Norwich City 1-4 Arsenal

Jose Antonio Reyes (22)
Thierry Henry (36)
Robert Pires (40)
Darren Huckerby (pen 50)
Dennis Bergkamp (90)

Ladies and gentlemen, this may have been the most boring 4-1 game in history. From the first whistle to the final one, this was essentially a procession. For all the "who the hell is THAT guy?" evident in the Norwich teamsheet, they really aren't a bad side at all, and I can imagine why they did so well in Division One last season. However, against this Arsenal team, they were never going to be so much as a speed bump along the way. I know that sounds arrogant, and I know that I hated ManUre fans so much for that very trait back when they were unbeatable. However, I think the difference is that we Arsenal fans know that we are the beneficiaries of a special team, a special manager and special players. For whatever reason, a team from the gods was gifted to us, and I feel like we -- as a whole -- are unbelievably grateful and appreciative of it all. I think it is possible to bask in something like this without wallowing in it, you know. Meanwhile, I always felt as if ManUre fans acted like they had a divine right to lay waste to the Premier League, and therein lies the difference. They're like Yankee fans...only far, far worse.

Oh yeah...before I forget, the lineups:

The Champions: Jens Lehmann -- Ashley Cole, Justin Hoyte, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisane-Etane -- Robert Pires (Gael Clichy 84), Francesc Fabregas Soler (Edu 73), Gilberto Silva, Fredrik Ljungberg -- Thierry Henry, Jose Antonio Reyes (Dennis Bergkamp 73)

Norwich City: Robert Green -- Simon Charlton, Adam Drury, Marc Edworthy, Craig Fleming -- Damien Francis, Gary Holt, Mattias Jonsson (Youssef Safri 45), Paul McVeigh (Leon McKenzie 63) -- Gary Doherty (Mathias Svensson 82), Darren Huckerby

Anyway, I digress completely. The two sides came out, and right from the off, Arsenal laid siege to the Norwich goal. Often, you'd see two lines of four yellow shirts in front of goalkeeper Robert Green, kind of like he was the general in a 1700s army. Speaking of Green, he was fantastic for the Canaries...there was nothing he could have done to save any of the four goals, and he kept the scoreline from getting embarrassing. That said, he looks a LOT like an asshole I knew in college, so good...too bad we didn't stuff 5 or 6 more past the prick. Heh.

While sieges in movies are always frantic things involving guys in metal suits waving sharp metal things around, this was a lot closer (metaphorically) to what a siege was actually like -- sitting around and applying gentle-but-constant pressure until the defenders' resistance broke. Sure enough, on 22 minutes, Jose Antonio Reyes continued his torrid run of form with his fourth goal of the campaign. While Reyes was able the claim it on the scoresheet, however, the goal was created entirely by the French master, Thierry Henry. A nothing ball from Fredrik Ljungberg found Henry in a non-threatening area. He beat one anonymous defender in yellow and green, and then just turned on the afterburners, leaving THREE others in his wake. One-on-freaking-four, and Thierry left them all in the dust. Brilliant. Then, to top is off, his slide-rule pass across the face of goal was inch-perfect, leaving Reyes with a tap-in that Timmy from South Park could have converted. With that, cue a chorus of "One-Nil to the Arsenal."

Sadly for Norwich, it would get a lot worse than one-nil, but not without some controversy first. A rare Norwich foray up the field saw Huckerby (typically he's shit, but he was still their best player today) fouled from behind by Lauren. Every home fan in Carrow Road thought it should have been a straight red card. However, it looked to me like Lauren actually wasn't the last defender, thus I felt that referee Graham Poll was correct in only issuing a yellow. It was too close for comfort though, so you can understand my relief when the Gunners doubled their lead in the 36th minute. Henry found Ljungberg out on the wing, and the Swede sent a perfect cross right back towards him. This complex move obviously befuddled the Norwich defense, as they did their best statue impersonations as Henry headed the ball into the net...even Green was rooted to the spot. Henry scoring with his head is almost as rare as Manchester City clean sheets, just so you know.

