Meet Blake and Paul, two Gooners living in San Francisco, and my hosts in California!
Blake Kraft and Paul Sanchez
Q. Why Arsenal?
Blake: Victory Through Harmony. This is more than a football club. The way they do business, the management, the brand, the style of play, their youth development, the type of players they sign, Arsene Wenger… it’s all class.
Paul: Obviously I love the style of football we play, but choosing a club that had values I agreed with was a major factor in my decision. I wanted to support a club with rich history, but also one that didn't "sell its soul" in the name of success. I also fell in love with Arsene Wenger when I read his biography; he's done so much for the sport and Arsenal.
Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Blake: I started supporting Arsenal during the 2003-2004 season. I loved watching Henry during the World Cups so it was a natural choice even though my childhood team wore Barcelona uniforms. I stopped playing in the middle of high school and then began watching every game and religiously supporting.
Paul: After the 2006 World Cup, I was enthralled by football, I think partly because I enjoy learning about sports and how they transcend culture in peoples' everyday lives. My best friend Blake (who I still live with) was already a Gooner and he did the rest for me. I started watching during the 2006/2007 season and have been all in ever since.
Q. Favourite Player?
Blake: The legend. Thierry Henry.
Paul: Cesc Fabregas. When I started watching Arsenal, his position was the most interesting to me, and I thought he played it beautifully. I am not bitter that he went back to Barca, and I really think he'll be back at Arsenal in some capacity when he is in his 30's. He knows what it means to breathe Arsenal.
Q. Favourite current Player?
Blake: Wilshere. We raised him. He is 100% Arsenal and I love his grit. He’s like a jack russell terrier out there.
Paul: Aaron Ramsey. It has been so much fun watching his development since we signed him & Jack as teenagers. He has an incredible engine, and always wants the ball. I'm happy to say that I didn't give up on him when he went through his rough patch coming back from injury, and to see his confidence skyrocket is just an absolute joy. I think it's a testament to Wenger and his decision-making.
Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Blake: Arshavins’s Champions League goal and win against Barcelona or Henry’s header in the 94th minute against United.
Paul: That's a very tough question, but I'm going to say the victory last season at the Allianz against Bayern. I know we didn't make it through the knockout, but I believe that victory was the catalyst for our amazing run of form, and put us in the position we are in now. The boys proved they could win ugly against the toughest opposition in hostile territory, which was always questioned before that match.
Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in San Francisco?
Blake: I watch Arsenal at Maggie McGarry’s with the Bay Area Gooners.
Paul: I try to make it to Maggie McGarry's every weekend, because it's the closest thing I can get to the experiences I had while living in London. I love watching the matches with other supporters who can relate with how much the club means on a personal level to them.
Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Blake: I’ve never been to Highbury, so I guess The Emirates. I wish I could’ve seen a match at Highbury.
Paul: I have to say Emirates simply because that's where I saw my first match, the North London Derby. It is also symbolic of the club transitioning into a new generation of football, and it shows our ambition.
Q. League Prediction?
Blake: I think we’ll nick it. We’re first in the league at the moment but it’s a long season. If we keep on this run and get a couple players fit I don’t see why not!
Paul: I don't see why we can't win the league this season! I love that we keep proving the pundits wrong, and this squad is more resilient than ever--the chemistry is unprecedented.
Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?
Blake: Ozil! He’s the world-class player we’ve been missing. His impact on the pitch and with the fans has been invaluable. You can’t dispute the results since he’s been brought in.
Paul: I have to say the Mertesacker - Koscielny partnership (even though that's two players). It has to be one of the most underrated CB pairings in the world, and I love how they work for each other. We've had some impressive clean sheets against quality sides this year, which I think in large part is due to that partnership improving so drastically...and Flamini.