Archive for October, 2008

31
Oct
08

Stoke v. Arsenal; no rest for the wicked

Spooky Rachel Ray!

Spooky Rachel Ray!

Good morning cocksandwiches, and a happy Halloween to all of you, if you’re in to that sort of thing. Tomorrow, Arsenal travel to the windy hinterland and take on Stoke City in the Brittania stadium, which, given the fallout from the Tottenham debacle is quite frightening. Scarier than the thought of locking lips with Rachel Ray’s joker-esque smile!

While Spurs had gathered at midfield to circle jerk over their “victory” and plan the parade and which memorabilia they would auction off — uhhh, really? wow, you know you are a pack of losers when you are buying memorabilia from a draw in a league match — I guess there was some sort of fight in the Arsenal dressing room. Since the whole team is French they were arguing about, what else, who’s to blame for their surrender. Joking aside, I think a huge blowout argument was needed in this club because I suspect that people were walking on eggshells around William Gallas and that only ever ends with a huge argument.

Unsurprisingly, Captain Fantastic’s response to the criticism was to go all in and surrender the next two weeks to a “hamstring injury.” As soon as I saw the news report that Gallas and Eboue were being ruled out for injury I suspected that there was more to the story. Now, I know that I’m “making shit up” here with William Gallas, because the official line is that he’s injured, but pretty much everyone thinks that this injury is fake and a good excuse for Arsene to make some changes at the back.

Going even further, according to some reports Wenger wants to make changes all over with Adebayor, Nasri, Denilson, Eboue, Gallas, and the tea-lady all being blamed for the draw. This just highlights the uncertainty in the press and among fans because of the media blackout at Arsenal right now. I don’t blame the club for doing that, either, it’s better not to let Stoke City gear up for whatever crazy ass squad we’ll release on them Saturday.  Maybe Havard Nordtveit will get a run out what with him being recalled from Salamanca?

That’s a joke, people.

Maybe Adebayor’s being included in the group of death because the outspoken (and largely unpredictable) target man spoke out of church when he said:

To be champions in this way? You can never be a champion. There is a lot of disappointment. We are down at the moment because we did everything to get the three points and we ended up with one. We feel very sorry for ourselves that the things are not going the right way. It was one of the most difficult games in my life because I cannot understand that after 90 minutes we were leading 4-2 – I don’t know how we finished with a draw. It’s very easy to give up because we were 4-2 up and maybe thinking the game was finished. With five, six or seven minutes to go, maybe in our head the game was over.

For once, I think the big Togo-ian has got it 100% right. But still, Arsene’s not a fan of criticism in the press, plus he’s being hailed as one of the experienced players and thus should have stepped up to the plate, according to “a source.”

Anyway, tomorrow’s a big game. Yes I know it’s against Stoke and there they are at the bottom of the table but so was Tottenham and Stoke has to think they can get one or even all three off us in our current condition.  They are going to come out balls to the wall, try to exploit our weakness on set plays (with Rory Delap tossing the ball in from crazy distances and the wind swirling in the stadium making it hard to judge) and harass and frustrate to see if they can’t get Arsenal to crack emotionally.

Arsene’s job right now is to make sure that this team plays together and weathers the coming storm: Stoke will try to take it to us, no doubt. Also of no doubt is that this team needs to turn a corner tomorrow morning and pull out a win or the season is well and truly done — and it’s not even November, Jesus, that’s what it feel like to be a Liverpool supporter for the last 20 years?

Right, Arsenal are on Shitanta here in the states and so that means Doyle’s for me.  The game is at 3pm GMT which would normally mean a 7am kickoff but since George W. Bush even fucked up the time here in the states we’re an hour off of the rest of the world and kickoff shall commence at 8am sharpish. All you locals should be there for coffee and breakfast sandwhiches and lets show our support!

I just wanted to mention two more things; first, I was talking to T-Town Alex and told him about the heatmaps that several of the big stats gathering places are producing (so that you can see where a player was playing largely) and it turns out that ESPN.com has gotten into the swing and is making their own. It’s kind of fascinating to see where the players were playing because it really reveals more of what’s going on under the hood. For example, when you hear me say that I think Arsenal really play a 4-3-3 that evidence is backed up by the heatmap there that shows Theo in a very advanced role on the right side.  Anyway, you should check it out it’s pretty cool.