Four minutes later, the rout was on...even though Arsenal had never come anywhere near second gear, let alone the super-mega one that they found against Middlesbrough last week. Norwich captain Adam Drury (whose name I had to look up...only reason I knew it was him was the captain's armband) had the ball in his own defensive zone. Ljungberg pressured, allowing Robert Pires to barrel in and steal the ball right off of Drury's feet. To the surprise of no one, Super Rob easily powered a low shot past Green, and the lead was 3-0.

Shortly after that, Arsenal went into the dressing room for halftime. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that Coventry City or Sheffield Wednesday came out to play the second half. In fairness, there was no reason for the Arsenal to exert themselves too much in the second half -- this one was pretty much locked up, and it is an extremely long season after all. And, in fairness to Norwich City, they at least made Arsenal pay for their languid play once, early in the second half. Actuallly, Norwich attacked well in the first five minutes of the second half, and their pressure finally allowed them to breach the red-and-white forcefield around the 18-yard box. It was that muppet Huckerby, actually, who did well to beat one defender. Young Justin Hoyte, pressed into emergency service when Pascal Cygan went down to injury in the warmups (my theory was that the bolts fell out of his neck), kinda-sorta fouled Huckerby in the area. Now, I didn't think it was a penalty...actually, I think Huckerby is a diving piece of shit. However, Graham Poll thought it was a penalty, and in fairness, it was a close enough call where one can't really complain either way. Lehmann guessed wrong on Huckerby's penalty, and hey, the home fans had something to cheer about. Fine.

After the Norwich goal, a little worry crept in for me, to be honest. Thankfully, the Canaries never came within astronomical units of scoring again, as Lehmann smothered every half-chance they had. After his nightmare last week, it was good to see our crazy German keeper play back up to his potential. At any rate, the second half crawled along, as the brave First Division champions struggled mightly as we...well...kind of placidly held them at bay. It didn't make for heart-pounding action, that's for sure. In the 73rd, Edu made a welcome return to the squad after recovering from Brazil's whirlwind summer schedule. Also, Reyes made way for the rejuvenated Dennis Bergkamp, who celebrated his continued excellent performances with a late goal. Oh yeah...Norwich brought on other anonymous people to replace the original anonymous people, and it did help them out some. In particular, that Leon McKenzie guy probably should have been on the pitch from the start.

Also, I wonder why the Canaries have a guy playing up top in Gary Doherty who was last seen as a shit fullback for the Scum. Just wondering.

And with that, another valuable three points in the bank, which never hurts. Chelski won their match, while ManUre was lucky to draw Blackburn. Our next match is actually on 9/11, away to Fulham.


Arsenal 3-0 Blackburn

Because I was trapped at work, I didn't get a chance to see the record-breaking game. However, anything I might have said has already been gone over very, very well here , by the always fantastic All Things Footie.


The Other Final

It feels like centuries ago, but it actually wasn't in the too-distant past where soccer was maybe my 5th or 6th favorite sport. I could actually name more than 2 people on my favorite American football team. I knew waaaaaay too many batting averages in baseball. Hockey was far and away my favorite sport, two labor battles ago (assuming the inevitable this offseason). Why the change, then?

Well, besides the action and strategy and all the rest of that, this is a pretty compelling reason. Well, not the documentary itself, but the simple idea and spirit behind the friendly match in question. As corrupt and vile as FIFA can be, sometimes it manages to step back from that, and really grasp firmly the whole idea behind this game. Let me explain.

In the summer of 2002, Brazil and Germany were about to face off in the World Cup Final. However, not too far from Japan, "The Other Final" took place before that. The world's two worst teams, 202nd-ranked Bhutan against dead-ass last 203rd-ranked Montserrat . I was able to see parts of this movie during commerical breaks on Raw (and, if I didn't do a match report of that very show for Wrestleline, I would have skipped Raw entirely. And, it was basically what you'd expect -- a profile of a poor Himalyan country compared to a profile of a poor Caribbean country devastated by a major volcanic eruption (if you follow the link, you'll see that their freaking CAPITAL is abandoned).

