crushing right hand. This was the first time that AJ had been knocked on his backside in his pro career. Joshua was clearly hurt but he managed to survive the round and make it out standing. Klitschko was in control of the fight at that point and went on to control the following rounds. But during that time, AJ pulled another savvy move. He purposefully spit out his mouthpiece and had to get another one from his corner. This was smart because it allowed him to buy some time to catch his second wind and thoughts. In the 9th Round – I was surprised the fight made it that far – Joshua appeared to kick it up a notch. He controlled that 9th and then the 10th. In the 11th, AJ came out fiercely once again. He caught Wladimir with a nice combo that staggered the former champ. Wisely AJ didn’t get anxious in his pursuit of the KO. Instead he stalked his opponent into the center of the ring and caught him with a vicious uppercut. An uppercut similar to the one Tommy Hearns delivered to Martin on that boxing episode. Somehow Klistchko didn’t fall after that punch but he was down a few seconds later after a barrage of punches.  AJ would drop Wladimir again before the referee stopped the fight with AJ swinging away in a corner. This was the type of fight that the sport of Boxing needed from its top division. The star of Anthony Joshua will continue to grow and he’s expressed interest in fighting anyone that wants to go. He’s now 19-0 with all 19 by KO.

 

The Game 7 between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers ended up being a dud. Utah sent the Clippers home after winning 104-91. Utah will now face the Golden State Warriors with that series starting on Tuesday night in Oakland. Utah’s starting center Rudy Gobert was in foul trouble from the jump and eventually fouled out in the 4th quarter. The Jazz turned to Derrick Favors who provided a solid performance despite fouling out too. Favors had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson combined for 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists off the bench for Utah. The star of the game was Gordon Hayward. Hayward just happens to play the position- small forward – that the Clippers have never been able to fill. Hayward had 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. He was also a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line. On the other side Chris Paul tried hard to get the Clippers going but had no luck. Paul finished the game with 13 points and 9 assists. He also had a terrible day shooting the ball. CP3 was 6-19 overall and 1-7 on three pointers. DeAndre Jordan was able to provide a whopping 24 points and 17 rebounds despite shooting 6-15 on free throws. Jamal Crawford was the only other Clippers player with a pulse as he provided 20 points off of the bench. The Clippers only got 14 total points from their other 3 starters.

After the game, twitter blew up as expected. Another team featuring Chris Paul is out of the Playoffs again in the First Round. CP3 is a great player but there’s only so far a team will go if he’s the lead player. Chris will be a free agent this summer and must make a decision on the path of his legacy. He can stay in L.A. and get up to $200 million over the next 5 seasons or he can consider a move to San Antonio. He’ll be teamed with a top notch coach in Gregg Popovich and a current top 5 player in Kawhi Leonard. I fully expect him to take the money and stay in Los Angeles. Really can’t fault him for that. If he chooses to stay; the Clippers will have a lot of moves to make in order to get “better”.

The first game of the NBA Playoffs 2nd Round saw Washington take on Boston. Washington jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the 1st quarter. Boston made a run as expected and trimmed that lead to 5 by halftime. Boston outscored Washington 36-16 in the 3rd quarter and never looked back thanks to stingy defense and three point shooting. The Celtics shot 19-39 from three point range as the Wizards never stopped Isaiah Thomas (33 points and 9 assists) from driving and kicking to the perimeter. Jae Crowder was 6-8 from three point range and finished with 24 points. Al Horford was one rebound shy of a triple double. The Wizards got most of their production from their starters. They’ll definitely need help if Markieff Morris isn’t able to return from an ankle injury. As for predictions, I was 7 out of 8 in the First Round. I chose the Clippers instead of Utah. for the 2nd Round I have Cleveland over Toronto in 6 games; Boston in 7 games; Golden State over Utah in 6 games; Houston over San Antonio in 6 games.