And finally, I want to mention that David Bentley has now taken to bragging about the goal. Not only is he auctioning off his shoes and jock-strap, but now he’s bragging that Clive of India told him that Almunia came off his line too much. Well, Bentley, you know you’re a real winner when the best moment of your life is a lucky shot in a 4-4 league match.

See you all tomorrow!

30
Oct
08

Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Bentley's hero, Gazza, after he scored the shocker against Arsenal in 1991

The Good

It’s an Opportunity to Learn ™ that when you’re up 4-2 in 98th minute, you hold on to the ball.

It’s also an Opportunity to Learn ™ for Arsene Wenger that maybe, William Gallas isn’t the leader on the pitch that you think he is? More than smoking, drinking, and carousing at all hours, his utter lack of leadership on the pitch cost Arsenal 2 points yesterday. Individually, Gallas was fine, but when the chips were down, as we have seen time and again, Gallas disappeared. At the end of the game, when we needed him to instill confidence in Clichy, Gallas was nowhere to be seen.

Remember last year when Flamini was the one “geeing” everyone up on the pitch? If heads dropped a little Flamini would pull their chins up and get them back into the game. No one did that yesterday and I have to think that the failure to keep Flamini in this side has cost them dearly so far this year. Because while he wasn’t technically the best player, he was the water carrier and more than anyone else the emotional leader on the pitch. Arsenal obviously needed someone like that yesterday.

So, my glimmer of good here is that maybe, just maybe, Arsene will learn: the Gallas experiment is an utter failure, no one likes or respects him as captain; the Eboue experiment is similarly an utter failure, you brought him on to provide extra defense on the right wing at the end of a game we’re winning 4-2 and he failed you as he has done time and again; and most hurtful to your own pride, I think, is that the experiment where you refuse to buy an experienced midfielder and expect Cesc and the three-headed-hydra of Denilson, Song, and Diaby to do the job is most clearly not cutting it.

Statements like these make me hopeful that Arsene Wenger will shed his hubris, look in the mirror and he will do something:

I am angry. We have to look at ourselves and improve. The players are very down. We were two levels above Tottenham and they were there for the taking. It was damaging.

You’re damn right it was damaging, now fix it like I know you can.

The Bad

Almunia was dreadful.

Watching the game live and listening to the commentators I got the sense that the first goal wasn’t his fault but watch the video of that first goal again (if you can stomach it) Bentley sees that Almunia is way off his line, Almunia realizes this, and instead of scrambling to get back into position, he sort of hesitates… by the time he realizes his error the ball is already swirling and dipping and Alumina sort of half assed dives for it and… UGH. Almunia made Bentley look good there. The ball wasn’t struck into the top corner at impossible pace, it’s lobbed, right at the keeper, who is out in no man’s land.

Maybe Almunia will be an England number 1 after all, he was easily as bad as Paul Robinson ever was last night.

That hesitation on Almunia’s part, though, has to be attributed to the guys in front of him. If he knew where they were going to be, if he knew that they were going to close down space, if they could have dealt with the ball better he wouldn’t have worried at all.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t just dreadful on the first goal, he was dreadful all around: punching away corners that he should have collected, giving up rebounds for goals, ugh.

Frankly, I don’t know what Arsene does now. Strip Gallas of the captaincy? Put Vito Mannone in goal? Someohow inspire confidence? That’s what these kids need. A string of clean sheets and they’ll be back in it. Unfortunately, I have to think their confidence is shot and right now keeping a clean sheet against Stoke City on Saturday will seem like a miracle.

The Ugly

I was going to have a bit about Bentley and how he scored the goal by taking a gamble but then I went onto Arsenal.com and read what Arsene Wenger’s thoughts were after the match and… it’s really incredible.

He speaks as if we won the game or something: talking about how “we produced an excellent game and the positive side is that we were really superior to Tottenham.” No, no you were not. The score line doesn’t lie. They deserved those last two goals exactly because Arsenal DID NOT produce an excellent game. See, an excellent game is one in which you maintain focus for all 90 minutes and play defense for all 90 minutes.