Bhutan won the game 4-0 (that had to have been a nightmare trip for the visitors...my theory on why it was so lopsided, anyway), and from the bits I saw, the quality of play was shockingly bad (not surprising given the contestants, but man, the 1st Bhutan goal was the worst effort from a goalkeeper I've seen in my life). Make no mistake...the best player on the pitch (Bhutan striker Wangyi Dorji) could *probably* make the subs' bench for an English Third Division side. But, none of that matters. Because of this sport, a mountain country in Asia can connect to a small Caribbean island, despite tremendous gaps in distance, culture, religion and skin color. Not only that, but officiating the match was the EPL's own Steven Bennett, adding a third radically-different element into the mix.

Many of the above sentiments have admittedly become somewhat cliched, especially given the fact that FIFA, while sometimes managing to find the point, are never afraid to pat themselves endlessly on the back for it. That said, call it silly or cliched or sacchrine, but the idea of Bhutanis and Montserratians connecting in any meaningful fashion -- just the sheer randomness and level of difference -- is something that I think is good and important and MEANS something. I feel sorry for someone who can't see the good in that.


Arsenal 5-3 Middlesbrough

Thierry Henry (25)
Joseph-Desire Job (43)
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (50)
Franck Queudrue (53)
Dennis Bergkamp (54)
Robert Pires (65)
Jose Antonio Reyes (65)
Thierry Henry (90)

About a month or so ago, my manager at work insisted that the Double-winning 1997-1998 Arsenal side was better than last year's undefeated league champions. Besides being completely wrong in general, that year's team would not have come back to win this game. No way. This Arsenal side, if they can play like this most of the year, looks like one that can finally shatter the black cloud of Manchester trebles that seem to still hang over us. No matter what the Arsenal does, some prick in a Man U shirt will inevitably say: "Yeah, but we did the treble...you'll never win in Europe." Oh yeah, Manure boy? Peep us out this season.

Now, the thing about Middlesbrough is that for the last 5-8 years or so, they have seemingly existed for the sole purpose of being annhilated by the Gunners three or four times a season (since we always seem to get drawn against them in the cups). However, their victory in last season's League Cup was a gigantic step forward for them...sure, it's a third-tier trophy, but it's the only one Boro has in over 100 years as a football club. Not only that, I thought that Steve McLaren bought very well this summer, and if anyone can get The Second-Tier Dutch All-Stars to play well as a unit, McLaren can. Matter of fact, I think they'll finish in the top eight or so this season, and anything less would actually be a disappointment (as commentator Alan Parry rightfully mentioned during the game).

The portents before the match weren't so good, though. I rose at 7 AM expecting a 9 AM kickoff, but then discovered that the kickoff was actually at 11. That's what I get for assuming. Also, Nevada Smith's has shown Premier League matches for free for as long as I've been going, but just today that implemented a $10 cover charge. You're KIDDING me, right? Oh...actually, I just checked on the New York Gooners website, and it turns out that this particular match was shown by the infamous worldwide highway robbers known as Setanta. That explains quite a lot, actually. But oh well...I had already made the trip, I wasn't going to be denied the chance to see the Gunners' home opener, especially after their spectacular demolition of Everton in the season's opening fixture. The sides lined up as so:

The Champions: Jens Lehmann -- Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisane-Etane -- Jose Antonio Reyes (Mathieu Flamini 78), Cesc Fabregas, Giberto Silva, Fredrik Ljungberg (Robert Pires 61) -- Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry

Middlesbrough: Mark Schwarzer -- Michael Reiziger (Stuart Parnaby 73), Colin Cooper, Chris Riggot, Franck Queudrue -- Boudewijn Zenden (Szilard Nemeth 78), George Boateng, Ray Parlour, Gaizka Zabala Mendieta -- Joseph-Desire Job, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

