|Beating the Scum makes any week a good week|
The Sunderland game was a massive disappointment. Not so much because of the result, but because of how it arrived. The funny thing about being a fan, is the evolution of a reaction. I remember feeling like I wanted to commit acts of horrible violence as Darren Bent blasted the ball past Almunia. The next day, I wanted revenge against the ref. I was furious with the stupidity of Song and Gael Clichy’s lack of composure. But as the week wore on, I came to terms with the Sunderland result. By the time we kicked off at Shite Hart Lane, I had decided that the weekend’s result was creditable. By Thursday, I was back to believing we could be world-beaters.
It’s a week like this that reminds you to be measured in delivering your immediate reaction to a disappointment. Some of the things that were said on twitter Saturday evening, were probably deeply regretted by Sunday morning. But looking back on the Sunderland game with some perspective, there are several important take-aways. Maybe the most significant is the praise that should be heaped on Jack Wilshere.
When Wilshere and Song both picked up early yellow cards during our poor first half performance, I was certain that the 18 year old would be sent off before the evening’s proceedings were complete. But it was the older, more mature Cameroonian whose match ended early thanks to some hopeless naivete. Conversely, Wilshere not only stayed on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes, but he grew into the game and was one of the principle reasons that we controlled most of the second half. His maturity has impressed me even more than his considerable talent. Long may that continue.
The oddest part of the Sunderland match, was the penalty kick. After it was awarded, I was certain that Nasri would step up and slam it home. But after the match, we learned that Nasri had a “bad superstition” about taking a penalty kick after being fouled to earn it. Because of that superstition, Rosicky was left with the responsibility and his miss was representative of his recent struggles in front of goal. It’s unfortunate, because converting that PK would not only have wrapped up the points, but might put an end to Rosicky’s goal-scoring difficulties. However, Nasri learned his lesson about taking penalty kicks, and that proved crucial on Tuesday.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Sunderland match was the loss of Cesc Fabregas to a hamstring injury. Cesc’s injury is worrying because it’s the same problem that kept him out for a while last season. In this case, it seems that we’ve dodged a bullet. The most recent theories are that Cesc could be back for the game at Stamford Bridge. While I’m certain that it would be foolish to rush him back, I’m also realistic about our chances of getting a result in that fixture.
With Fabregas in the lineup, anything is possible. At this point, you can make a strong argument for him as the best creative midfielder in the world. Better even than his DNA soul-mate in Barcelona. While we have a team full of players who can pass the ball accurately, Cesc has a very unique ability to find the killer ball that destroys the defense. It may have been 24 passes before Vela scored against Braga, but it was Cesc’s brilliant ball over the top that sent him in on goal. The other 23 passes were typical Arsenal style. Cesc’s was world-class. While Wilshere and Diaby and Song (among others) can pass the ball around the pitch at Stamford Bridge, Cesc can pick the pass to unlock Chelsea’s defense. As with other players of his caliber, having Cesc on the pitch immediately gives us a chance to win every game we play. If he’s out there in 2 weeks time, I’ll feel good about our chances.
Although we conceded a late goal against Sunderland, this was not the “same old Arsenal” of the previous few seasons. Our defense never seemed nervous or shaky. We never looked unsettled or lacked composure. Arsene’s signings have proved brilliant so far, and on Saturday they were all top performers. If I told you in July that we would play much of the early season without Vermaelen and RVP, you would have said that we were doomed. You might have been able to make a compelling argument that they were the only two players we couldn’t live without. Last season when RVP went down, the team fell apart. The scoring stopped, and we started dropping points. This time around, we’ve looked just as dangerous as ever. Chamakh has made the difference. And while Vermaelen has been sidelined, the defending has looked just as sharp. Koscielny is fast becoming a favorite of mine. He likes a tackle, positions himself well, and doesn’t seem to lose the physical battles the way I feared he might. Alongside Squillaci, the defense looked composed on Saturday, even against superior numbers.