I know, you all will say “what else is he supposed to say?”

Well, how about not trying to bullshit us? I don’t mind if you want to be chirpily optimistic, fine, but don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes. We all saw the game, Arsenal let in two goals in the last two minutes — had they not done that then yes, it would have been an excellent game.

But what’s most incredible is to hear him say that he wanted the team to go for a 5th and 6th goal:

I believe we were too cautious, we wanted to keep the ball in a negative way instead of scoring goals number five and six. We were not going forward with enough purpose and that is why we were punished.

You’re god damn right you try to keep the ball in a negative way up 4-2 in the 93rd minute; you dribble the fucking ball into the corner like all these other shit heels do GOD DAMNIT! Play the ball out, fall over and pull a god damn Eboue, do something but what you don’t do is attack!

Up 4-2 in the 90th minute and we’re attacking, because that’s what the manager wants. What are you people, on dope???

I said that the game would be a watershed for both teams in terms of this season. Unfortunately, I think that means Spurs aren’t going to make the drop but neither is Arsenal a serious title contender.  Defense wins championships and shipping two goals in the last two minutes is.. well.. indefensible.

Have at me.

29
Oct
08

Mind the gap

I was wondering why the kickoff was scheduled for 1pm PST today and now I know: the rest of the world has moved their clocks back on a normal schedule, but we here in ‘Merica are not moving our clocks back until November.

* sigh*

Irregardless of U.S. clockism, the kickoff is 8pm GMT and unless you just awoke from a coma you know that Arsenal are hosting Tottenham Hotspurs in the first North London derby of the 2008/2009 season. Everyone is ramping up for the match with Adebayor looking for revenge, Red Action reminding us of so many great moments and calling for the supporters to be in full voice, and, contradicting Adebayor and the DVD dealers on Seven Sisters Lane, The Boss is playing down both the 5-1 loss last year and the effect that Redknapp could possibly have on the Spurs.

What is important is how well we will play – not who sits on the Spurs bench. In the longer term, he will change things for Spurs. But for this specific game, it is about how we play.

That’s a ballsy statement by Wenger, but it is the truth: we are at home, we are on form, we have a full squad to choose from, and we are a top club and they are a bottom club. Arsenal are the favorites here and we need to play like it: play our game, control the pace, frustrate them, take our chances, and let our discipline shine through.  If we can do that they will get frustrated and fall back on their old habits and then their indiscipline will come to the fore. In a lot of ways this game could be a watershed moment for both clubs — as Wenger says — depending on how they play.

How we play will largely be a reflection of the team that Arsene picks. There’s some speculation that he will pick 2 goal/3 assist Denilson to start along side Cesc today, but even the dot com is using qualifiers in picking him as one of the key matchups today. That’s only natural, since Le Boss is talking about rotating the squad and the impact that his super subs might have. It’s kind of foolish to speculate but I suspect that Arsene is planning on bringing Theo on late tonight — especially if we find ourselves behind.

So, let’s not find ourselves behind! Right?

Finally, if you want to have a laugh, The Times Online’s “The Game” subsection is seriously comparing Arsenal’s 7 trophies to Spurs 2 in some vain attempt to show that “the gap” between the two clubs isn’t as wide as some think.  Uhhh… right.

Ok, I’m off to the tub to get ready for work. Many of us (Spurs and Gooners alike) are meeting up at Doyle’s for a replay of the match at 3pm local time, join us if you are in town and remember not to mention the score if you see me!

Up the Arse!

28
Oct
08

This North London derby could get kinda ‘arry


I’ve said it before, as a relatively new supporter (just 10 years) I have to admit that I see Chelsea as more of a rival than Tottenham. Sure, there was the lasagna season and that was a bit of a close call as far as Tottenham pushing us for a rivalry but really, with Chelsea the competition has been going strong now for 8 years solid.

Even still, the North London derby is always a great match and has produced so many iconic moments — Theirry Henry’s goal at the lane, Adebayor’s goal of the season last year, the DVD inspiring 5-1 loss in the Carling Cup — and I have a feeling that this match will turn out no different. Especially with Pompey old boss Redknapp recently taking over.

