Posts Tagged ‘Babel Penalty

20
Dec
08

Arsenal v. Liverpool Preview

The weather outside is frightful. No, really, we’re supposed to have one of those “once in a decade” ice storms that basically knock out all power and clog the roads. Different than the normal weather “predictions” which tend to be wildly inaccurate in this part of the world, I fear we have some real mess coming up starting tonight and heading into tomorrow.

Obviously, my local readers are the only ones effected by this news, but it’s important enough that I thought I’d mention it straight away because it means that many of us might not be able to watch the match tomorrow. If we lose power tonight, my first priority will be to keep the girls warm and then to head up to Doyle’s for the match.

If we don’t lose power, well, then I’ll see you locals at Doyle’s! So, let’s pray to whatever gods you believe in that the weather gives us a lamb rather than a lion tonight.

Ahead of the match, Arsenal have some good news, some bad news, and some funny news.

As I was scanning the news feeds this morning I had this ominous feeling. That sort of feeling you get when the phone rings in the middle of the night. So, right away I went to the Arsenal.com match preview and sure enough:  Howard Webb is refereeing the match. Evidently he’s become the go-to referee for any big match involving Arsenal, having already overseen Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Man U. You know, the match where he gave an incredible 6 minutes of extra time and every Ronaldo dive was greeted with a free kick while Scholes’ fouls were unpunished?

If it was just once, I wouldn’t be worried, but last season Webb oversaw an amazing 3 of Arsenal’s 5 losses, giving away an incredible 2 penalties against Arsenal and carried the ignominy of being the referee who most penalized Arsenal with yellow cards. An Arsenal team that was at the top of the “Fair play” league and by pretty much every standard imaginable are one of the least fouling teams to ever take the pitch.

I know, he’s a police officer, blah, blah. I’m not saying that he’s on the take, but just that for some reason, he oversees some of the most contentious Arsenal matches (the worst was the Carling Cup final against Chelsea) and statistically he tends to call the matches against Arsenal. That said, with the 2-1 win over Man U this year maybe Arsenal have figured out how to play with him on the pitch and we’ll see a turnaround. We can hope.

In team news, Arsenal will have the services of Samir Nasri while Liverpool will be without their talisman Fernando Torres. This should be great news for Arsenal as without Torres, Liverpool have struggled to get goals but I’m ambivalent about the announcement; Liverpool have Robbie Keane available despite his very public fall out with Benitez. Plus, Dirk Kuyt gets a lot of stick from Liverpool supporters but I think he’s their most dangerous player. He’s got pace, a decent footballing mind, and a workrate unmatched by anyone in the EPL.

Make no mistake, Liverpool will be very happy to use Xabi Alonso and Mascherano to funnel Arsenal into the middle of the pitch, allow them to play intricate passes. Then, when Arsenal inevitably cough the ball up, find an outlet and get an open goal.

Former Spud Robbie Keane would be ecstatic to score a goal on the break against Arsenal and he’s got the craft to do it too. So, while it should be great news to see Torres off the team sheet, I’m not getting too giddy.

As for Nasri, this is good news. Struggling with the physical nature of the Premiership he’s missed several games now with niggling injuries but he’s also been there in several crucial games and scored some really great goals. There’s no doubt of this player’s importance because when Nasri is out (and with Theo on long term injury) Arsenal are forced to use 4 central midfielders across the middle of the pitch and this is most directly responsible for Arsenal’s overly central, overly intricate, toothless ball-hold-ery. He he, ball-hold-ery. I swear that Arsenal would be happier if they could play with another couple of balls and an extra set of feet.

Given all that, I’d bet that the story of tomorrow’s match goes like this: Nasri scores and Webb awards a penalty for a Robbie Keane dive which Gerrard converts. A 1-1 draw and no movement in the table for Arsenal.

Speaking of dives, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Arsene Wenger’s “dive” accusation against Babel in the Champions League match last season. Well, it was a dive, true, but I wonder why he mentions it? I highly doubt it will change Webb’s mind to our favor and might make him even more likely to call against us. Moreover, comments like this tend to focus the commentators on “whinging Wenger” and then they get to point out time and again thatArsenal get these kinds of calls too — like the offside that went against Chelsea.

Whatver happens, what remains clear is that Wenger is no Fergie when it comes to pre-game manipulation. I mean come on, if Fergie had a ref with such an obvious bias he’d have a go at the ref, not Ryan Babel.

Ok, that’s about it for today. I’ve got to go get some wood in case all hell breaks loose over here. I’ll see you at Doyle’s if possible — let’s hope for a good match tomorrow and UP THE ARSE!

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09
Apr
08

£40m and a referee?

