There are times in life when you can approach an event with both excitement and dread in the exact same moment. Last night was one of those time for me. I’m a big fan of Orson Scott Card’s books (but not his social views). I read Ender’s Game years ago and a couple of times since and it was one of the few of my favorite books from my adolescence that stood up when I reread it as an adult. The notion of a movie being made of it was certainly intriguing.
On the road for work on Halloween and having a 5:30 AM wake up call, my options were definitely a bit limited. If I were in my 20s (or even my early 30s), it probably would have been a chance to find a Halloween party of some sort and drink as late as I could and just head straight to the airport. In my 40s heading home to parenting duty, I was looking for something a little quieter to do. As it turned out, the movie theatre across the parking lot from my hotel had one showing of Ender’s Game despite the official release date of the movie not coming until Friday.
Walking into the theatre, there were so many things in play. Could the filmmakers adapt exceptional source material (the book) to a different medium? Could young actor create a character as complex as the way Ender Wiggan was written? How many of the interesting secondary characters would actually be introduced? Would it be another Starship Troopers (solid movie unless you actually read and enjoyed the book)? Finally, could Harrison Ford – playing one of two critical characters in the movie – bring his Han Solo/Indiana Jones/Blade Runner “A” game in yet another work of fantastical fiction?
[On this last point, it has been since the early-to-mid-90s since he did an above average movie when he had a nice run of Regarding Henry, Patriot Games, The Fugitive, Clear and Present Danger, The Devil’s Own and Air Force One. It’s been 1989 since he did a beloved movie – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade]
So, why am I writing about a movie in a fantasy soccer column? Because I’m feeling the same way about the way Arsenal’s season is unfolding. With roughly a quarter of the season in the books, I’m simultaneously excited by and dreading the rest of the season. The variables that will make the difference between me realizing my excitement or my dread are surprisingly similar. Can Arsenal adapt exceptional pieces (their talented roster) into a great team when the level of competition increases? Can a group of young players (Ramsey, Szczesny, and Wilshere) in key positions find it within themselves to elevate themselves to consistent star performances? Will this be another “close but no trophy” season that could be viewed as an improvement but not ultimately a success? Finally, can Arsene Wenger shake off years of disappointing performances to recreate the glory of his heyday?
[Arsene Wenger’s career arc is very similar to Harrison Ford’s. Both will be forever remembered for their leading part in culturally significant performances – Star Wars/Indiana Jones for Ford and the Invincibles/bringing Total Football to the Premier League – but it’s been a long time since either did anything even approaching their peak]
I don’t know how Arsenal’s season will turn out but Ender’s Game was definitely more to be excited about than to be dreaded. It could have been longer and included more of the excellent character development from the book but Harrison Ford was very good and Asa Butterfield was not out of his depth playing the title character. If Arsenal achieve the same level as the movie then there will be an FA Cup trophy coming to the Emirates come the end of the season but they’ll fall just short of the Premier League title.
The unfolding of Arsenal’s part of the story really starts this weekend with the visit of Liverpool. The win over Spurs alerted us to the fact that Arsenal COULD produce something exceptional and the additions of Flamini and Ozil after that victory upped the anticipation. Consecutive mid-week losses to Dortmund and Chelsea in cup competitions have cast the first shadows of doubt over the proceedings. Where will Saturday lead us?
The funny thing about this is that I could have written nearly the same column with Liverpool as the focal point if I were a supporter of theirs.
As always on Fridays, we cap off match week with our analysis of the Friday Team News and the implications that news holds for your Premier League fantasy team:
Fulham v Manchester United – Not a lot of help here on the Manchester United front. The Red Devils are very healthy which means David Moyes will have to choose a rotation pattern which has been bad news for fantasy managers outside of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra and David De Gea. After starting in the League Cup, Adnan Januzaj’s spot in the starting line-up at Craven Cottage is uncertain despite his status as United’s most impactful attacking midfielder thus far this season. On the Fulham side, Brede Hangeland continues to be absent which should add to United’s scoring chances. My suggestion would be to limit yourself to RvP or Rooney in this one with Januzaj on the bench if you want to keep the discount on the proposition that he will become a regular starter at some point this season.
