RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Wednesday, July 1

25-Man Metaphysical Roster: ARSENAL FC

{Granit Xhaka making friends with the Gooners} 

[25-Man Metaphysical Roster is a football metaphysics methodology utilizing dork methodology of minutes played over the past 100 club competitive club matches to determine which 25 players constitute the strongest psychic force on a club’s current trajectory. Then intuitive analysis is conducted utilizing football metaphysics, performed from an un-American soccer fan’s perspective. We do this every 1st and 15th of the month, cycling through the 20 clubs currently in the English Premier League, because it is the top domestic league based in an English-speaking country, which as un-American miscreants, we were all born to be saddled with this limited, segmented tongue of the global colonizer, oppressor, and capitalizer. Also, it is what comes on TV here in the USA most prominently, where we live. And yet, it is really important we clarify we hate English, and also America. Maybe we hate ourselves. Our panel consists of chairman Raven Mack, director tecnico Paul Robertson, and director rudo Neil Bulson Our individual contributions to this 5000 words of gibberish will be noted by our name at the end of the blurb. If you enjoy this absolutely free internet content from an un-American soccer perspective, VENMO US FOR OUR METAPHYSICAL LABOR @ravenmack23.]

The world’s football has returned, thus so has Football Metaphysics, but it’s impossible to kick this thing back off without acknowledging the drastic shift in global metaphysics we’ve all experienced, including very heavily here in America (the United States part of those twin continents). We describe “football metaphysics” as an un-American take on the world’s football, and of course the cultural practice of the sport lags behind on this continent, at least among the white folks, who have also created a cosplay version of the world’s football to a certain extent. Our culture is a poison culture, and always going to be performative and public and unreal to a certain extent. But our culture is also the ultimate realization of English desires to conquer the world. This idealized notion of “western civilization” was born from English fever dreams of cheap goods and brown subjects, and let’s not forget the fact that the world’s football is the whole world’s because of the English having people in settlements around the Earth, which spread the game once they settled on association rules like, well, like a sporting pandemic. So the club that was born from a multi-centuries section of London known for munitions manufacturing is wrapped up in that. And yet at the same time, the actual initial Royal Arsenal Football Club was an extension of the Royal Arsenal Cooperative Society, which was a large food-purchasing group that existed in the area at the time as a form of late 19th century mutual aid, with the motto “Each for all and all for each.” So there’s the enigma of war engines and mutual survival. At the same time the English took the steps to plant their flag at every corner of the Earth, there were English people left behind by that vast “progress”, who had to struggle to survive. Of course, with empires, the poorest English people were in far better shape than the poorest people in African, Asian, and South American outposts. This is much like the situation in America, where some of the worst inequality you can find exists, and yet our entire poison culture is propped up by kneeling on the neck of the Global South.

“Well fuck, why did you guys come back if you’re gonna be talking this crazy shit, Raven Mack? Football being back means I don’t have to think about all this shit, doesn’t it?” Sure, if you just wanna look at the surface level. But that’s not what the metaphysics of football actually is. We do this for the Premier League because it’s the most prominent English-speaking league on the planet, and the three of us are all English speakers, though none of us claims any loving allegiance to England itself. Paul claims a good bit of Scottish heritage; I have that too, but am mostly an American mutt who is mostly white so far as I’m aware (though no American mutts are pure white, despite what the racialists will try to convince you); and Neil is probably the same as me, just in Michigan. You go back seven generations in our paternal lines, and there might not be no English spoken. That’s definitely true in the maternal lines on my fucked up family tree. You go back a five centuries on the land where each of us lives, and English is at best a new invasive tongue not yet known by the trees nor the rivers. And the English Premier League is a corporate extension of colonialism, which is easy to see in the rosters. There are very few Englishmen in this English Premier League, especially among the most prominent clubs like Arsenal. But the best human footballing resources from around the planet are extracted from around the world and transferred to western Europe, and ultimately England in many cases. There are super clubs in other top domestic leagues, but the depth of wealth tied to this English Premier League, rechristened from the First Division in 1992, is incomparable. International tycoons own second tier clubs in England, hoping to maneuver to the seemingly endless cash cow that is the current Premier League.

