Tag Archives: Arsenal FC

The Odd Couple…

I love watching the MLS. The American pro “soccer” league is blossoming. A renaissance that started with the signing of David Beckham and continues to build with a somewhat rare mix. It is a league that gives opportunity to those who may be struggling in the more established professional leagues while at the same time attracts big name stars at the end of their careers.

This can lead to some interesting and somewhat unlikely team lineups. I was first fascinated by the LA Galaxy elevens containing both Beckham and former English lower league winger Chris Birchall, but this season the New York Red Bulls have produced an even unlikelier pairing.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau were the original odd couple, where the differing lifestyles of two friends are at constant loggerheads. In footballing terms, the contrasting lifestyles of the Red Bulls forward line is as drastic.

Thierry Henry is football royalty. The Frenchman is as popular a man as he is revered as a player, highly decorated and having played for some of the worlds biggest clubs, he can boast Lionel Messi as a former teammate and is a World Cup winner.

Luke Rodgers is football proletariat. The Englishman has earned a reputation as a troublemaker and a bad boy while plying his trade in the lower echelons of the English professional game. He can boast the likes of Lee Hughes as a former teammate and is a League Two winner.

There is a saying when something extraordinary happens Stateside “Only in America”, and only in the MLS could these two form a successful partnership.

Rodgers & Henry. Firing the Red Bulls to the top...

Henry’s career began in Monaco and the glamourous setting of the French Riviera in 1994. By 1997, it was already clear that his future lay away from Ligue 1, having already secured a league title and a French Young Footballer of the Year award. By January 1999, Henry was a World Cup winner with his country and a £10 million man, on his way to the Stadio Delle Alpi and Italy’s “Old Lady” Juventus. The summer before, Luke Rodgers was starting his career, with Shrewsbury Town in the English Third Division. His spell at the Shrews was successful on a personal front, goals coming with relative ease, but as a club the Gay Meadow side dropped into the conference and non-league football.

It wasn’t all rosy for Henry either. His spell in Italy lasted just seven months, unsuited to the Italian style of play he made an £11 million move to Arsenal and the English Premier League that summer. Henry’s eight seasons for the Gunners are well documented. Premier League titles and FA Cups were joined by unbeaten seasons and being named the PFA player of the year. Twice. Not to mention a European Championship title with his country. In the same time, Rodgers had a achieved a Conference play-off win and a move to League One with Crewe Alexandra.

In the summer of 2007, with heavy heart, Thierry left Arsenal and headed for the Nou Camp in a £20 million deal, in the previous January Port Vale had splashed out £30k for Rodgers services. Henry added the Champions League to his collection of honours in 2009, surrounded by two La Liga titles. While he celebrated the the second of those titles, Rodgers was celebrating his only career trophy, having won League Two with Notts County(the only club where the two shared a former teammate in Sol Campbell, all be it for only one game).

Henry headed to the MLS in July 2010, and was joined by Rodgers in January of this year, their careers couldn’t be more different, but actually in the land of opportunity, Rodgers is taking his. The pair have struck up a potent partnership, and the New York Red Bulls are currently top of the Eastern Conference. Rodgers career may not be glamourous, but he has always been a goalscorer, and one that gives the teams he plays for a good return. He already has five this term for the Red Bull arena side and several assists for his more cultured partner. Henry has seven himself and the New York side look like they will be certain play-off challengers with the combination of the traditional aggressive striker in Rodgers and the tricky ball player up front.

This doesn’t happen anywhere else, perhaps the AFL to a lesser extent, but just think what we could see from the MLS in years to come? Messi &  Dean Bowditch? Long may it continue.

Chris.

War Horses 2 Show Ponies 1

If Carling made cup finals…….

Well yesterday they did, and what a cup final it was! While I am neither a supporter of Arsenal or Birmingham City, I did find myself favouring the team in blue. Why? Well the terrible decision by the linesman early on instantly made me get behind them, but also the contrasting styles of the teams.

What we had was a clear case of War Horses versus Show Ponies, and I have always been a War Horse fan. Maybe it says something about my own natural lack of footballing talent, that while other kids were being Gazza and Chris Waddle, I was always Stuart Pearce or Terry Butcher on the hallowed concrete of the playground. I tried being Matt Le Tissier a couple of times, but I knew I wasn’t doing him justice so went back to being Glenn Cockerill, in case I somehow did the reputation of the mercurial Saints weaver some unintentional damage.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a bit of skill, I like the odd stepover, the odd back heel, but like everything in life you need balance and for me watching a “water carrier” like Claude Makalele or Didier Deschamps control the play in midfield with simplicity, energy and efficiency is every bit as majestic as a Messi or a Ronaldo cutting in and sending one home. The importance of the “water carrier” was not lost on the great Eric Cantona who himself coined the phrase based on the influence of Deschamps on the success of the late 90’s French team. Cantona is perhaps one example of a player who managed to be both show pony and war horse!

When I talk about “War Horses” though, I don’t just mean the efficient holding midfielder, but also the do or die player, the man who would put his head where a “Show Pony” wouldn’t put their feet. Is there anything more inspirational to an England fan than the infamous sight of Terry Butcher smothered in his own claret, or Stuart Pearce screaming at the Wembley crowd in Euro 96? Men that lead by example, that inspire confidence in their team-mates and grab the bull by the horns.

War Horses.

This is where the two sides differed on Sunday. Arsenal are the epitome of a show pony side. Full of talent and flair, the likes of Nasri and Arshavin light up the Premier League on a regular basis, and of course recently out-Barca’d Barcelona, the ultimate show ponies. But perhaps what they lack is War Horses, or even a War Horse. It is no surprise to me, that in a game like that, the best player in an Arsenal shirt was Jack Wilshire, a lad who looks to me like finally being the man to fill Bryan Robson’s boots in an England shirt and certainly the closest thing they have to a war horse at the moment.

In comparison, look at the Birmingham team. Nothing shows the contrast more than the names Bowyer and Ferguson in the Blues midfield. Combative and committed to the end these two are unlikely to shy any challenge, especially in a cup final. Alex McLeish has built up a side that works hard and is extremely efficient with the ball. They would never have competed with Arsenal if they tried to play like Arsenal, but by constantly pressing and never saying die, they showed that the gap in skill level could be overcome.

Show Pony.

Is it a coincidence that Arsenal haven’t won anything since Patrick Vieira left? A man who is without a doubt a war horse. While Arsenal play breathtaking football at times, even the flair riddled Barcelona line up with a Carlos Puyol at the back, is there anyone taking on that role for Arsenal?

All the truly great sides have a balance of players types. AC Milan in the 80’s owed as much to Franco Baresi as they did to Marco Van Basten, even the Brazilians have relied on a Dunga and what might have been in 1966 without a Nobby Stiles?

The game has certainly changed over the years that I have watched it, but it was refreshing to see that there is still a role to play for the combative battler alongside the pretty ball jugglers.

Chris