Archive for December 7th, 2008

07
Dec
08

Arsenal 1-0 Wigan: the Good, Bad, and The Tempest in a Tea Pot

Match Report

ESPNSoccernet: Emmanuel Adebayor grabbed the only goal against Wigan as Arsenal earned a battling victory to maintain their push for Barclays Premier League glory.

The Good

Arsenal gutted out a 1-0 win in which it seemed everyone, even one of their own teammates, was against them. It was exactly ther kind of win that so many of us have been looking for from this team: a gutsy performance, an ugly win, a clean sheet, and not letting off after winning a big game earlier in the week.

Steve Bennett had possibly the most lopsided match I have seen from an EPL referee this year. The fact that Arsenal supposedly had parity with Wigan in the foul count was an absolute joke. Bennett clearly decided to gift Wigan the “physical advantage” in the game when almost immediately after the first whistle, Wigan were tackling from behind, clipping heels, pushing, and generally throwing Arsenal players to the ground at will. From there it only got worse and credit due to this team for holding on to the lead despite the fact that Bennett nearly lost control of the game by clearly favoring the opposition. That said, it was a great reaction from the team and winning 1-0 against that pack of cheats was even sweeter.

Credit for the clean sheet has to go to the defense who I thought looked superb. Maybe Heskey’s overrated-ness made them look better than they actually are but there was no doubt that the Toure and Djourou partnership looked very strong. Not only that but Almunia made some great saves as well. A very strong defensive performance and kudos to the defense for keeping a clean sheet.

Cesc is now 3-0-0 as captain, it’s a dream start to his Arsenal captaincy really.

The Bad

I told the Mrs. after just a few minutes in to the game that someone was going to get hurt. There’s a reason that the tackle from behind had been outlawed, and yet the Wigan players and Steve Bennett saw no foul in using it. Even after Samir Nasri was taken off because of their dirty tactics, they still were allowed to come in, studs up, and tackle from behind.

Nasri may be out for the Champions League match away to Porto, in which we need a draw in order to win the group and get the favorable draw in the knockout stages. We should know more on injuries tomorrow.

The Tempest in a Tea Pot

It was a moment of madness; something a footballer does maybe once in his life. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s being played out of position, maybe the crowd atmosphere got to him, maybe he just doesn’t understand what his teammate is telling him to do, whatever the cause, the player makes a mental error.

Mental errors are the bane of sport. For 99% of players physical mistakes are normal; you blast the ball over the crossbar, you misjudge the pass and leave it short, those kinds of physical errors happen all the time. Sometimes a physical error can cost you a game and when they do generally the fans will forgive you — unless your name is Senderos.

But if a player makes a mental mistake, especially one that costs them the game, the fans are generally unforgiving. Yesterday, Eboue had a moment of madness and the fans turned on him. He would have to single-handedly win a Champions League final to erase the memory of what happened yesterday.

Toure claims the ball in the backfield and, seeing space in front of him for what looked like the first time in the game, pushes the ball up the pitch signaling to Eboue to “push up.” You can’t see what Eboue is doing because he’s off camera but Toure is dribbling and now gesticulating wildly “PUSH UP.” Move up the pitch, take some pressure off the defense. Suddenly, Eboue appears on the left side of my screen, steals the ball from his teammate, dribbles toward the center of the park and when a Wigan midfielder gets near him, he panics and passes the ball — right to the center circle and the waiting Wigan attackers.

As soon as the Wigan attack petered out and the boss could make a change, he did, and put Silvestre in for Eboue. Eboue left the pitch crying to a chorus of ironic cheers, a smattering of jeers, and probably some not so nice words. Before he disappeared down the tunnel, both Silvestre and Adebayor, who have heard their share of jeers in their careers, put an arm around the kid and comforted him. It was a moment that illustrates how much these players care and strong the team bond is.

If Eboue didn’t care about the Arsenal he wouldn’t have been so obviously distraught. If his teammates didn’t care for each other, there wouldn’t have been that moment of gentle understanding from Ade and Silvestre. No one should question the commitment of these players to us , to their boss, or to each other.

That said, as my favorite comedian once said “somewhere between ‘famous potatoes’ and ‘live free or DIE’ lies the truth.” So, if Eboue made a mental error which brought upon him the scorn of the supporters, so too did Arsene Wenger.

That match should not only be remembered for the day that Eboue “lost the plot” but also as the day that Wenger’s derelict transfer policy and sometimes bizarre insistence on playing players out of position was stripped bare. I know how much he believes in his players and I especially know how much faith he has in Eboue: he’s pretty much played him everywhere on the pitch except as striker. And Eboue is a good right back: he’s got great pace, a huge right leg, good tackling ability, good defensive awareness, and the lungs to get forward and put in a decent cross in the very demanding Arsene system. He could play for any team in the EPL as right back. Any team.

But on the right wing, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a mediocre dribbler at best, his passes are very one-dimensional, he doesn’t score goals, and he loses the defensive edge that Arsene puts him in there for. As good as he is at Right back, it’s like he’s equally bad as right wing and if he was poor out right, who in their right mind would put him in on the left?

So, some of that scorn that poured out of the crowd had to be for Arsene Wenger.  What was he thinking? He had a bench full of real midfielders, all of whom are hungry to prove themselves and some of whom are left footed, and he put Eboue in? Why put Ramsey, Wilshere, and Vela on your bench if you’re going to play not one but TWO  defenders in midfield?

No.

Both Eboue and Wenger made mental errors and both of them were criticized by the fans. Those ironic cheers were for Eboue, but Wenger must have felt them, because he knew that what he’d done there was wrong. By not buying this summer, by insisting that Eboue can do the job and by putting in a right full back as a left midfielder Arsene Wenger shares some of that scorn. The difference is that Wenger is the greatest manager in Arsenal history and Eboue is, well, Eboue. The fans will forgive Wenger, but I doubt Eboue will get a chance to redeem himself.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter that the fans booed. Even Wenger saw that when he said that those same fans would be cheering when Eboue does something good. It’s not as big a deal as the press and the talking heads want it to be. Those folks make their living off of controversy so of course they have to whip this moment into a frenzy by saying the fans were “disgusting” and complaining that blogs are overly-critical and what not.

But I’m sorry, I had the exact same reaction to Eboue being taken off as the fans in the Emirates had yesterday: a sense of huge relief. I don’t feel bad about my reaction at all: after all this club’s been through, non-stop criticism and analysis from every quarter, we needed an ugly 1-0 win and we weren’t going to let Eboue screw that up for us.

So, let’s put all this behind us and just bask in the 1-0 win, shall we?

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