Paul Pierce played his final NBA game on yesterday for the Los Angeles Clippers. Pierce aka The Truth is most notable for his time spent in Boston. He was a 10-time All Star and 2008 NBA Champion and Finals MVP. He battled LeBron James a countless number of times and there are some great behind the scenes stories about those two. I first started watching Pierce during his time at the University of Kansas. He was an AP First Team All-American in 1997-1998. He was then drafted by the Boston Celtics and went on to have some fun times playing alongside “Worker #8” Antoine Walker. I couldn’t stand Pierce after he was joined by Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in Boston to form the “Big 3”. He’d hit a dagger shot one minute and then be stretchered out in a wheelchair the next like his life was over. His final 4 seasons he hit a few big shots in Brooklyn and Washington before joining the Clippers close to his hometown of Inglewood, CA. Thanks Paul for a great career and this hilarious moment. It’ll always remind me of why I hate Boston.

 

P.S. I would talk about Arsenal but that’d make me feel like Paul Pierce in the wheelchair. Ok I’m done.

Stats courtesy of:

http://www.basketball-reference.com

The Truth

Super Week is Here

“Super Week” has arrived and man does it promise to be exciting for me. Not only do I get to enjoy the game on Sunday but my daughter will be turning one on Friday! Seems like the time flew by. There’ll be a party on Saturday. I can’t wait for the day when these two forces collide and we have a Super Sunday. Anyways we have the two teams in that game – Atlanta Falcons & New England Patriots – but there’s a bigger match to me taking place on Saturday in London between Chelsea & Arsenal. I care a LOT MORE about that one than the Super Bowl but I’ll touch on both along with some NBA.

The Super Bowl could be a shootout or it could be a blowout. Vegas had New England as a 3 point favorite after both teams won their respective Conference Championship. Matt Ryan has already received the MVP nod from a couple of publications. Matty Ice has been on a tear thanks to his slew of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. One of them – Julio Jones – needs no introduction if you follow the game. Atlanta’s young defense has stepped up and shown that they’re coming to bring some pain, just ask Mr. Discount Double Check.

On the other side, we have the boring and methodical cheat- my bad Patriots. Belichick and Brady have been here before (this will be their 7th Super Bowl together) and they’re looking to bring back their 5th ring. Brady’s Bunch is mostly a gang of no names with the exception of LeGarrete Blount and Martellus Bennett. Both of them are talented and have shown that they can produce on the field but both are guys that I enjoy for other reasons. Look for New England’s defense to grab, hold, chuck, and whatever else they can get away with. Malcolm Butler said he “dreamt of covering Julio Jones” though he never stated whether that was a sweet dream or nightmare. Guess we’ll find out on Sunday. If you’re a Patriots fan then look away because I’ve been known to jinx a team or two and it could be your team’s turn. Brady brings back ring number 5 as the New England defense and run game on offense slows the high powered Falcons. Score: New England 28-17

Saturday morning at 6:30 before I get to running around doing party stuff I’ll be up ready to watch Chelsea and Arsenal duel. This time last year Arsenal was in a similar spot. They had an early February match against Leicester City. On that day, Arsenal won on a last minute goal and closed the gap between 1st and 2nd. Unfortunately Arsenal collapsed afterwards and watched as Leicester claimed the League title. This time around Chelsea sits in first place with an 8 point cushion. Both teams have a match midweek with Chelsea going away to Liverpool and Arsenal hosting Watford. If the Gunners are to have any hopes of catching Chelsea then they’ll need to start by winning these next two matches. Some help from Liverpool would be nice too but their form leaves a lot to be desired. Chelsea has been the cream of the crop in the Premier League since getting thumped 3-0 at Arsenal in September. The Gunners have been knocked down since then but are trying to regain traction in what could be a heated title race. The same question still remains for Arsenal – Do they have the mentality to win the title? – as they head into this big match. I jumped the gun last year after they beat Leicester but it won’t happen again this season. Even with the best case scenario of Chelsea losing twice and Arsenal winning twice there’ll still be a long ways to go before the title is settled.