Hull City v Sunderland – Surprising Hull City have worries over Robbie Brady and Sone Aluko who would otherwise both be interesting fantasy prospects at home against lowly Sunderland. Danny Graham is ineligible to feature against his parent club meaning that Yannick Sagbo will likely start and be a useful bargain option for fantasy managers should one be needed. Sunderland are by and large healthy, they’re just not very good so it’s hard to muster any enthusiasm for any of their players on the road to a surprisingly good Hull City team.
Manchester City v Norwich City – Ordinarily, Joe Hart would look like an interesting option at home against struggling Norwich but between Vincent Kompany’s continued absence and Hart’s series of high profile blunders, betting on a City clean sheet – even against the Canaries who are likely to be missing Redmond, Snodgrass, and van Wolfswinkel – seems like a poor decision. Throw in the note on Hart possibly being benched and there's no value in him this weekend. On the other hand, Aguero, Negredo, Silva, and Toure are all very solid choices for Week 10.
Newcastle v Chelsea – Chelsea are healthy and playing very well which will be bad news for Newcastle who are injury-riddled at the back with Coloccini, Taylor and Dummett all either out or unlikely to play in central defense. The only worry here is which Chelsea players to pick. Picking an away clean sheet is always a dubious proposition when the home team has players like Remy, Ben Arfa and Cabaye who can create a goal from very little. On the attacking side, Hazard and Oscar seem like the most likely choices with Torres, Eto’o and Schurrle presenting rotation risks to varying degrees. I know there has been a great deal of “Torres is reborn” talk but I implore you to remember a) we’ve seen this movie before and not enjoyed it at all; and b) with so many productive forwards more certain to start (Giroud, Sturridge, Suarez, Rooney, RvP, Lukaku, Benteke, and Aguero to name a few), why would you put yourself through the Torres aggravation?
Stoke City v Southampton – Remember what I said above about not betting on the away clean sheet? Also remember that the reason was specific talented attackers. Stoke do not have talented attackers regardless of the lengths Manchester United went to last weekend to make us think they do. I’m all in on the Saints defense (and Boruc) even on the road. I’d also be inclined to add Rickey Lambert to the group of productive forwards in the note above because it looks like Dani Osvaldo will miss out again.
West Bromwich v Crystal Palace – The big news here is that Morgan Amalfitano’s status has not been clarified at all. He went out of the Baggies’ match last weekend and is not certain to start so despite his strong play so far this season and the tantalizing home match-up with Palace, I’d avoid him. If you still want in on this one then Stephane Sessegnon is probably your best bet. That said, given the changes in budget in the Yahoo game, my gut reaction is to ignore this match despite the seeming mismatch.
West Ham United v Aston Villa – The only meaningful note here is that Gabby Agbonlahor is unlikely to recover in time for the trip to East London. Based on the rules/budget this season, I’m of the opinion that Villa are a one player team (do you want Benteke in a given week or not) and this week he’s definitely a cut below some of the other options which makes this match close to fantasy irrelevant.
Arsenal v Liverpool – What to do with all of the fantasy goodness facing off at the Emirates? Do we hope for a goal-fest and keep whichever of Giroud, Suarez, Sturridge, Ozil, Gerrard, and Ramsey that we’re holding at big discounts or diversify and hope whichever player(s) we drop go down in price after a down fantasy week? I’m tending toward keeping my guys (Suarez, Sturridge, Ozil and Ramsey) and hoping for the best given all the budget flexibility it gives me. If I have a slightly down week, so be it – it isn’t like we haven’t seen Arsenal and Liverpool score in bunches before.
Everton v Tottenham Hotspur – There’s no fantasy-relevant news here so just the strategic question of how much you want to invest in a match-up of two fairly evenly-matched teams when other sources of fantasy points have better match-ups.
Cardiff City v Swansea City – I’m staying away from this one regardless of any team news. Cardiff have been solid and Swansea have been a bit disappointing. Throw in the fact that it’s a derby and the better team is on the road and I don’t see the upside in this one. Southampton are this season’s Swansea and I like their road match-up better so any investment I might have made in the Swans at the start of the season has now shifted to the Saints.