I've already noted Arsenal's long history of stomping Boro, but there were actually two more important storylines on display with this match. First off, legendary Arsenal winger Ray Parlour is now in the center of Middlesbrough's midfield. I have to admit that I wish we could have found some way to keep the London-born star who signed for the Arsenal right out of school, but the sad reality is that there are too many kids pounding down the door for midfield spots (Fabregas, Flamini, Reyes, van Persie, Pennant, Clichy if he's not at left back, etc.). The parallels to Paul Merson leaving are frightening, especially since Boro was the club that The Merse signed for as well. In some ways, though, I'm glad that Razor moved on. He deserves to end his career somewhere where he won't be nailed to the subs' bench, somewhere where he actually has a chance to go back to Europe and maybe even win the FA Cup. Like I said, I really, really like Boro's team this year, and with Razor on their side, why can't they maybe even exceed the high expectations they have this time around? Besides the Parlour issue, this match also was Arsenal's bid to tie Nottingham Forest's 25-year old record of 42 League matches unbeaten. While it would take some nerve to complain about anything at all after last season's magnificent storming of the Premier League, it still would have been somewhat of a shame to fall at the final hurdle as far as that record was concerned.

With all of that said, the match started out brightly, with both sides making attacking progress right out of the gate. In particular, Parlour looked like a new man, one who threatened to be a danger from the first minute to the 90th. However, after that initial spell of strong play, Ray eventually faded into the background. This was a match that he no doubt wanted to grab by the scruff of the neck, but he ended up a virtual spectator for all of his customary running and effort. As the minutes ticked on though, Arsenal grew more and more dominant. Eventually, it got to a point where it started to look a LOT like the Everton match last weekend. Still, Mark Schwarzer is quietly one of the better goalkeepers in the league, and it was going to take something exceptional to beat him (at least the first time around...for whatever reason, be it him getting down on himself or whatever, it seems to be easier to score on him the second or third time than it is to beat him the first). Luckily, we have a certain mercurial French forward who lives for situations like this. It all started from our half, actually, as Jose Antonio Reyes unleashed a 40-yard lob of the highest caliber, right onto the foot of Henry. The Frenchman controlled, set himself up for a half-volley, and...well, he didn't smash it at goal, as you might expect. With a defender pressuring, and the gigantic 6'5" frame of Schwarzer lumbering out at him, Henry came up with an even better lob than Henrik Larsson's embarrassment of Stefan Klos in the Celtic-Rangers "demolition derby." At first, it looked like it was going to be too high (you try chipping someone of NBA height), but it looped wonderfully into the net, with (I think it was) Colin Cooper making a great stab at trying to keep it out. 1-0 to the Arsenal, and we seemed to be on our way to another Boro blowout. And, as the half wore on, it looked inevitable that a second (and perhaps a third) would come before Steven Dunn blew for halftime. Speaking of him, outside of two or three times where he got in the way of the ball (including one instance where he unwittingly made a fabulous block of an Arsenal pass, into a pass to a Boro player), he called a very good game. He showed a very un-English sensibility when it came to yellow cards, keeping it in his pocket for the most part. He calmed players down after rough fouls, and insured that the match never got out of hand without resorting to a sea of yellow (which all too often leads to the occasional overly-harsh red).

However, all credit to Boro. Every time Arsenal made a mistake, they capitalized in a major way. For that reason alone, they probably deserved at least a point out of all of this. Anyway, right before the halftime interval, Joseph-Desire Job got a routine pass, turned Cygan, evaded Lauren's desparate dive, and fired an absolute laser beam into the top corner. This is the only time you'll hear this phrase in today's report, but Lehmann had absolutely no chance. It was a stunning strike, although the fact remains that Cygan could and probably should have stopped him one way or another. Not to take away from the finish, but if Sol Campbell isn't out injured, that goal doesn't get scored. Period.

Halftime then, and in a bid to make the experience even more English, Nevada's has a guy selling meat pies over by the front door. They're pretty good, actually. The reason I mention it is because going to the pub is an odd experience in one sense. You come in off a busy city street, and all of a sudden it feels like you're in England. Knowledgable fans, chanting like on the terraces...you can almost envision being in Highbury. Then, the game is over, you walk out the door, and it feels like you've flown from London to New York in the span of about 35 seconds...it's what I imagine teleportation feeling like when they invent it sometime in 2060 or so. Or, even more accurately, it's the only time I've felt jet lag from walking out a door. The funniest part is that you walk out onto a busy street, and all those people walking and driving by have NO IDEA of the highs and lows and excitement that you just experienced...it feels like you're in on a secret.