Ironically, it’s left back that has become the concern defensively. Gibbs should be close to grabbing the starting role after another uneasy performance from Clichy. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the frenchman. He has all the tools to be an excellent RB and he’s done it all in the past. But there’s an element of panic to his game that leads him to make some crucial errors. That panic was less evident in recent seasons because it blended in with the general sense of panic amongst our defenders. But now it’s all too obvious. He lost possession in his own area on several occasions Saturday, but survived them all. But Arsenal could not survive his errors at the death. First, he played Sunderland onside by drifting back towards his own goal, when he should have been able to hold his line. Then, badly out of position, he scuffed a clearance, under no duress, leading directly to Sunderland’s equalizer. It was a bad performance, but endemic of Clichy’s recent displays. Ultimately, his lack of composure in the crucial final seconds, cost us two points.
If the Sunderland result left a bad taste in the mouth, then Tuesday’s match cleaned that right out. While the Carling Cup may not be the most coveted trophy, a match against Sp*rs at WHL is always significant. The fact that this fixture came in the least prioritized competition, failed to make it any less important to the supporters. Apparently the managers realized the importance of the derby match as well, considering the surprisingly strong squad selections. It was poised to be an excellent early test for both clubs, and a measuring stick for Sp*rs claims that they have somehow closed the gap with Arsenal.
As the final result suggested, Sp*rs are still well and truly living in our shadow. Although it took extra time to earn the 4-1 final, the match should never have need the additional 30 minutes. Two erroneous linesman’s decisions helped Spuds force the extra time. Truly, it should have been 2-0 after 90 minutes. But that might have been less satisfying than the actual result. And were it not for extra time, we might never have been treated to the image of a young Spuds fan crying his eyes out at the sight of his pathetic team capitulating badly. Once again Jack Wilshere was imperious and Spuds’ only response was to treat the young man to a proper kicking. Rather than losing his temper, Jack simply got up, and got on with the task of dismantling their defense. It was the Arsenal way of doing things and he deserves great credit for his composure in consecutive matches.
The team played brilliantly for almost the entire 120 minutes on Tuesday and almost everyone on the pitch deserved praise. Djourou wasn’t completely solid at the back, but he got some much needed match experience. It was a real joy to see players like Lansbury come into a relatively experienced side and look like he’d been playing with the first team for years. The one disappointment for me, was that we never saw JET on Tuesday. Had Gibbs not picked up an injury, he might have been a late substitution.
Unfortunately, the Spuds match included another error by Lukasz Fabianski. This one certainly wasn’t as spectacular as his usual vintage, but it was still a mistake that essentially cost us a goal. Surely Arsene Wenger must see that Fabianski’s potential simply can’t be realized on the pitch with Arsenal. He’s had chances. He’s no longer a kid at 25. And with talented young keeper’s behind him, it’s senseless to continue with the experiment. I harbor very little ill-will towards the young Pole, because I don’t think his failures are down to a lack of effort or application. I just don’t think he has the constitution to handle the pressure of the position.
What the Sp*rs result did, besides earning us a place in the fourth round of the Carling Cup, is restore good feelings to the club and the supporters after the mild disappointment of the weekend. We now turn our attention to a home fixture with WBA full of confidence and positive energy, rather than the lingering frustration from Saturday’s draw. The Sp*rs result, coupled with other results in the competition, also clears a path for us to win some silverware this season. The Carling Cup wouldn’t satiate our trophy hunger, but with Sp*rs, City, Liverpool and Chelsea all eliminated, we should certainly consider making it a slightly higher priority than usual.
Obviously, as this is Arsenal, there are some injury concerns ahead of tomorrows match. Rosicky, Diaby and Eboue face fitness tests. Gibbs, is out. Vermaelen is still out. Theo, Cesc, RVP, Bendtner, and Ramsey all continue their absences obviously. But there’s also some worry about fatigue for a few players who lasted the entire 120 minutes on Tuesday. Whether Jack Wilshere can start tomorrow remains to be seen. There will be a temptation to rest players and make a variety of changes for tomorrow’s game. Hopefully, whomever Arsene calls upon will have the proper attitude. It should be a comfortable game, but West Brom shouldn’t be overlooked. With an away fixture in the Champions League in midweek, and Chelsea next weekend, it would be nice to come out of this match unscathed.