But remember, no empire is eternal. Endless growth is unsustainable in nature, but man’s economic theory has refused to embrace this simple truth. And an example of that is these Arsenal Gunners, considered one of the big six clubs, obviously, with a huge worldwide following (including a big hipster contingent here in the USA). They experienced their best era under Arsene Wenger for two decades, who brought them more trophies than any other manager in their long history, and set an English top-flight record for 49 matches in a row unbeaten between 2003 and 2004. Their motto is Latin for “victory through harmony” which is the sort of frou-frou new agey fluff that makes for a good self-help social media account, taking the idea of harmony – perhaps with nature, perhaps in unity with other humans – and turning it into conquest. That enigma of humanity again, whether we are a part of nature or against it. Wenger’s hold on the club’s direction started to slip a few years back, and the supporter base gradually turned against him, as well the American ownership of the Kroenke family, which took controlling interest in the club around 2007. Since Wenger’s ouster (by mutual agreement) at the end of the 2017-18 season, they’ve struggled to find an identity, with Spaniard Mikel Arteta taking the helm just before this past Christmas, and attempting to build a new philosophy during global pandemics. Thus far, it’s been hit or miss, and the supporter base has a short hair trigger now, immediately angry because it’s been so long since those Arsene Wenger glory days (though not that long in the larger history of English football to be honest), and they are impatient, which is the way of corporate colonial-minded football in the 21st Century. If you do not have a winning club, extract better resources from elsewhere in the world and manufacture immediate success. There is little room for mutual aid, support, and harmony. It is now or never, perpetually. So thus, here is our return to 25-Man Football Metaphysics, or the 25 players who have occupied the most minutes of competitive playing time over the course of the past 100 Arsenal match days, weighted more heavily for more recent minutes than older ones. The methodology is meant to give a deeper insight into the club’s human culture, beyond the now or never thinking we have all been trained to trust in this age when corporate realms have colonized our brains into believing our identity is the latest thing we’ve purchased. [RAVEN]

#1: PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (same as last time Arsenal was metaphysically ranked on 01-Sep-2019; also his SECOND METAPHYSICAL STAR) – Aubameyang has been the most obscure great one could possibly be, winning a Golden Boot last season, but somehow still being seen as less than a success by a fan base that expects nothing less of Champions League positions in the PL table. Being they’ve only qualified for the Europa League since Aubameyang’s been there, and in fact might not even qualify for that this season, unless they win the FA Cup, it’s no mystery why the Gabonese national has spoken to the media about being “at a turning point” in his career, and life. Barcelona is reportedly interested (which brings to mind, where do they put all these guys on that club?), and Arteta has already mentioned a desire to bring in Memphis Depay should Aubameyang leave. That seems like a horrible downgrade in my opinion, but being a fan of African players in general, I’d love to see Aubameyang go somewhere he’s appreciated more, and feels more at ease to play the type of football he loves. Arsenal feels like a stifling environment right now, with super-exaggerated expectations, and no real post-Wenger direction having been established yet, not all that different than what we’ve seen at Manchester United since Alex Ferguson retired. But Man U have a lot more funds to waste on buying up talent than Arsenal, and the more failed attempts at identity the Gunners have, the more dangerous it gets for their status as an elite club. The Wolves are literally already at the door, looking to take that spot. [RAVEN]

#2: BERND LENO (up five from #7 last time) – Bernd took over for Petr Cech as Arsenal’s keeper after making his way in the Bundesliga, where he was somewhat of a wunderkind, a teenage goalkeeper playing with grown men and that had to have been a sink or swim kind of situation with these professionals and all their finery and women and all that and Bernd is just this teenager, probably awkward as fuck socially, maybe the boys pull pranks on him or whatever the fuck because they can and he’s just an innocent goober. His father was a Russian German, which I found interesting because that’s a dude without a real country. Is he Russian? Is he German? I mean, historically they haven’t exactly gotten along all that well. I think it means he was a German living in Russia. I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. I do know that Bernd hung around Leverkusen after his teenage hijinks, and I imagine he became the same sort of professional asshole that he looked up to when he was a teenage keeper. I don’t know the man, obviously, but he had to have been raised by a culture of jock assholes, those older professional teammates when he was still a teenager, showing him how to be a professional asshole. Meanwhile his dad still doesn’t know if he’s Russian or German, and it’s a crisis of conscience, a traitor either way, and Bernd grew up watching his dad war with himself and then he gets raised by a bunch of fucking Nazis in cleats because let’s face it, those German boys were still the same goddamn German boys that made a bonfire of the chosen people and either way, this dude almost certainly has to be an asshole, right? [NEIL]