While Boro had an awful first half (Mendieta and Zenden especially were just awful), they obviously came out in much better spirits for the second half. When you come into the locker room tied after a terrible effort, it tends to give you a new lease on life, a feeling like you can actually win this thing. So, it wasn't shocking when Zenden got a shot away 30 seconds into the half. Despite the fact that it was well wide, it should have been a warning to the Arsenal back four + goalkeeper that they needed to be on their toes. But, then again, when you're forced to play a shambling automaton like Pascal Cygan against a team with good, quick attacking players, bad things are going to happen. Sure enough, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took a long ball from Franck Queudrue (who had an excellent match on the offensive side of the ball), and came up on Cygan. The French fullback tried the "wet paper bag" defense, and was shockingly beaten badly by the Dutch striker. Hasselbaink had all the time in the world, and his strike was an exceptional one. However, he was coming in on a pretty sharp angle, and his shot went to Lehmann's near-post side. Now, for those who aren't aware, one of the cardinal rules of goalkeeping in any sport (soccer, hockey, etc) is to NOT get beat on your near-post side. It's a crime for the man in between the sticks, and because of that, Lehmann was perhaps even more at fault for Boro taking the lead than Cygan was. The worst part was that even leaning the wrong way, even with as wonderful a strike as Hasselbaink came up with, Lehmann was still thiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to actually saving it. That's the maddening thing about him...he's usually a very good keeper, especially when dealing with crosses and high balls. However, every so often, he lapses into a Barthez-esque "million-dollar talent, 10-cent head" syndrome. 2-1 to Boro, and while they didn't necessarily deserve it in terms of the run of play, you have to credit them for converting the only two chances they had up until that point.

Three minutes later, it was 3-1 Boro. While Lehmann was arguably at fault for the second goal, there was no argument at all for the third. It was one of the most shockingly, amazingly, ridiculously boneheaded moves I've ever seen from a keeper of his caliber before. Queudrue had pushed forward once again, and looked like he was waiting for help to get into the penalty area. However, while a cross was the most likely play, you can't leave almost the entire net open in expectation of a cross. Maybe Queudrue isn't a feared scorer, but he IS a Premiership-caliber player, and fair's fair, he seized the chance that Lehmann gave him. From all of 30 or 35 yards, his long, curling shot was always going to elude Lehmann. As far off to the side as he was, no keeper on earth could have recovered to save it (though again, Lehmann made it close...damned 10-cent head). The pub was stunned. Highbury was stunned. 53 minutes in, 3-1 down, the record slipping away.

This may seem like a tangent, but bear with me. In professional wrestling, a common match theme is a smaller, scappy challenger giving the champion everything he can handle before eventually falling to a spirited defeat. And, in those matches, the turning point always seems to come when the champion seems to say: "OK, you've had your fun. But, I'll be DAMNED if you're taking this belt from me." And, when that comeback does happen, it usually begins with a devastating move that turns the tide, gives him time to recover, and then go on the offensive run that wins the match. In this most dire of moments in the match, the old veteran, Dennis Bergkamp, was the champion of champions, the man who drove the real stake into Boro's challenging heart.

Seconds after the Boro goal, Cesc Fabregas played a nice ball up to Bergkamp. Both center backs could and should have pressured him, but they kept backing off. I said to myself that if DB10 got the shot away, it was going in. Sure enough, with the Boro defense in retreat, the mighty Bergkamp produced a thunderbolt from the heavens...or, at least a screaming, low 20-yard shot that easily beat the diving Schwarzer. Boro was still up a goal at that point, but the second the net rustled, everyone knew. Or, more accurately, they KNEW. Unlike some sports (baseball comes right to mind), there is such a thing as clutch play in soccer, because it's a team sport in the truest sense of the word. If Middlesbrough had 5 or 10 minutes to digest the fact that they were up two goals in the second half at Highbury, there probably wouldn't have been a way back. Again, I stress that they're a very, very good side, and even missing Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate, have enough decent quality in defense to hold a lead, even in as fearsome a venue at Highbury.