You know the NBA is heating up because arguments of various types have started. We’ve seen quarrels amongst teammates. We’ve had the annual who should/shouldn’t be voting for All-Star Starters debate along with who should/shouldn’t be on the team/starting. We know one thing is clear; Golden State is the hands down favorite to win the title. The Warriors have the best record, best offense, best defense, 4 All-Stars (2 of them starting), 2 MVP candidates, best crowd, a new arena in the works…need I continue? The ONLY thing that can stop Golden State from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy will be themselves. Many games have to be played but the Warriors are buzzing and it could get ugly as they continue to fine tune things for the Playoffs.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the league will sit quietly and let GSW have their way. Russell Westbrook and James Harden continue to put on a show for their teams. Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers is running away with the Rookie of the Year. Will Carmelo be traded? The rumors continue to swirl but nothing solid has come up. Melo could swing things for a potential Playoff team. I saw John Wall live and in-person for the 2nd time this season. He’s very good and so are the Washington Wizards. Scott Brooks has done an excellent job with that team.

Dion “Waiters County” is heating up in Miami as they continue to win games for some strange reason. The Heat are on an 8-game winning streak and inch further away from a top draft pick. We’ll see how long this string of winning continues.

It’s an exciting week ahead to say the least. My weekend will be filled with two of my joys, family and sports. I look forward to both as the kids will be all over the place and I’ll be busy helping out. Also I’m sure the Falcons fans that know me will be happy because I didn’t pick them. It’s Super Week folks…enjoy!

Super Week is Here

Is This The Year?

Here we are in the winter of 2016 and Arsenal currently sits at the top of the English Premier League standings with the 16 (league) matches still to be played. Many pundits have insisted that if Arsenal are going to break their title drought in the EPL then this is the time to do it.  Mainly because the first half of the season was unlike any in recent memory or in other words “the teams that normally contend for the title have been terrible.”  So with that in mind I get to spend the next 5 months trying not to lose anymore hair.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 7.42.43 PM

 

Arsenal has its next three matches at home. League matches versus Chelsea and Southampton with an FA Cup tie against Burnley sandwiched in between. The Gunners will be looking to rebound after two tough draws at Liverpool (3-3) and Stoke (0-0). Most fans will agree that the match at Liverpool should’ve been a win. Earlier this season, Arsenal lost 2-0 at Chelsea and were thrashed 4-0 at Southampton in December. These two matches will be key as it will give Arsenal a chance to get Alexis Sanchez – HOPEFULLY – back on the pitch. We’ll also see the return of the great Mesut Ozil as he sat out on Sunday with a foot injury. This stretch of matches could also bring about the first appearance of new signing Mohamed Elneny. If Elneny is able to bring on some positive play then it would give Arsene Wenger the opportunity to rotate his squad and rest some players. Another positive would be the return of Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck but they seem to be a few more weeks away.

As if trying to win the Premier League isn’t enough, the team will face Barcelona in February and March in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. This will prove to be a crucial stretch for the Gunners as they could play as many as 12 matches (consisting of EPL, FA Cup, and CL) in 41 days versus the likes of Leicester City, Barcelona (twice), Manchester United, Tottenham, and Everton to name a few. It’s easy to say that this will definitely determine whether Arsenal will be in the running for the title. I want them to be competitive in the matches versus Barcelona and have a good showing. If wins are there, go for them but most importantly don’t get anyone hurt. I’d like to see them win the FA Cup matches. The match above mentioned against Burnley (please win this to avoid a replay at Burnley) and then a possible Quarterfinal match versus an opponent TBD. They’re currently going for a three-peat in the competition having won in 2014 and 2015. That leaves the seven league matches that are split 4 away and 3 home. All 21 points would be great but if I were being realistic then I’d take 15-18 points.