Frankly I was hoping that Juande Ramos would cling to the rim of the flushing toilet that was Spurs season long enough to stay in charge of the team for this clash but unfortunately he was replaced.  Of course, immediately Spurs are hailing the new boss as the difference maker with Pavlyuchenko saying that

During today’s [Monday] training session, everybody was smiling at last – recently, players had looked rather sulky. I hope after the victory we should have a breakthrough.

It’s a little early to be claiming a breakthrough but still all of their hope is certainly a worry. It’s such an abundance of hope that their supporters are already talking about “top four” status again. Sure, focus on getting out of relegation this year, but then top four here they come!

But that’s the life of a Spurs supporter I guess: irrational exuberance. I only know two and they seem like decent enough guys but the guy that Arsenal.com found to put together comments ahead of the match is completely nuts.

Arsenal didn’t play particularly well at West Ham but Spurs did play well against Bolton so you never know what will happen.

Yes, that 2-0 win for Arsenal wasn’t particularly good… Sorry but, Robin van Persie and the rest of the world disagrees. When asked whether he thinks that ‘arry Redknapp can fire Spurs off the foot of the table, RvP responded with an emphatic:

I don’t know and I honestly don’t care. The game against Spurs is one on its own and it’s a big one, irrespective of where they are in the table. They won their first game on Sunday, which is great for them, but we’ll see what happens on Wednesday. It was a massive win for us against West Ham that proved we have the resilience to challenge for the league.

I love it. See, Arsenal players know that every game counts toward winning the league and that’s what this team is trying to do this year. RvP rightly dismisses all the psychoanalysis and reminds everyone that Arsenal mean business.

Yes, it’s a big match. Yes, their opponents are buyoued by the appointment of a new manager and a lucky win over an inconsistent squad like Bolton. But this is a north london derby and Arsenal would be up for the challenge whether Tottenham were at the top of the table rather than the foot. Simple as that.

As for squad selection, God himself couldn’t tell you who ‘arry Redknapp will choose other than to say that Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson won’t be available due to their indiscipline against Hull. Arsene, meanwhile has basically a full squad (Rosicky and Eduardo don’t count!) at his disposal and I suspect that we will see Sagna return to the starting lineup. Other than Sagna, again, God himself couldn’t tell you for sure who Arsene will play. I think the team we fielded against West Ham would do nicely against Spuds but Wenger’s been kinda erratic with lineups this season owing to the 18 headed hydra that is occupying Flamini’s vacated spot, so I won’t be so bold as to predict who will get the start at midfield.

No… wait… I see through the hazy mist of the Dragon’s breath that Arsene will play a 4-5-1 with both Diaby and Song partnering Cesc in the center of the park, Nasri out left, Theo out right, Adebayor up front and a back four of Sagna, Silvestre, Gallas, and Clichy.

See, like a Spurs fan I too can make shit up.

Anyway, the match is a late kickoff over in England and so it’s being carried here in the afternoon. Doyle’s is going to record the match for us and a bunch of us are going down there to watch the replay of the game at 3pm local time. Stop by if you want to cheer on the boys but don’t tell us the score!

P.S. Tony Adams has been named coach of Pompey, which nearly completes Pompey’s transformation into Arsenal South. Good for him, may Pompey finish just behind Arsenal in all competitions.

27
Oct
08

Freddie Ljungberg to MLS Seattle Sounders?

One of my favorite Arsenal players of all time (and now washed up West Ham failure), Freddie Ljungberg, is reportedly coming to my home town Major League “Soccer” team, the Seattle Sounders.

Damnit!

I was really hoping for an excuse not to go to too many of their games. See, American Soccer, is, well, it’s f*cking lame. The players suck, the action is horrible, and the average fan’s idea of a good time is to bring a drum to the game and beat it mindlessly for 90 minutes (Mike, I’m talking about you). Or, better yet, bring one of those annoying horns to the game and blow it IN MY F*CKING EAR FOR 90 MINUTES. Add on to that morass of stupidity and suck the fact that the stadium the Sounders will be playing in (Qwest Field) for the next few years is easily the worst stadium to watch “soccer” in in the world. Why? American football stadiums are bad for “soccer” in general because American football teams are huge and thus require enormous sidelines to house their enormous teams full of enormous mouth breathers sucking down oxygen on the sidelines. The view is fine, but you are so far removed from the action that you feel like a spectator, instead of something like Highbury where you feel like you’re on the pitch.