But, they didn't have 5 or 10 minutes...Bergkamp ensured that it was about 45 seconds. And, it is not a mystery to anyone in the Premiership as to what happens when Arsenal not only gets rolling, but is put into any kind of a desperate situation. Hell, ask Inter Milan...after last season in the Champions' League, they know ALL about it. After that goal, Boro panicked...there's no other way to put it. They probably still had a very good chance to win, but when faced with as powerful a juggernaut as Arsene Wenger has assembled...well...I don't think even Man United or Chelsea could have stopped this onslaught. It took a while after the second goal, but the addition of Robert Pires was perfectly-timed by the manager. Once he came in, it really did seem inevitable. Sure enough, after Henry did great work unclocking the Boro defense, Pires was left with a simple tap-in for the equalizer. The pub EXPLODED, because I think every single person in there knew that more was coming. However, we didn't think that it would come as soon as it did -- Reyes' blast rustling the net was the first visual we saw after the replays of the third goal were finished. It actually caused a dleayed reaction, as some thought it was another replay. Actually, Arsenal pressured Boro right from the restart, one of their guys had the ball stolen right off his foot, and the Arsenal marched right up the field and scored.

You can't say Boro gave up, but the fight was pretty well drained out of them by then. So, unsurprisingly, another class goal from Henry added the fniishing touches to what ended up as a spectacular match. I love the fact that Arsenal is not only winning, they're doing it in absolute style. It won't be like this all season -- we will lose in the League at some point, and we will have to grind out a few industrial results along the way. But, let this serve as a crystal clear warning for those tripping all over themselves to anoint Diving Cheating Mourinho's Chelsea as the new champions. It's still OUR title, and Arsenal is going to have a LOT to say about who wins it this season, too. However, those are all thoughts for another day. Today, I'm content to bask and even wallow in the glory of an absolutely stunning comeback, a match that shows the true spirit and determination of Arsenal Football Club.

Next week is Blackburn at home for sole possession of the record. As long as those evil Setanta bastards don't have the game, I'll be a very, very happy man. Until then, "good to, good to be...good to be a....GOONER!!"


Major changes...

I Will Eat Your Soul is no more, to say the very least.

Very occasionally, I will still comment on the Metrostars, or Glasgow Celtic, or other sports. However, heading into my blog's second birthday, I think it's time to find a real focus and latch onto it. When everything is said and done, my favorite team in any sport is Arsenal FC. Now, don't get me wrong -- I love my San Francisco Giants, my Metrostars, my Montreal Canadiens and even my Philadelphia Wings (indoor lacrosse). However, I'm at a point where soccer is more than just my favorite sport...it's the only confluence of a well-run team and a league I don't either completely hate or think is run by complete incompetents. Say what you will about the English FA, but the NHL makes them look like a well-oiled bastion of efficiency and common sense.

As for the title, it's self-explanatory, really. I hope to be in an apartment somewhere in Park Slope or Prospect Park within the next few weeks, and of course you'll know what a Gooner is if you're here. Look for more and more major changes to design and content after I move -- and after I get Fox Sports World once again.

Thank you to all who have read my crap in the last year, and here's to all of you who will still be with me in the years to come.


Arsenal 3, Manchester United 1 (Community Shield)

Arsenal 3-1 Manchester United

Gilberto Silva - 49'
Alan Smith - 55'
Jose Antonio Reyes - 59'
Mikael Silvestre (og) - 79'

In what feels like a million and a half years ago, I stood in Nevada Smith's and watched the mighty Arsenal put the finishing touches on Leicester City -- and the second-ever unbeaten season in English history (of course, Preston North End only played 20-something games in 1880-whatever).