#3: GRANIT XHAKA (down one from #2 last time; also previously ONE METAPHYSICAL STAR for this club) – Briefly under Unai Emery, there were five players sharing captain duties on Arsenal. Three of them have since left, one is the uninspired Mesut Özil, leaving only Granit Xhaka of that fivesome as a potential leader for this current Arsenal club. Xhaka was famously booed off by his own fans this past October as he was subbed against Crystal Palace. According to Xhaka, he’d suffered verbal abuse against his wife and family the entire game, so Xhaka, cupping his ear like a heel to encourage more booing, yelled “Fuck off!” at his own club’s support. Obviously that was a harsh blow against any further love for the Swiss midfielder. Post-quarantine, he’s tried to assert himself as a leader on the pitch, during some of Arsenal’s abundance of tragic moments, and has even assumed the armband in later minutes of some matches. But he is almost the leader by default, and one who during this current season told his own support to fuck off. That last sentence alone says as much about Arsenal’s struggles than anything else. They don’t need a retread like Memphis Depay; they need a player with a strong enough personality to help the manager at least point the squad all in the same direction. I’m not sure Xhaka is that man. But also since he used to be sort of that man, I’m not sure he’ll easily let someone else be that man. Hence you get bogged down in the politics of a full squad of egos and personalities. That type of shit can get impossible to manage, and that’s sort of where Arsenal is at. [RAVEN]

#4: SOKRATIS PAPASTATHOPOULOS (up two from #6 last time) – So, like a Namio Harukawa rodeo-themed painting, we’re back-in-the-saddle with these profiles. To be honest, I’m more than a little rusty on the metaphysics tip in relation to football. During these pandemic months, I didn’t even go on the Football Manager binge I was anticipating when things started shutting down. But here goes. I want to like Sokratis here—first and foremost because that name will always remind me of the languid Brazilian Marxist-Revolutionary midfield legend of the same name. But our Greek defender here likes it with the “k’ and the “is” which I have to admit looks much more aesthetically pleasing in typeset. Sokratis is part of that Greek international team defense that has had VERY solid showings in international play, including the World Cup competition. The only problem is those teams would put both their opponents and the fans to sleep with their stifling play, before eventually getting broken down in the 80th minute by any of the big boy teams they encountered. Sokratis has bounced across the big European leagues—Germany, Italy, and now with Arsenal in England. Given that his time is seemingly up at Arsenal, a stickers-on-the-suitcase-collection-completing move to La Liga (the mid-lower reaches) would be a safe bet. There’s nothing very profound about Sokratis playing career—just seems like a very competent central defender at the higher tiers of European football—no stunning goals, no glaring errors, no off-pitch drama, tragedy, or farce. [PAUL]

#5: ALEXANDRE LACAZETTE (down one from #4 last time) – I think this is my second time around writing about Lacazette, mostly because I remain in awe of this generation of Afro-French strikers that are, collectively, dominating in the world’s football. I also have this lingering perception that Arsenal fails to appreciate this guy’s talents, with that entitled top-four mentality of just knowing that there has to be bigger and better around every corner, especially given Arsenal’s recent (overall) poor form, like Manchester United, in inheriting their customary table position. The club dumped a dynasty manager in Wenger, and now have to wind their way through the mid-table wilderness with a progression of former players aspiring to managerial leadership. They might be turning it around somewhat with Arteta, but since he played for Rangers, fuck him and I hope he falls flat on his face. Also, as I’m sure we’ve reiterated numerous times, Arsenal is the microbrewery hipster gentrification team of the U.S., so fuck them double. I suspect if they stuck with a solid professional like Alexandre here, they could slowly and steadily pull themselves back into their accustomed position, but the Premier League is always the here and now, or at least the turnaround tomorrow. Lacazette is in this purgatorial position of seeming on the verge of a transfer, but still getting played in a start-off-the-bench/late appearance sequence that I’m going to guess is desperation on the part of the manager. Which is again speaking to the unsustainable demands of the EPL, since they’ve done ok of late after initially coming back to league play with some ugly losses. But I don’t know, perhaps this Arsenal situation is just a signifier of the U.S. and England in this greater COVID-19 pandemic world. Given my predilections with regards to White-Englishness, you know I’m prone to ranting about how both the United States (power structure) and the English (power structure) are pretty much bent on decimating their populations for the sake of 1% economics. Anglo-ism is a straight up disease, and a curse on the world-at-large. It muddles through, with unreasonable expectations, entitled claims to power that it can’t even articulate outside of a few placeholding platitudes. So here I sit, an underemployed college English professor (which is hilarious I know, the English teacher that hates all things English) not sure what the fuck my aspirational-ass university (which from a U.S. academic standpoint is probably symbolically in the lower reaches of the Premier league, after climbing, by hook, and crook, and rebranding gentrification cash, from League 1, where if we’re being honest, was probably a much healthier psychic environment for it) is doing with regards to my future employment and not fucking up its students and staff by doing stupid shit with regards to American and English-style re-opening. So like Lacazette, I’m more or less doing what’s asked of me, with my heart not really much in it, waiting for the important decisions of this life-moment to be made assholes always looking to retain their bullshit prestige and the economic wealth that depends on it. [PAUL]