Oh yeah, and the “field” is plastic which is horrible for any sport, except maybe women’s lacrosse.

And Qwest field seats 72,000 of which the Seattle Sounders will be lucky to get 20,000 at a game after the first few matches when everyone realizes that the matches suck and the atmosphere is horrible.

Can you see why I wasn’t excited to go?

The Sounders have been making a lot of noise about using their exception to sign a big name (Thierry Henry was linked at one time) and, according to the Swedish Television News 4 (which I imagine is the hottest television news broadcast in the world) Freddie Ljungberg is their man.

Damnit.

I like Freddie and I never got to see him play and washed up or not, he’ll probably tear apart the soft defenses of the MLS. So I guess that settles it, Doyle’s Public House in Tacoma is organizing a boozy bus-load of locals to go see every Sounders game, so I guess I’ll have to get a seat.

Save me a seat Russ, I’m coming to hell with the rest of you.

27
Oct
08

West Ham 0-2 Arsenal; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

The Good

I love these types of games; wide open, both teams attacking, pulsating play and me screaming “HOW THE F*CK DID THAT NOT GO IN??!??!?” every 12 minutes.

The first half was a keepers game, no doubt, with both keepers making some spectacular saves but Robert Green edged out Almunia in that first half having done more for his team to keep them in the game. This is not to say that Almunia had a bad first half, au contraire, that was easily the best performance I have ever seen from Almunia, simply a recognition that Green had more to do at the back than Manny and did it against much stiffer odds.

Theo was the victim of some of that, erm, Green-ery and had an ordinary keeper been in the sticks for West Ham we could have easily been talking about Theo for MotM. But we aren’t… Theo shots were saved by Green and he ended the match sacrificed along with Nasri so that Arsene could bring on Adebayor and Diaby: the men who broke open the game.

I was kind of surprised to see that neither man was included in the starting lineup but heading into the congested fixtures list Wenger felt they needed a rest. It was a good bit of managing and refreshing to see Arsenal with some super subs on the bench for once. How many times have we seen Chelsea get into one of these tense 0-0 affairs only to bring on some multi-million dollar sub and win the match?

Adebayor repaid his manager and made up for his foolish remarks of the other day by simply doing all the things that have made him indispensable for this team. No other player in this club terrifies defenses like Adebayor; he can dribble around most defenders, he can run under a lofted ball, he’s a decent header on set plays, he can take the ball high or low, and he’s Arsenal’s only true target man. He showed all of that off yesterday and thus is MotM for this blog.

Oh yeah, and for the first time in his career, he had 0 (zero, nil, zip, nada, none) offsides.

Alex Song on the other hand, looked like a completely changed player from the game on Tuesday. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that he played next to Cesc instead of in the middle of the defense; where one slip is devastating compared to the other. But more than just his assuredness, he also seemed to relish the task of running his lungs out and policing the midfield compared to the sprint and panic that characterizes the Arsenal defense right now. I know it’s just this one game but he did a great job out there and I’d like to see him get a few more chances.

The Bad

I can’t really complain about the match, our defense looked more assured than they have recently, the team responded well to the physicality of West Ham, they kept possession and harassed the opposition, Almunia had a great game, they put two past them, and kept a clean sheet — what’s to complain about?

I guess I kind of got tired of seeing the West Ham complain about hand(s) ball(s). The only one handling his balls was Robert Green in the 24th minute. And lesee… Was it just me or did William Gallas look super extra sweaty? Like he was playing while nursing a hangover? Have a good fried breakfast, a zip fizz, plenty of coffee and some water next time Bill!

The Ugly

I’m not a fan of that shade of green that Almunia was wearing, that was ugly.