So yes, it's good to see English soccer back. A million and a half years later, now we LOOK (visually) like Leicester City (why were we away, anyway?), and the defense of our English Premiership title begins...with a meaningless pre-season exhibition (pitting the league champions vs. the FA Cup champions). The funny thing about this one is that it started out as a battle between, well, not exactly B-teams...maybe more like B+ teams. Early in the second half, it started a transformation from Arsenal B+ vs. Manchester United B+ to Arsenal Under-21s vs. Manchester United Under-21s. To wit, the starting lineup (and substitutions):

The Champions (going from left to right): Jens Lehmann; Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Kolo Abib Toure, Bisan Lauren-Etane; Jose Antonio Reyes (Justin Hoyte 80), Francesc Fabregas (Sebastian Svard 87), Gilberto Silva, Jermaine Pennant; Thierry Henry (Robin van Persie 45), Dennis Bergkamp (Jeremie Aliadiere 61 [Gael Clichy 69])

The Scum: Tim Howard; Gary Neville, John O'Shea (Jonathan Spector 82), Mikael Silvestre, Quinton Fortune (Phil Neville 51); Ryan Giggs (Diego Forlan 51), Eric Djemba-Djemba, Roy Keane (Darren Fletcher 51), David Bellion; Paul Scholes (Kieran Richardson 74), Alan Smith (Chris Eagles 73)

As you may have noticed, there are some major names missing from both sides. However, I think something like this absolutely can serve as some indicator of bench depth and how the Under-21s can handle a slightly-pressurized situation. When you take the first-choice XIs of both teams, there isn't much to choose between them, honestly (that is, if you include Patrick Vieira in the center of Arsenal's midfield). If this is anything to go by, though (and keep in mind that it is an indicator, but not a GIANT indicator...important distinction there), then it's probably safe to say that we're a deeper team than United are at the moment, at least in the Under-21 level.

As is to be expected, it wasn't that bright of a start to the match...this is the first one of even moderate importance in the new season, after all. However, the Arsenal settled into the match first, and eventually started to get some good possession play going. Their short-passing game was just fantastic, and I can't wait to see it once they really start hitting on all cylinders. Everyone in the pub knew that Reyes was going to have a great game...hell, everyone there knows he's going to have a great season. What shocked me was how super-cool the young Fabregas (16 freaking years of age) taking Vieira's place in the center of midfield. He was composed, he made nice tackles, he kept the passing simple-but-effective. He's going to be a good one, that lad. Pennant was also tons better than I thought he'd be down the right flank, as I was one of the ones who thought we should just cut our losses with him...maybe have Leeds turn the year-long loan into an actual transfer. However, if he keeps his heretofore 10-cent head together, then we won't miss Ray Parlour as much as I have previously feared that we were going to.

But, the biggest shock from this match was the excellent play of one Pascal Cygan. The Frankenstein clone had one of his rare matches where he actually looked like an Arsenal central defender. He bossed the penalty area, returned to the backline quicker than his usual shamble after coming up for set pieces, and he generally made life difficult for the Mank forwards all night. Well done, Baldy!

The first half ended 0-0, but it was never going to finish that way. And, in one frantic 15 minutes, Arsenal were ahead 2-1. Actually, it should have been three, as Reyes had essentially an open net to shoot at, and all the time in the world in which to do so. Somehow, he hit the side-netting...but, he provided redemption just a minute late. He took the ball in his half, and started out on an absolutely blazing run down the flank. Gilberto Silva was running with him, and this became the beneficiary of an easy tap-in. The funny thing is that right alongside Gilberto was young Robin van Persie (who played for about 15 minutes up top with his hero, Dennis Bergkamp), who could easily have tapped it in himself.

All credit to United (especially half-strength as they were), they tried to make a contest out of it. Alan Smith actually had a pretty good game, and he found the corner of the net with an absolute thunderbolt. There was nothing Mad Jens could do about it, and that's fine...our keeper was brilliant on every other occasion in which he was called to action. It points out rather forcefully how stupid the English media is (though that is typically like shooting fish in a bucket) for assuming that Lehmann needed replacing in the off-season (umm, guys? Can one of you explain why ANYONE on an undefeated team needs to be actively replaced? Just curious.)...so, 1-1 then.