I’m not sure how to address all the attention Arsene Wenger has received this week. When you combine the intellect of all the people questioning him, and criticizing him, it almost adds up to one sentient being. Almost. But not quite. Sam Allardyce is clearly suffering the after effects of a stroke so I’m loathe to attack him. He has receded into a fantasy world where he should be the manager at Real Madrid, and would win titles every year if he were put in charge of a club like United. Clearly the delusional ramblings of a madman. And in between these crazed utterances, he’s had the time to have a go at Arsene again. It’s all rather funny really.
Arsene speaks excellent english, so I’m not sure why people have such a difficult time understanding him. He doesn’t like bad tackles. He doesn’t like assault. Is that so controversial? He doesn’t like players flying in, with their studs up, over the ball, where the only possible outcome is a broken leg. He doesn’t comment on specific managers. He doesn’t comment on specific teams. But obviously he doesn’t have to. Pulis and Allardyce feel aggrieved. Well, if the bloody football shoe fits, wear it. Once again, Stoke City’s band of merry thugs have taken another player out of football for a while. Wolves did it a week before. And Blackburn tried to do it when they played us. Fortunately, Diaby was only lost for a few games, and Koscielny has a head that’s unbreakable. But this is not rocket science. If teams keep playing the way Allardyce, and Pulis instruct them to, then players will be lost to injury, and the really skillful players will take their talents to other leagues where barbarism isn’t the order of the day.
I found it interesting and ironic that Lionel Messi was injured by a horror challenge in a week where Arsene was being accused of being too precious. In Spain, Ujfalusi’s tackle was front page news, and he was made to apologize for his vicious act. What’s wrong with those Spanish people? Don’t they know that the proper thing is to have Guardiola and Messi apologize to Ujfalusi? That’s how it’s done in England. Messi is lucky to have avoided long term injury, but there was no shortage of Spanish outrage over the tackle that could have broken his ankle. In England, that tackle is simply Blackburn or Stoke’s idea of a “determined challenge.” It’s shameful, and it will eventually have consequences for the Premier League.
The FA is a joke. Everyone knows that. They are impotent, biased, xenophobic, and probably have sex with sheep. (The last part can’t be verified. I just strongly suspect that it’s true.) They can slap a ban on Wenger in the bat of an eyelash for hurting the feelings of a referee, but they can’t find a way to ban robinson for trying to rob Diaby of his season. What’s the point of them? The FA shouldn’t be the governing body for club football England. They’re interests are not aligned with the Premier League. It’s their job to pander to the English people and produce a national team that can finally win something.
The Premier League is a global corporate entity with a world wide fan base that deserves the best possible product. It strains logic to understand why the Premier League has any relationship with the FA at all. If the Premier League picked up its teams and moved to Iceland, all of it’s global fans would still ravenously consume the product. It’s not called the “English” Premier League. It’s called the “Barclay’s” Premier League. It’s not the property of England, and it shouldn’t be governed as such. The Premier League is not a feeder program for English international football, and it doesn’t exist to aggrandize the glory of England. The sooner everyone accepts that, the sooner the league can be properly run. Then maybe thugs like Allardyce and Pulis would get what they deserve.
More ranting in a future blog. But that’s it for now. Hopefully another enjoyable home fixture tomorrow and three points. By the time we kickoff, Chelsea might have dropped their first league points this season. That should give us even more incentive to put in a great performance. It would also take just a little bit of pressure off our trip to the Bridge next weekend. But that’s out of our control. Let’s hope the team is properly focused on West Brom tomorrow. Then we can worry about the next hurdle.