#6: MATTEO GUENDOUZI (up four from #10 last time) – Guendozi is a wonderkid midfielder who was at the Paris Saint-Germain youth academy at the age of 6, so his enculturation into football is deep. His childhood revolved around it. He moved to Lorient as a teen, and his entire senior career in France was with that club, before coming to Arsenal in the summer of 2018. A suburban Parisian kid with Moroccan roots, he turned down playing for the Moroccan national team to remain with French loyalties, where he has appeared at all youth levels up to this point. I always find it disappointing when the marginalized of France choose the French team over their family’s old country. French culture is different than American, where the slums are in the suburbs. Nonetheless, Guendozi, at only 21, is one of Arsenal’s brightest young stars right now, who once the dust settles on whatever transition is finalized (if ever) after the Wenger era, is sure to be a key component of that at this point. But you’ve had two seasons of his use being squandered under lack of cohesive direction. But now with David Luiz on the roster as well, we do get brief moments of glory where the two of them are running alongside each other or lining up on a set piece in defense, and two glorious heads of flowing hair bounce beside each other. I wonder if they are friendly because of this, or the elder is resentful of the younger? Unity is hard to find in 21st century humans, even when they walk under Latin mottos that say “Victory through harmony” every day of their life. [RAVEN]

#7: SHKODRAN MUSTAFI (down four from #3 last time) – In my research, I keep finding these dudes names already been clicked on, that Google thing where the link is now purple, and I didn’t know how the fuck that was happening and then I realized that I already wrote about these fuckers last year. Bernd Leno and Shkodran here, yup, I picked them last year and then this year too which must mean that their names speak to me in some strange way. I could just go look up what I wrote about Shkodran last year but that would be cheating you and cheating me and we can’t have that. Anyway, Shkodran is interesting to me because he reps Germany, the land of his birth, and there are a lot more dudes like him that aren’t ethnically German being born in Germany which is just fucking delightful given their, uh, history and for real that’s a really good thing, shattering that mystique of what German is supposed to look like, which is the Ultimate Victory over Adolf and those fucks and there are still those dudes around and it sucks. But more and more, Germany is the home of dudes like Shkodran Mustafi, an Albanian or North Macedonian, he can rep both, but he identifies as German which is a blessed thing to be able to do in this fucked up world riven with ancient hatreds. Fuck hate. I suppose I should say something about his prowess as a footballer, but it’s more important, I think, to celebrate his family living happily in Germany, instead of in one of the broken parts of the former Yugoslavia. Sports are just a silly thing. People getting to live in peace is important in this fucked up world. [NEIL]

#8: DAVID LUIZ (previously ranked #19 for Chelsea on 15-Jun-2020) – David Luiz spent the better chunk of the past decade starring for Arsenal’s longtime city rivals just to the southwest, so naturally lifelong Gunners’ fanatics were not going to easily co-sign his arrival. Arsenal’s less than impressive form leading up to the pandemic shutdown did not give them great things to think about during all that downtime, and upon returning, Luiz began on the bench against Manchester City in their first match back. An injury to Pablo Mari got him into the action midway through the first half. Luiz proceeded to give up City’s first goal on a stupid error, then concede a penalty and get sent off with a straight red card early in the second half, earning him no love. The club doubled down on committing to the aging Brazilian center back, further upsetting Gooners worldwide. Luiz will need to do a lot to make himself palatable to this passionate (and somewhat delusional) base, but with Arsenal floating way out Champions League qualification right now, I’m not sure it’s possible. [RAVEN]

