15 September 2015

Open Letter to Dinamo Zagreb—a strange solidarity...

Dearest Dinamo—
Congratulations on once again appearing in the Champions League group-stage. I hear tell of your club going some 41 matches unbeaten, including all 36 last season, to claim an "Invincibles" season of your own, something we more or less pioneered with our Invincibles campaign of 2003-2004. That's never easy, even when you demonstrate a degree of dominance over your league that is almost Bayern Munichian. However, whereas Bayern seem to hoard up players from rivals, you seem more likely to loan yours out—undercutting somewhat your derby win over Lokomotiva, most of whose squad seems to consist of your loanees. Still, we know that we can't afford to underestimate you. That's where the bad news begins.

That's me (holding the sign but not the pompom...), circa 1991...
Your manager has quipped that "I told the players we would have two video analysis sessions: one on Arsenal's strengths, which would be an hour long, and one on their weaknesses. I told them we probably wouldn't have anything to show in that meeting." That may be true. For as much as we whinge about Giroud, or about Ramsey on the wing, this squad is one of the strongest we've had in a while. This is not to say that we're perfect, not by a long shot. We're struggling to score—it was only last weekend, five matches in, that our leading scorer had a name other than Own Goal. Despite that, we're creating chances at a blistering rate, taking 22.4 shots per game while putting 7.8 per game of them on-target. Together, Özil and Cazorla have been creating 9.6 key passes per game, far and away superior to any other tandem in the Prem. While it's true that the actual finishing lags a bit, I'm chalking some portion of that to the brilliant performances that opposing keepers have delivered against us, with the woodwork playing a role as well. Somewhere in there, our own poor finishing has played a role. To some degree.

At some point, we'll reaching a tipping point. A club cannot simply send out the likes of Alexis, Özil, and Walcott on a regular basis without starting to see some production. Did you know that Walcott;s conversion-rate, despite his injury-woes and positional wranglings, is 20%, just shy of Sergio Agüero's 21%? Something in me wonders what kind of havoc he'll unleash against your side, which, despite its dominance of the Prva HNL, is not known for its defensive doggedness. Even the prospect of us playing in a hostile away-stadium is undercut, as your own ultras, the BBB, have apparently been boycotting home matches for a while now. I don't know all the in's and out's of the situation, but there's enough in it for me to sympathize. The Mamić brothers, Zdravko and Zoran, are free on bail after having been arrested on charges of embezzlement, tax evasion, and bribery dating as far back as the sale of Luka Modric to Tottenham in 2008.

I see in this a crisitunity. If we can in fact defeat you, we can not only punish the Mamićs for helping Tottenham, our noisome neighbors to the north, but we can also help you punish the Mamić mafia by accelerating Dinamo Zagreb's exit from Champions League play, denying them any further opportunities to embezzle, misappropriate, launder, and whatever else they might be up to. After all, we at Arsenal have had it up to our eyeballs with dirty money. Whatever role we can play in ousting it from international football, I think I speak for all Gooners when I say we're up for the fight. That the chance to do so comes with the silver lining of winning a group-stage match is too good a chance to pass up.

I'd take no glee from winning over a Croatian side. On a personal note, while growing up I had a good number of Croatian friends whose parents had fled the turmoil and conflict of the former Yugoslavia. From about age seven up through my late teen's, I played a lot of footy and learned a lot history from them. It hurts me then to learn of the kleptocracy that has apparently emerged since independence was declared in 1991. Democracy can be a messy business, to be sure, but that's not enough to overlook or gloss over the allegations against the Mamić brothers. In an ideal world, Dinamo Zagreb would find a way to oust those bastards and advance to the group stage (along with Arsenal, of course...). In this world, we might have to settle for the former...