The closer Arsenal is to 20 points total from those 7 EPL matches the better. They currently sit at 44 points after 22 matches. My gut feeling is that the club that gets closest if not to 85 points by the end of the season will win the title. That’d mean that the Gunners would need 21 points in their final nine EPL matches. Then there is the whole goal differential situation if the decision has to come to a tiebreaker. Petr Cech’s clean sheet on Sunday was a good start. I also think the squad will find the back of the net more often as the 2nd half of the season progresses. The return of the players I mentioned earlier could play a big role in that. It’s been rough at times but I’ll take the (1-0 or 2-1) results as long as it is a win. May 7th could be a big day in the Premier League but I don’t want to get too far ahead – as I’ve already done – being that it’s only mid January. Hopefully when I return to talk about the last quarter of the season it’ll be positive for Arsenal and my hair!

Is This The Year?

The Barclays Premier League – A Quarter of the Way

We’re a bit over the quarter mark in the Barclays (English) Premier League season with all teams having played 10 matches. There have been quite a few surprises thus far with some clubs being where we expected them to be while others aren’t – looks in the direction of last season’s champs Chelsea – where we expected them to be. There have been some stunning performances from players like Jaime Vardy of Leicester City who currently leads the league in goals scored (10). Also there is Dimitri Payet – 5 goals and 3 assists – for West Ham United who started the season off with a dazzling performance at Arsenal. The familiar names in the league like Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez have had moments of brilliance while struggling with fitness. Aguero is currently out with a hamstring injury suffered while on International duty with Argentina. Petr Cech has proven to be exactly what Arsenal has needed so far this season defensively with his solid goalkeeping and presence. Also, the promoted teams – Watford, Bournemouth, and Norwich City – are all outside of the “relegation zone”.

First off, let me give a brief overview of how the EPL is set up. There are 20 teams; the league consists of a 38-match season (playing each opponent home and away). There is no playoff – so at seasons end – the team with the most points wins the league. A team earns 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss. There is no extra-time i.e. overtime to decide a winner. A match consists of two 45-minute halves. Additional time may be added onto the end of each half to account for delays such as injuries or substitutions. This is what the table currently looks like. If two teams have the same number of points, goal differential is the first tiebreaker. Thus Manchester City currently is top of the league over Arsenal. The cool thing about foreign futbol leagues is “relegation”. Relegation occurs when a club finishes in the bottom 3 of the table. It would be like the Philadelphia 76ers getting sent to the D-League. It adds to the drama both at the top and bottom.

Now to the season thus far, I already mentioned the top two teams Manchester City and Arsenal. Both currently have 22 points and 7-1-2 records (Wins-Draws-Losses). The next two in line are West Ham United and Manchester United. Both clubs have 20 points and 6-2-2 records. West Ham has the slight edge with a goal differential of +2 over Man U. West Ham is yet to walk away without points in their first 5 away matches. The Hammers started the season with a win at Arsenal (2-0) and also have wins at Liverpool (3-0) and Manchester City (2-1). Manchester City has the longest winning streak of the season at 5 games won. Arsenal currently holds two active winning streaks – longest home winning streak 3 and the longest active winning streak at 4 games in a row.

The defending champions Chelsea find themselves in the 15th spot. They have a measly 11 points and a whole heap of problems. Players find themselves out of form or in the manager’s doghouse. The manager squabbled with the fan favorite and former team doctor Eva Carneiro. Manager Jose Mourinho appears to be going through his customary 3rd year swoon. The club is struggling to score goals, stop goals, and play an attractive brand of futbol. Many don’t believe Chelsea will continue to be THIS BAD but they’ll need to find some juice starting this weekend. Could The Chosen One be added to the list of fired managers?

Speaking of fired managers, Tim Sherwood was fired after Aston Villa lost their 6th match in a row. They’re currently at the bottom of the table with 4 points and a 1-1-8 record and have a 9 match winless streak. Above them in the 18th and 19th spots are rivals Sunderland and Newcastle United. Both teams have the same record and 6 points but Sunderland holds the edge with a +2 goal difference after thumping Newcastle 3-0 on Sunday.

There are still 28 matches left to be played so the table will no doubt look different by the time we hit the half way mark. Some teams will move up while others will move down or stay put. I hope the remainder of the season is exciting and full of surprises.