#9: LUCAS TORREIRA (up two from #11 last time) – A Uruguayan national, Torreira followed the common South American path to European football through Italy but came to Arsenal in the summer of 2018, who took Mesut Özil’s #11 jersey when Özil upgraded to the #10 finally. Torreira, along with Guendozi, gives the Gunners potential hope, but Torreira has struggled with injuries this season. He should be returning in the coming week, which the struggling Gunners are gonna need if they want to make a run for European competition next season. [RAVEN]

#10: MESUT ÖZIL (up five from #15 last time) – Özil’s arrival from Real Madrid seven years ago was big news, and Özil was at one time perhaps the Premier League’s deadliest threat, in terms of not just scoring goals himself but creating a flow of attack that allowed for goals to be scored. His ability to assist in goals is perhaps the best the Premier League has ever seen, but Wenger’s last season saw Özil starting to not get as much time, struggling with superior fitness. Since then, the effects of age, as he’s hit his 30s, combined with changes in managers, has led to less and less time on the pitch during match days, and more time in those fat leather seats on the sideline. Özil is of course one of the most prominent European Muslims in football the past decade, even initiating the German National team having a prayer room for Muslims at their training facilities. This helped lead to a core at Arsenal of himself, Granit Xhaka, and Sead Kolašinac, but that entire core has suffered along with Özil’s fall from grace, which was most notable when he argued with previous manager Unai Emery openly in front of the whole team, leading to speculation he’d be moving on from the London club this past summer. Somehow (likely economics), he remained with the Gunners, but has not featured prominently under Arteta, and you’d have to expect a move in the coming months to somewhere else. Maybe he has another season or two in a top domestic league left in him, with a change of scenery, perhaps back to Germany, motivating good things. But ultimately, I cannot think of a man who could possibly sell more #10 Galatasaray jerseys in the Turkish Süper Lig than Mesut Özil’s big-eyed ass. He’s married to a former Miss Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was prominently in attendance as a guest of honor. I guess that means he’d be more likely to be a major signing for Istanbul’s Başakşehir FK instead. That club is only a few decades old, and only rebranded under their current name (with high-level political associations) for the past six. And they currently sit first in the Süper Lig standings, meaning a big signing and Champions League run next season would play well politically for Erdoğan (and Özil). [RAVEN]

#11: SEAD KOLASINAC (down three from #8 last time) – The Bosnian Hulk. That’s one of this dude’s nicknames. Also known as The Destroyer and The Tank, which is some real Spirit Warrior energy if we’re talking names. Sead is another one of those dudes who is the New German, which again is a Good Thing, but he has elected to rep Bosnia in his international career which is his right as a Bosniak. That’s a dude who is true to his roots, to the place his daddy came from. His daddy, in fact, works in a Mercedes-Benz factory, which means Sead comes from blue collar roots. For years he wrecked dudes with Schalke 04 before making the move to Arsenal where he is now tasked with defending a world that he is almost certainly better than, but to make the big English money is something he can do for his daddy working in that factory. The Bosnian Hulk, The Destroyer, The fucking Tank, son of a factory worker, Bosniak and German, there is definitely Spirit Warrior energy there. [NEIL]

#12: AINSLEY MAITLAND-NILES (same as last time) – This dude has the name of some deep English inbred nobility, but surprise, he isn’t a pale faced shitbag. But that name is just fucking outrageous. Anyway, he’s hung around Arsenal for years now, which is notable because he’s still only 22 years old, which suggests that he probably is a dude who they are relatively high on. I mean, he made his professional debut at 17 which is pretty baller and while he hasn’t blossomed into a star or anything, that is some shit, to be 17 and hanging around with a bunch of older dudes and older women in clubs that he probably wasn’t legally allowed in but nobody was checking IDs because he was a professional footballer and for Arsenal at that and his mom was probably worried about him and he told her he was still saying his prayers and maybe he was but he was also likely praying to a more carnal god although that may just be me imprinting my own ways on the young man. I do write about these dudes fucking a lot, don’t I? Fuck it, I know what’s important in life and I’m sure Ainsley Maitland Niles does too. [NEIL]