Reyes wasn't done, though, and soon the champions were ahead again. A cross from Bergkamp (who looked almost like the old Dennis today) deflected off someone, and Reyes was right there to fire home. Great finish, and nice to see after all the chances squandered (both by him, and also seemingly by everyone else in one of those vile blue away kits...I mean, crap teams wear blue...you know, Birmingham, Leicester, Chelsea...). The final goal came after most of the Romper Room squads came on, as Silvestre entertained us all with a hilarious own-goal.

By the way, of the young kids (not in the starting lineup), we can only take away three things of consequence. First, it's odd that fullback Phillippe Senderos didn't get a run-out. Then again, he does seem to be injured every time the breeze picks up, let alone when tackled. Speaking of that, the second is that the immensely-talented Jeremie Aliadiere was stretchered off just 8 minutes after he replaced Bergkamp. It's not so bad, thanks to the fact that Reyes can play up top, as can van Persie...and Francis Jeffers is still hanging around, too. Still, I really like Aliadiere as a player, and it'd be nice if he wasn't ALWAYS hurt. Finally, I don't know how every Arsenal fan on the planet isn't talking about how awesome Gael Clichy is. He still has some issues with crossing the ball, but man, can this kid do everything else. He showed in his limited appearances last season that he'll get stuck in and do the dirty defensive work, but he'll also blaze down the left flank...beating defender after defender along the way. The kid has skill to burn, but more importantly, he has the courage to take players on, the ability to make excellent passes, and can play defense. Once he can learn to cross the ball, there's no reason why he shouldn't be in the midfield rotation out there on the left flank (the nice thing is that he also serves as cover for Ashley, as he can play left back as well).

I don't care so much about United's kids, other than the fact that Kieran Richardson has a neat semi-afro going, and Jonathan Spector is a nice young American talent.

So, this was a fun little way to spend my morning before training (I respect field players so much more now having been forced to play as one the last few times. That said, I need to get back in goal as soon as humanly possible!). It's a nice silver shiny thing, it's a win over the Evil Empire, and it's a run-out for the kids.

However, much more importantly, it also means that the season begins for real, seven days hence. 2004-05 kicks off with Everton away, so hopefully we can get a quick three points in the bank...and maybe send a few kicks at that pig-faced Wayne Rooney, as well (heh heh heh).


I hate them already...

Smug owner of Chivas USA unsurprisingly overconfident about his team's chances

The quote in question: ""Of course, we're going to be the best team in the United States,'' Vergara said."

OK, shitbag...let me break it down for you. Mexico's national team used to think they had a divine mandate to rule over all of CONCACAF with an iron fist...and I think you know what happened there. The USA got its shit together, became one of the best teams in the world, and have since long proven that they are, at worst, on par with our neighbors to the south. Our 2-0 win over them in the last World Cup still burns at them, I guarantee it. To assume that your expansion team is going to waltz in and blaze through MLS just because your shirts say "Chivas" on them means you're going to get quite the lesson when your boys begin MLS play.

MLS is even starting to win over some English onlookers, who are notorious for refusing to believe that we can play this game over on this side of the pond. What more do they have to do to prove that the quality of play is getting much better over here? Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra START for Fulham. Bobby Convey is going to be one of the best players the Scum have had in ages. Brad Freidel and Kasey Keller are proven Premiership goalkeepers.

I admit that Chivas Guadalajara has a proven track record in the Mexican league...and, I believe that they will, in time, be a force in MLS. But, it's not going to be simply because they have a name and their parent club is from Mexico...

...that, more than anything else, is why I have an undying hatred for anything having to do with Mexican soccer.


OK....let me get this straight....

Let's see if I have this figured out. Ricky Williams is pilloried in every corner for retiring from the Miami Dolphins so soon before the start of training camp.

But, the Oakland Raiders can release a guy in Tim Brown who has been one of their best players so long...even closer to training camp, but that's OK?

Right...is it a mystery why I hate the NFL so much?

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