Stats via:

http://www.espnfc.us/barclays-premier-league/23/index

http://www.squawka.com/players/petr-cech/stats#performance-score#arsenal-%28current%29#english-barclays-premier-league#8#season-2015/2016#165#all-matches#1-10#by-match

The Barclays Premier League – A Quarter of the Way

How I Became A Fan of…

With the new month here, I’m going to try and up the number of posts I’ve been doing. The month of August saw me provide a grand total of ONE. With football season gearing up I decided to announce the teams I root for and how/why I started rooting for them. Seeing how I got this idea from The Short Fuse (SB Nation site for all things Arsenal), I think it’s only right that I start with them. http://theshortfuse.sbnation.com/?_ga=1.25431546.67990664.1436485909

How long have I been an Arsenal fan: 2013
How did I become an Arsenal fan: I love sports and after watching the 1994 World Cup I had a love for soccer. As a youngster in the 90s I had no clue of European Soccer Clubs. Then in 2008-2009, I found out about the UEFA Champions League and I was hooked. I got into watching the major European Leagues and my love for the sport grew even more. I couldn’t decide which team to root for but I always had a love of Arsenal. After years of mulling I chose the Gunners and haven’t looked back. I often joke that Arsenal’s coach Arsene Wenger looks like an older version of Michael Cera. Juno is one of my favorite movies but that’s not the point of this post. It often gets frustrating watching Arsenal play but I know they’ll turn the corner in the EPL and do more than just finish in the “Top 4”.

Wenger1

How long have I been a Jackson State fan: Forever
How did I become a Jackson State fan: I was born into this fandom. I generally root for the Tigers in most events. There are other posts that document this very well so I won’t go too in depth. I’ll just say watching JSU shock Louisiana-Lafayette in a 2014 NCAA Regional Baseball game was great. Still keeping hope alive that one of the basketball teams can do the same in March Madness.

How long have I been a New Orleans Pelicans fan: 2012
How did I become a New Orleans Pelicans fan: I was never a fan of a team, just a fan of players. So I’d often default to rooting for the teams they were on. In 2005, I attended my first NBA game and got to see my then favorite player LeBron James. The game just happened to be in New Orleans.   After I moved to New Orleans in 2007, I had the chance to attend a lot of games but I never took the Hornets as my team. After LeBron won his first title with the Miami Heat, I started feeling a little different. The times with LBJ had been fun but I felt a little different about the New Orleans Hornets. Especially after they drafted Anthony Davis – which was the first season I was a half season ticket holder – first overall in the 2012 draft. Going to multiple games made me feel like more of a fan, so I latched on to them. I was able to be a half season ticket holder again the next season. That along with the mascot being changed to the Pelicans really sold me. It was great seeing the run they made last season and I hope it continues to move forward. I think AD will have a big say in that.

How long have I been an Arizona Wildcats Basketball fan: 1995
How did I become an Arizona Wildcats Basketball fan: I used to watch a lot of PAC-10 basketball games late at night. The conference was loaded with talent. The O’Bannon brothers, Jason Kidd, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Lamond Murray, Brent Barry, Damon Stoudamire, Tracy Murray, Brevin Knight, Harold Miner and so on. And out of all those guys the thing that attracted me to Arizona was Jason Terry’s long white socks with “CATS” going down the side. I was also a fan of Lute Olson. During Lute’s tenure, Arizona won a National Championship and reached 4 Final Fours but they were also known for getting bounced early in the tournament. The Wildcats haven’t reached the Final Four since losing to Duke in the 2001 NCAA Championship Game.

The other teams I “root” for I can’t even say I seriously “root” for them. I claim the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL but I’m not moved much by them losing game. In MLB, I chose to “root” for the Philadelphia Phillies because I have friends that root for the Atlanta Braves but now that both teams sucks, there’s no point in that. I don’t have a “Big Time” college football team that I root for. I just love watching college football. There’s already enough stress dealing with JSU on Saturdays during the Fall.  I just miss Keith Jackson yelling out “Woah, Nellie!”

How I Became A Fan of…