#13: BUKAYO SAKA – This dude is only 18 and already doing work for Arsenal, and I’ve already told the tale of young dudes in the big city so to speak, but for real, this dude is probably loving life right now at a level you are too repressed to even be able to acknowledge and even if you did, it would probably be judgmental because you are repressed and sad and shit I probably shouldn’t be insulting the people reading this, I don’t mean you, I mean those other fools, or maybe you too, be honest with yourself. Anyway, Bukayo Saka is living his best life right now. Well, maybe not right now thanks to the Covid nonsense, but let’s not be pedantic. Shit, Raven is gonna fire me. I am even more gibbberishy than usual, but I am a New Writer and these things happen. [NEIL]

#14: NICOLAS PEPE – Pepe is one of those dudes that I hope eventually plays for a club more in line with my footballing cultural-ideological biases such that my potential love for him can reach full fruition. 1) Skillful pacey-fast, goalscoring sub-Saharan Francophone international, 2) Eschews colonial core birthplace to rep the homeland; 3) wears the number 19. I’m sure he speaks to it somewhere, but I note that he’s from the 19th arrondissement of Paris, which is apparently the West African neighborhood of the City of Light. 19 is always a number of great power—the 19 flames of St. Brigid/Bride, a prime number, numerologically “1” (1+9=10=1+0=1), but with the modesty and self-effacement not to actually be 1. Plus, I’m pretty sure that age 19 is when you have the most dirtiest and freakiest and heaviest sex of your life, in addition to other character forming debaucheries and Jean Genet self-defilements. Before this professional volunteer military bullshit of the U.S. military industrial complex consensual abattoir, I associate it with the age at which young dumbasses were drafted to get sent halfway around the world to kill and be killed by other 19 year olds. It is the age of fucking, the age of life, the age of big deaths and little deaths; cum, blood, cheap-vodka vomit, dirtweed, and androgyny. So 19 as the number on your back is a big deal—and note how U.S. ballplayers are averse to it—who was the last professional American athlete of any sport to wear that number? So I like to think Pepe is repping his home streets by this choice, which is right and proper in the coincidences of geography and cosmopolitan organization. But all is not completely well with Pepe—the father who was a prison guard, “pig-adjacent” as we say. This is perhaps beyond my metaphysical analysis—can the child of swine grow away from that pestilent root? Do we try to make concessions that swine-ness is perhaps different in continental Europe? (no we should not, no we do not); did Pepe save himself and his father when his footballing career led to his father quitting his job? Perhaps, perhaps. But Pepe wears that number 19 and reps Ivory Coast, so I want to believe. [PAUL]

#15: JOE WILLOCK (up eight from #23 last time) – Been a Gunner since a youth, in fact never been nowhere else. Somehow hyped enough he’s been an insert on senior club rather than loaned out elsewhere thus far. Already had three dozen appearances for Arsenal this season, so looks to perhaps be stuck in with the squad. But who the fuck knows. Football is a fickle demon. [RAVEN]

#16: HECTOR BELLERIN (up two from #18 last time) – Bellerin was in Barcelona’s youth system at age 8, and moved to Arsenal’s youth academy at 16. This likely means he was in the pre-eminent youth football academy on Earth, so pretty great, but not someone who was going to be in their junior and senior clubs. He started appearing for Arsenal before 18, signing a professional contract at 17, and already has over 150 caps for the club. He was sidelined for 8 months last year with a knee injury, and has battled hamstring issues this season, but thus far since returning from quarantine has been a mainstay for the club on the right side, able to move from fullback to a winger pretty fluently. [RAVEN]

#17: DANI CEBALLOS – First off, I don’t quite understand why Dani has pitched up at Arsenal on a season loan from Real Madrid. He seemed poised to solidify himself with the latter, but perhaps some EPL desperation money is on offer if the loan has a permanent option. But that definitely seems like a career backstep given the positioning of those clubs. Ceballos plays that position that I think gets overlooked in modern football, particularly clubs that opt for a midfield diamond formation (which might be falling out of favor), the straightforward central midfield metronome—neither defensive midfield destroyer, nor silky smooth attacking mid-advanced playmaker that can rattle a net. Just the play-move-pass-receive guy that seeks to lay claim to the center circle in both attack and defense. As we are always searching for metaphysical national characters in footballing, this might (might) be the Spanish one, nurtured on the successes of both Real Madrid and Barcelona. Maybe this is the next experiment in English football, the attempt to replicate that in an EPL that as often as not cannot run with La Liga in the upper reaches of Continental Competition. Aside from the deluge of cash, is this part of Pep’s “success” at Man City? (which is not really success, since Liverpool and Klopp’s Kraftwerk sex-ball is beyond dominating in that first position). It’s the age old sporting question, the age old life question, systems versus personality, the struggle of these EPL top tablers to understand and formulate Wenger and Ferguson’s intangibles. To be honest, I rather enjoy watching them break on the brim of Jurgen’s ballcap. [PAUL]