The other thing that was ugly was the fact that Robert Green was clearly outside the box, and clearly intentionally handled the ball outside the box and clearly should have been sent off and the officials got it dead wrong. Graham “three yellow cards” Poll thinks it’s a case where instant replay would have made a difference but I’m not sure: first, someone on the pitch would have to have seen it and I’m not convinced that even Bendtner truly saw it as there was almost no complaint after the incident. Second, I’m not sure this is one of the things that we want managers challenging.

My friend Alex’s idea is that you try to rule out challenges that occur during the run of play and keep the disruptions to a minimum. So, you would be able to challenge a disallowed goal, yellow cards, red cards, and penalties. I like this idea a lot because it minimizes disruptions and gets big calls right (I’d like to throw in that if a penalty is falsely awarded AND the player is judged to have pulled a Drogba in order to win the penalty the referee could give a retroactive red card to the cheater — by that’s just the axe that I grind).

Where were we? Uhhh, yes, would instant replay have fixed the Green call? I don’t know, what do you all think?

Ok, that’s it for today, Harry’s Hot Spuds are up on Wednesday and given that the squad is riding high now that a “good Englishman” is in charge I fear that we could be in for a raucous North London derby. 7-6 to the Arsenal, that’s today’s prediction! More on that later this week.

Cheers!

26
Oct
08

Liveblogging West Ham v. Arsenal, second half.

Cereal and Bacon… the breakfast of champions.

I’ve been watching Fox Soccer Channel now for.. erm, jeez, 10 years? And their commercials have gotten 100% better in the last year or two. But this commercial where they encourage the old and the stupid to send their gold jewelry in for some cash is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Who is actually falling for this scam?

I think I’d like to see Adebayor come on, even if he is insane. Also, maybe Diaby for Nasri?

47′ Second half starts like the first… yawn.

50′ Almunia and Gallas stare accusingly at each other after they both make a hash of what should have been an easy clearance.

53′ Walcott is having a whale of a game, he puts the ball perfectly across the 6 yard box for van Persie and it’s an heroic clearance by Collins that saves West Ham from the goal. DAMN!

55′ CHRIST EBOUE… gives the ball away in a dangerous position twice!

57′ Collins with a clear foul on van Persie in the box. No call.

58′ The game is amping up, West Ham claiming a hand ball on every play, Song picks up a Yellow and I’m still not sure how we haven’t gotten a goal.

62′ Back and forth action now, there has to be a goal in this game.

66′ Diaby and Ade coming on, can they break the deadlock? Yep, Nasri, OH MAN, Walcott?  Why? He’s been f-ing brilliant. Aghhhh.

67′ Adebayor’s first action is… a wide open header nodded wide of the net. PROFLIGATE. How about an offside for an encore?

71′ My loyal reader has shown up! Hey Matt. DAMN! Robert Green is having a career game as he saves off a venemous left footed shot by van Persie. Free kick in a dangerous area…

73′ …and he hits the post! CHRIST…

75′ YES!!! Arsenal are really stretching to get the win and West Ham are countering well but it’s the perseverance of Adebayor and the lucky foot of Faubert who put Arsenal up 1-0. Now… can we hold it? Someone’s down injured and Gallas sneaks off to have a fag and calm the nerves.

79′ Adebayor! Oh man, so close, great pass from Bendtner puts the ball in to Ade who’s low shot is saved again by Green, the follow up is wide. PROFLIGATE!

82′ The Arsenal fans are in full voice now. Come on boys get a second.

87′ Arsenal are putting this one away quite nicely, keeping possession, frustrating the West Ham team. Come on boys!

90′ Sagna’s coming on?

90′ My nerves are frazzled… West Ham with a couple set pices at the end. ALL HANDS!

90′ ADEBAYOR!!! Way to take your time and just put the ball in the net. 3 points!

90′ Hold on Matt, I’ll look it up… Centenary Stand, the goal we were shooting at at the end there.\

Fin — Great sub by Wenger to bring Adebayor on, Man of the Match? Hmmm…; Tune in tomorrow for The Good, Bad, and Ugly.  I’m off to enjoy the sunshine and have a pint — it’s going to be 60+ degrees here.

CHEERS!