Saturday, August 11, 2007

Arsenal and the Premier League 2007-2008

I haven't written too much about this, but today was opening day for the Premiership, maybe the most exciting sports league on the world. There is enough quality to be motivated to follow the better teams, but also enough parity so that everyone knows that the big dogs don't get gimme wins against the also-rans. There's no playoffs, so all the title contenders' games are meaningful, kinda like baseball used to be before divisional play. The three teams at the bottom of the league are relegated out of the league.

My team, Arsenal, has finished a disappointing fourth for two straight seasons, the bottom of the "top-four" teams who legitimately consider themselves to be title contenders before the start of the season, and the lowest place to earn entry into the Champions League, the major continent-wide club competition. The manager, Frenchman Arsene Wenger is a revolutionary figure for opening the league up to skilled, relatively cheap foreign players. But he's been there ten years now, and his enormously successful first generation of recruited players have largely retired or moved on to other teams. He has replaced them with a bucketload of young talent, who in some cases have excelled individually but have yet to form an intimidating side.

Is this the year? I don't know, but I do think the question is a matter of character rather than skill or workrate. So many of the players have basked in the glow of being prodigies without ever being forced to feel the real sting of being blamed for failure.

One way or another we'll begin to see answers soon. Tomorrow Arsenal opens their season at home against Fulham, a team good enough to avoid relegation but no better. Again, due to the structure of the League, this game matters a lot more than you might expect. IMO, it's no exaggeration to consider this a must-win game on the first day of the season. One-nil to the Arsenal, or it's going to be a long, long year.

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