#18: GABRIEL MARTINELLI – The young Martinelli is in his first year of European football, having made the jump across the Atlantic from his native Brazil (although he holds Italian passport, so bypassed work permit issues). He began his fame at age 10 as part of the Corinthians futsal team, which is like football played on a basketball court. He made the jump to Ituano, where he excelled as a teen in Brazil’s lower divisions, garnering interest from international heavyweights like Manchester United and Barcelona. Arsenal won the transfer battle for his ownership as a player, and thus far he’s already knocked in 10 goals across all competitions, splitting them pretty evenly between Premier League, Europa League, and the League Cup. And he only just turned 19, so along with Guendouzi, he makes a promising pitch for bright futures, if the club can find some guiding lights to shine on these youngsters. [RAVEN]

#19: NACHO MONREAL (down fourteen from #5 last time; also previously ONE METAPHYSICA STAR for Arsenal back in 2017) – Years ago when I worked painting for this one dude, there was a drywall crew run by a Mexican guy called Nacho. He hadn’t been here for too long, but he had a three-man crew, and they rolled pretty fast when they had drywall to hang, showing up a ragged old Chevy van, which made our jobs as painters easier to schedule. We mostly did old work, not new construction, because new construction in America is such a shitshow, just blow and go, throw everything up as fast as possible. All the homes built in the past 30 years are of such shit quality, regardless of size or cost. New construction is full of sub-contractors maximizing profit by rushing as fast as possible to maintain an unsustainable schedule, using cheap materials. This of course just contributes to people needing to buy a new “new” home every few years, which of course just props up the entire economy, all of which is entirely unsustainable and bad for the Earth itself. Nonetheless, the other week I was riding through town, and saw a nice new white work van with “Nacho’s Drywall” painted on the side. It briefly made me very happy for Nacho. May we all get to live out our dreams, although wow, what a depressing thought that most of us have our unfettered dreams narrowed down to visions that involve employment. Who the fuck would want a job if they could live in a universe without one? Brainwashed fuckers, that’s who. None of this has shit to do with Nacho Monreal, who is no longer with Arsenal, and playing again in his native Spain for Real Sociedad. [RAVEN]

#20: EMILIANO MARTINEZ – 27 year-old Argentinian goalkeeper who has LANGUISHED in the Premier League loan-stockpile system since 2012. He’s cobbled together a little over 100 appearances, but never more than 20 league appearances in any given season. At the risk of victim-blaming, I don’t see how the spirit of a goalkeeper can accept that, even when getting paid piles of EPL cash to haul back to Argentina. But then again, fuck it, non-English league dudes play for fucking ever in the their home nation leagues, so maybe he goes back to Velez Sarsfield or Banfield or River Plate at 34, rich as fuck, and plays another 10 years and gets a third-choice World Cup call up. I don’t know, I couldn’t fault that. But it seems the other possibility is that his patience has “paid off” and he’s now getting some surprise starts for Arsenal, and doing quite well in his first couple of appearances. Maybe he at least solidifies the number 2 spot in the face of more fancied names. But I’ll be completely honest, this dude does not seem to have the requisite goalkeeper energy—not seeing any evident neck tattoos, nor is his hair shaved, dyed, frosted, or prematurely bald in the expected style. His eyes are not filled with depths of absurdity and deviance. But this is how the EPL likes its goalkeepers, for the most part. And as a goalkeeping metaphysics aside, if Celtic sign Joe Hart, I will stare into the river behind my house and talk to the great herons and egrets (maybe a hawk or two), making quiet demands for explanations as to why the world must afflict the righteous so. [PAUL]

#21: CALUM CHAMBERS (up three from #24 last time) – Chambers tore his ACL back in December, which is not a good thing for a footballer. Still, he’s youngish, 25, so he should heal alright, but then again, 25 is almost middle aged in the football world, which as we have already discovered in my gibberings throughout this thing is teeming with teenagers. To them, Chambers is an old man. That sounds ridiculous, but remember when you were a teenager? You probably weren’t hanging out with 25 year olds. Maybe you were, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But to be 25 in the football world with a torn ACL is certainly to be at somewhat of a crossroads. It’s harsh and somewhat ridiculous that this is the case, but that is the life of a stallion. You get old fast and everyone loves the new horses. Calum Chambers will be lucky if they don’t take him out back and shoot him, sell his ass to the glue factory. Why do they need a whole fucking factory to make glue? [NEIL]

