Strange days – as the picture on the front of today’s New York Times clearly demonstrates: reads the caption, “A shop was set on fire Monday in Croydon, South London…”
So I readily admit my little Premier League countdown – of which this is, well, part two – doesn’t exactly have any of its fingers on any kind of pulse. Instead it’s a bit like Messrs. Cameron and Johnson before they decided to cut short their summer holidays: out of touch, out of the loop, and a long way from home.
All the same, though, I figure I might just as well carry on regardless. One, because that’s the most British thing to do, and, two, because I’m sitting on an extra-slow moving train out of Hoboken with nothing much to read (Ian McEwan’s Atonement, alas, not yet inclining me to the edge of a seat).
Without any further preamble, then, here’s my handy five-minute take on my all-time favourite football team – with appropriate groveling apologies to my South London roots.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny
Thanks in large part to not being monumentally awful, Arsenal’s latest # 1. In fact: actually pretty good – with highly useful goalkeeping traits including a basic disregard for his physical wellbeing, traces of megalomania, and a slightly lunatic quality never fully held in check.
Left back: Kieran Gibbs
Billed as the player Gael Clichy never quite managed to be and, therefore, Ashley Cole’s long-term and long overdue replacement. So far, at least, neither thing to any meaningful extent, albeit jolly fast and still full of promise. Has a closely-shaved head such that the back of it seems weirdly distended (if you don’t believe me, take a look!).
Center back: Laurent Koscielny
AKA the better half of the reliably unreliable Koscielny/Squillaci partnership, upon which slippery foundations Arsenal’s recent defensive wellbeing has unfortunately rested. Looks eminently capable of being capable enough – but much less likely to consistently blunt the sharper edge of better teams trying doggedly to score. But still relatively young.
Center back: Thomas Vermaelen
On the strength of a year and a bit’s worth of evidence, Arsenal’s preeminent defender. What an awful shame, then, that he conspired to spend nearly all of last season injured. The scorer, too, of many ‘useful’ goals – i.e. the ones you don’t much expect.
Right back: Bacary Sagna
More often than not, a reassuring presence – and doubly so in comparison to the defensive company he usually has to keep. Solid at the back and better still going forward. Sure, he has a haircut that makes him look borderline ridiculous… but thankfully he can also be relied upon to deliver a rather decent cross – something his former fellow fullback Gael Clichy hardly ever managed.
Defensive midfield: Alex Song
That rare player in the modern Arsenal team: one more than happy to ‘do a bit of ugly,’ by way of the errant tackle, the hard slide, and the odd cheeky grapple. Results predictably in many yellow cards but is also eminently useful. Makes the rest of the team better – and a more than decent passer too.
Center midfield: Jack Wilshere
Surrounded, always, by Johnny Foreigner, a bloody brilliant English boy who plays like a man. One, that is, who’s really, really, really good at football. Distinguishing features include a bullish will to win, a cultured left peg, and one heck of an engine. (Liable to leave the overawed observer lapsing into cliche.)
Center midfield: Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal’s best player and, given how long that’s been the case and how mystifying young he remains (24!), preternaturally gifted. Should be nicknamed Houdini for how easily he unlocks defenses – but nevertheless isn’t. Courted, it would seem, by F.C. Barcelona since before, it would seem, fish first started walking.
Left wing: Theo Walcott
FAST!!! (And every wonderful once in a while, a whole lot of other good things too.) Great fun to watch, especially off the bench, but not yet consistently impactful: sometimes scores like it’s the easiest thing in the world; just as often just as likely a troubler of corner flags and that most mythical of Rows, ‘Z’.
Right wing: Samir Nasri
A show-pony sort of player who’s good enough to get away with it – until he fades half-way through the season and you start to think 25million from Man City wouldn’t be so bad for him, after all… until you think again, again, and remember he can do things with a football that few others’ can and which the opposition don’t know how to counter.
Center forward: Robin van Persie
One of the world’s best strikers and altogether mind-bendingly talented. Not infrequently injured: ho hum.
…So I think we can all agree that this is definitely the Premier League team to beat, right?! After all, I haven’t even mentioned its enigmatic little Russian, Andrei Arshavin – catch him on a good day and wonder, nonplussed, how it is he doesn’t always start.
Anyhow, till next time, my friends… [Very possibly tomorrow.]
P.S. Thank Goodness, London Being Nice…