NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves and the EPL's Arsenal: Separated at Birth

Mitch DrofstobCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2010

Arsenal legends of the past, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, bouncing their basketballs.
Arsenal legends of the past, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, bouncing their basketballs.Tom Shaw/Getty Images

It might not seem like the most obvious comparison to make, Arsenal might seem more like the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA, and the Minnesota Timberwolves more akin to Wolverhampton Wanderers, but there are an abundance of similarities between these two ball playing teams.

Very young teams, frustratingly susceptible to injuries.

The starting five for the Timberwolves as the season progresses is likely to be Jonny Flynn and Wesley Johnson at the guard (21 and 23), Michael Beasley and Kevin Love as the forwards (21 and 22) and Darko Milicic at centre (25). This is an extremely young team, with a young bench. The veteran of the team is Luke Ridnour, who will only turn 30 next year. He is starting for the Timberwolves in Flynn’s absence because of injuries, and the Timberwolves are certainly not inexperienced when it comes to injuries.

Similarly, Arsenal have opted for a young team, with a lot of emphasis on potential. Apart from the goalkeeper, Manuel Almunia (33) the rest of the first team are all in their 20s. Arsenal almost always have a younger team than their opponent, because of the Arsene Wenger policy which encourages the signing of short term contracts to players over the age of 30. Despite Wenger’s careful contract selection, and in-depth player scouting process, any Arsenal fan can tell you that Arsenal are certainly dealt their fare share of injuries.

Clear parallels between Ricky Rubio and Cesc Fabregas.

Young, Spanish, good looking, world-beating, full of passion and creativity, but often forced to wait for his time in the national Spanish side. That description of course falls to… well both Arsenal’s captain Cesc Fabregas, and the Timberwolves’ future point guard Ricky Rubio.

Given that the Timberwolves hope for Rubio to arrive from Barcelona and be the sparkle of the Timberwolves’ attack, it is ironic that Fabregas has done just that since he arrived from – you guessed it – Barcelona, at just 16. Further irony comes from the fact that it seems Rubio is biding his time before he leaves Barcelona, where as Fabregas’ return to Barcelona is seemingly inevitable.

Since Fabregas’ move away from Barcelona, the club have been constantly trying to sign him back, and if Arsenal and Barcelona can agree on a fee this summer, it is possible that Fabregas could rejoin his childhood team. That same summer might see Rubio finally join the Timberwolves, and hope to have a similar effect on the team that Fabregas has had at Arsenal.

Both have not experienced serious glory since 2004.

Taking recent form into account, as it would be impossible to compare the two history – Arsenal were established in the 1880s, the Timberwolves in the 1980s – their recent history is strangely similar. The Timberwolves experienced their finest between 1996 and 2004, when they made the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons. The 2003-2004 was the highlight, as they were crowned the Midwest Champions, and had 58 wins – their best ever.

Similarly, Arsenal peaked between 1997 and 2005. Their most fantastic victory came in the 2003-2004 season, when they won the English Premier League, and became the only side to do so unbeaten. For this incredible achievement, they were nicknamed “the Invincibles”. Since then, they have won an FA Cup, but Arsenal fans and players are hungry for more success in the Premier League.

Arsenal’s decline in fortunes can be attributed to footing the costs of moving to a new stadium, and the increase in spending power of their west London rivals, Chelsea. The outrageous skill and speed of Thierry Henry was no longer enough to win them titles, and he moved on to Barcelona in 2006, where he became part of the best club in the world. Kevin Garnett, comfortably the Timberwolves’ best player, also moved on in 2006 to the Boston Celtics, where he was also able to become part of the best club in the world.

The media and the management have fundamental disagreements with each other.

Because of the lack of trophies in recent years, some critics have begun to wonder if Arsene Wenger’s time as Arsenal manager is up. You can read how I feel about that here. Questions are asked about the team having too many central midfielders, and his refusal to sign a new goalkeeper.

Wenger was largely faithful to his goalkeepers this summer. He inquired about Mark Schwarzer, but refused to pay over the odds for him. Instead, he spent money adding quality defenders to the team, something that was desperately needed. The jury may still be out on Almunia, but he has at least given him a chance to prove himself.

Wenger is building for the future, aware that he is unable to pay the astronomical wages of others, he has created a young and athletic team capable of playing exciting football.

Similarly, David Kahn has received masses of criticism for the way he has handled the Timberwolves roster. He has been accused of drafting too many point guards, too many power forwards, of being deluded, of being too realistic... Even of being worse at his job than an avocado. Actually, he has removed the dregs from an average roster, and created a team high on potential, athleticism and diversity of play.

Kahn has also taken an alternative view from most on the Timberwolves’ defensive problems. In the summer he added Kosta Koufos in the Al Jefferson trade, and Nikola Pekovic arrived from Europe after being drafted in 2008. But the surprising acquisition was that of Darko Milicic, with a $20 4-year contract. Like Almunia, Milicic has been unfairly maligned for being average since he came into the league, drafted ahead of three All-Stars. Kahn has taken a chance on him, knowing full well that if he doesn’t perform, he has Pekovic. But it’s bold, like Wenger’s use of Almunia.

Now if the Timberwolves could match Arsenal last season and come third in the country, their would be some major celebrations in Minnesota.

This is a trial article in comparing NBA and EPL teams, so if you have any feedback it would be greatly appreciated. If you have two teams that you think deserve to be compared, please also let me know.