#22: LAURENT KOSCIELNY (down nine from #13 last time) – I have no real reason for it, but I’ve always hated Laurent Koscielny far more than most all other players in the world’s football. He just has the physical appearance of an uncaring shithead who would just as soon as break your leg as let you pass. Philosophically, that’s a positive quality in a center back to be honest, but being human, there has to be an innate struggle with this philosophy, the internal jihad discourse of the heart where one is born into a defensive position, has no hopes of ever being an offensive force in life, thus is relegated to destroying the offensive hopes of other people. In those cases, where that heart discourse is present, one performs as such, but does so with a raucous spirit. Koscielny just appears to be a devious asshole taking glee in this, which moves beyond the struggle between angels and demons and the demons have won. In looking up his personal history, it appears his grandfather and great-grandfather were both miners of Polish descent in northern France, so it’s likely just another tale of poor immigrants moving for western civilization’s prosperity, and their offspring being born into this, so they grow up as unrepentant degenerates lacking compassion or empathy. Thankfully though, after almost a decade at Arsenal, Koscielny has returned to France, and not for PSG, so hopefully I never have to see his fucking shithead face again. [RAVEN] 

#23: ROB HOLDING (down two from #21 last time) – “Rob Holding” is a classicly basic name for a classicly basic white English center back who will likely continue to occupy those important late match minutes as well as eat up League Cup and early round FA Cup line-up sheets. It’s the eternal promise of the fair-skinned Englishman, who always might end up being a starter once he develops into the quality, except the club will likely continue importing foreign talent ahead of him. But a solidly inoffensive dude like this can occupy that role for a number of seasons, and then wander off to somewhere like Burnley or Bournemouth, and eat well for a long career. [RAVEN]

#24: KIERAN TIERNEY – Used to get drunk and play Spades on a weekly basis with a dude name Kieran, so I always think fondly of Kierans. Tierney, despite being young, is a Scottish national in terms of football allegiance, but was born on the Isle of Man (with the triple leg ass kicker flag). Growing up in Scotland, he was a Celtic supporter, and plays left back, which makes me wonder why the fuck Paul didn’t pick this guy to write about? Oh well, this is our first 25-man write-up back, and we have to get back up to new sportswriting fitness as well. [RAVEN]

#25: ALEX IWOBI (down sixteen from #9 last time; also previously ranked #19 for Everton on 15-May-2020) – Jay-Jay Okocha’s nephew, which is likely a better position to be in than the full-on son of an acclaimed professional footballer. Time-and-again, this relationship leads to a heartbreak of expectations. But any other degree of association—nephew, grandson, cousin, even brother—is probably just fine. A tinge of curiosity and possibility, but not the full-on demand of a father’s former excellence on the son. Alex here seemed on the path to becoming an Arsenal mainstay after coming through the youth ranks, but in the post-Wenger club-culture shakeup, despite having his best season in the one-year aftermath, he’s moved on. Honestly, it’s difficult to assume anything other than Arsenal has no idea what the fuck it’s doing. Clubs are no different from privileged people, I guess. You fracture one underpinning to their accustomed lifestyle, and they just become completely unglued and wreck a ton more shit as they try to reclaim whatever caused them a, in reality, minor-to-moderate inconvenience that the rest of us, particularly dudes that have raked their knuckles on the popcorn ceiling of a mobile home while pulling on a heavy metal band black t-shirt and/or some basic camouflage (not that TreeBark or Mossy Oak shit) t-shirt, are accustomed to. Even expect in the course of their daily existence. Sheffield United knows the popcorn ceilings of football, so too Wolves. But Arsenal’s yard man mowed the grass in the wrong direction, or the gourmet market in the building that used to be a strip club 20 years ago is late getting its “Deliverance River Run Appalachian Hopped IPA” delivery from Deep Dingle Brewery and their world has just gone TO SHIT. Anyway, Alex is at Everton now, playing, making money, wearing a shitty shade of blue, but repping Nigeria instead of England, so in footballing terms, he’s alright. [PAUL]

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