Three matches over 7 days proved that £40m and a couple of referees were the differences between these two teams.

In the first match the difference was all down to the referee. His bottled penalty call ensured that the two, evenly matched, teams stayed exquisitely evenly matched. If there was a difference maker on the pitch it was Kuyt, who’s hard work should be a model for the whole Arsenal team.

In the second match, again the teams were closely matched. Both teams rotated heavily and neither squad could find a real breakthrough and again the teams finished 1-1.

And then there’s yesterday, which I am referring to as “from the mountain high to the valley low.”

The match started so well, with Arsenal retaining possession and moving the ball brilliantly. On the 12th minute there was a shot and Liverpool made a hash of it. The ball fell to Hleb who slotted to Diaby, who blew the doors off Reina. 1-0 to the Arsenal. The dream start and Arsenal fans must surely have been on their way to the mountain top.

But as I predicted yesterday an early goal would lead to a high scoring game because both of these teams are struggling in defense. And then it happened. Hyypia, who has the pace of a glacier, lost Senderos on a corner and powered a header past Cesc. 1-1 and back down into the valley.

Then Arsenal lost Flamini to what looked like an intentional stamp by Gerrard. At that point, they were forced to bring in Gilberto and the team looked visibly shaken. Arsenal withstood the onslaught of Liverpool possession and the half closed at 1-1.

At the start of the second half, Arsenal looked to have regained a bit of composure and were playing decently even though the Eboue/Toure right side looked completely lost in the attack. I do want to give plaudits to Eboue, he and Toure gave Gerrard a nightmare of a game on that left side and so it could be that Wenger likes Eboue more for his defensive ability up front. It certainly can’t be because he’s a great offensive player (no goals and a paltry 2 assists all season).

But as we have all seen so many times this season, a small lapse in concentration sees the ball fall to Torres and Liverpool get their £26m worth out of him as he plays home an unstoppable ball. That strike was worth every penny they paid for him. And it’s not his first of the season, he’s been doing that kind of stuff now for months. In fact, without the quality of Torres Liverpool might be a middle of the table team.

Wenger reacts by bringing on Theo and van Persie for Diaby and Eboue. Dividends were paid almost immediately, Theo picks the ball up from a hapless Gerrard and breaks from one end of the pitch to the other, crosses it perfectly for Adebayor and the score line is 2-2. That run was exactly what I was calling for yesterday when I thought Arsenal could relive 1989. An amazing run where Theo shrugs off four defenders and passes the ball perfectly to Adebayor. The kind of move that everyone has been expecting from the lad but that he has not quite been able to produce. Done at the best time, on the highest stage. THEO THEO THEO THEO!

Less than 10 minutes left to defend! Arsenal are moving forward! We’re on the mountain top!

Jesus Lapdancing Christ…

What was it? The first kick from the restart? And THAT? THAT? A penalty?

Back down to the valley.

I’ll admit. That was as much a penalty as the one Arsenal were denied at Emirates just 6 days earlier. Maybe a little less, but in the heat of the action I could see a referee calling that penalty. If it had happened on the other end of the pitch, we’d have all called for a penalty. I know that’s hard to swallow. I know it was a big moment of a big game. And I know that Toure shouldn’t have been draped all over Babel. If he hadn’t, then Babel going down would have looked foolish instead of as if a penalty.

I also know that it was the quality of Babel (£12m), the fact that Rafa was shrewd to bring him on late (what with his pace against the tired legs of Arsenal), and the fact that Arsenal just dropped the ball. This Liverpool team scored against Arsenal in each of the two legs right after resuming play from an Arsenal goal. Even the boss recognized that it was both a lack of concentration and the referee which gave Liverpool the match:

It’s down to a dodgy decision by the referee I believe but also to a lack of concentration straight away when it was 2-2. We found Babel in the box straight from the kick-off and that’s where the concentration dropped a little bit. I believe over the two games it’s very difficult to swallow because it’s a double disappointment.

I honestly thought my prediction for the match to end 3-3 was going to come true, until Babel stormed past Cesc and slotted home the winner.

We can blame the ref, but that won’t get back the Hyypia goal.

We can blame the ref, but that won’t get back the fantastic goal by Torres.

We can blame the ref, but we’d have all felt aggrieved if van Persie had gone down and we had not got that same call.

We can blame the ref, but Rafa’s depth of squad, Arsenal’s lack of concentration, and the quality of Torres and Babel were the real difference over these two legs.

Liverpool outspent Arsenal by about £40m this season and the quality they received in return has paid them dividends. I say it’s time to get out the checkbook Mr. Wenger lest you succumb to pride that befell Caesar:

I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament

’till tomorrow.




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