After some time to calm down...

All right...I'm past the stage where I want Riley's head on a pike and van Nistelrooy's skull to drink beer out of. I'm almost past the point where I want to hang Sir Alex Fuckhead to my cubicle wall so I can punch the shit out of him at my leisure (OK, I'm never past THAT point). This loss burns, and I don't mind admitting it. But, that's the sport...sometimes you get bad breaks. And, you can't say that we didn't have a few breaks of our own during that amazing run.

So, congratulations, Manchester United. I can only hope that you win fuck all again this year, too.


A question I've been pondering

Well, it's hard to concentrate on the early stages of this season of The Beautiful Game while baseball is having such a wondrous theatrical feature unfold in its American League Championship Series (and a pretty good National League Championship Series that nobody is paying attention to because the ALCS has been so amazing), but a quick note on what I've been thinking about lately.

Oh, quick aside before I do: no match report this time, but that Aston Villa game was just magnificent. They're a damn good side, and the Arsenal just steamrolled them. Man of the Match was definitely Stefan Postma (and his riduclous mullet), though.

Anyway, having read halfway through Basketball on Paper, I've been pondering several questions about how some of those concepts can relate to soccer. It's probably impossible to get into as complex of an analysis as you can get with baseball (and even basketball) -- the game is so fast, there's 22 people to keep track of, there's so many facets to the game. And, most frustratingly of all, there is almost nowhere to get decent stats of games...nothing beyond shots and fouls and yellow cards, anyway. Of course, even detailed stats are likely amazingly useless in this setting...if a team passes at 75% efficiency, how many of those are little square passes to the guy next to them? But, then again, how often is that the best option, and the most effective use of the ball? If a team turns the ball over X amount of times, how many are because the ball-carrier made an error, and how many because the defender(s) made a great play?

On top of that, soccer statistics would have to incorporate a ton of subjective opinion in order to be useful at all. What constitutes a good pass? A good cross? A good save? A good shot? A good tackle? A bad yellow card? In Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver introduces the idea of altering statistics somewhat to include the fact that for Player A, a "good pass" is different than for Player B. For example, Robert Pires putting a 30-yard long ball on Thierry Henry's foot is a good pass. But, if Kolo Toure is being pressured by the opposing forward, and he manages to get the ball safely over to Sol Campbell (who then clears the ball), you have to describe that as a good pass. But, if Super Rob is pressured by someone and takes that safe option, that has to be the minimum acceptable usage of the ball for him.

Perhaps even more interestingly, what makes a winning soccer team? Teamwork? Passing? Great goalkeeping? A 25-to-30 goal scorer? A fearsome backline? Depth on the bench? I want to start digging into these questions, but I admit to not really knowing where to start. But, as noted already, it is something I'm pondering. If I could come up with some kind of system of culling useful statistics out of what happens on the field, I may even make myself learn how to work standard deviations and variances and all that shit to start getting answers. And, Statistics was the luckiest C- I ever got.


Arsenal 4-0 Charlton Athletic

Thanks to the wonders of DVR and Fox Sports World showing a replay, I did indeed see the game. The weird thing is, this could have turned out so different...a pretty good side ended up shooting themselves in the foot against us, and hey, I'll take it (especially with "One-Nil To The..." Chelski continuing to stockpile points). Without further ado:

Arsenal 4-0 Charlton Athletic

Fredrik Ljungberg - 33'
Thierry Henry - 48'
Thierry Henry - 69'
Jose Antonio Reyes - 70'

The Champions: Jens Lehmann -- Gael Clichy, Kolo Abib Toure, Sol Campbell, Lauren Bisane-Etane -- Jose Antonio Reyes, Patrick Vieira, Francesc Fabregas Soler (Mathieu Flamini 82), Fredrik Ljungberg (Jermaine Pennant 49) -- Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry (Robin van Persie 82)

Charlton Athletic: Dean Kiely -- Chris Perry, Hermann Hreidarsson, Jonathan Fortune -- Talal El-Kakouri, Radostin Kishishev (Dennis Rommedahl 66), Danny Murphy, Graham Stuart (Matt Holland 74), Luke Young -- Jason Euell (Jonatan Johansson 66), Kevin Lisbie

Kind of a weird set-up for Charlton there...a 3-5-2 that was basically the super-tactic in Championship Manager '02-'03, with Holland and Rommedahl warming the bench. Very interesting indeed, but you have to hand it to them...it worked very well for half an hour or so. They played well defensively, they got some free kicks in dangerous positions, and fought very well in midfield. Arsenal were the better team without question, but this wasn't like the Everton or Norwich matches -- this wasn't a case of us scoring a goal 3 seconds into the game, and then it's 3-0 before you know it. Like I said, this could have been very different for Charlton, if they had two things: Someone up front who isn't absolute shit, and someone who could provide the final ball to said non-shit strikers. It sounds like a lot, but this lot are a far better side than many we're going to play this season...that's for damn sure.

However, they did an admirable job of beating themselves at points. They had quite a few dangerous set pieces, and almost never seriously threatened on any of them. And, of course, the first goal was an absolute killer for them. Euell gave it away on their side of midfield, and Henry played a wonderful ball towards the corner flag for Bergkamp. Kiely came out to get it, but wasn't fast enough. However, Perry did a wonderful job of getting back and stalling DB10 long enough for Kiely to get back. Kiely, though, hesitated long enough to give our Magic Man the opportunity to slot the ball centrally to the wide-open Ljungberg. Ljungberg + empty net caused by boneheaded play from a usually-class keeper = 1-0 to the Arsenal. Simple math, really.

To Charlton's enormous credit, they kept battling, and made it to the half only trailing by the one goal. Actually, I do mean battling in the literal sense...Hreidarsson (who did well in his many runs forward) and Stuart did their best to wind up anyone in a red shirt. Yellow cards to Ljungberg and Vieira were the returns, as well as a niggling back injury to Ljungberg that would force him out right after halftime. It's not the world's classiest strategy, but it's a reality when we're playing these kinds of sides. Reyes, though, was an absolute joy to watch in the first half. Not only was he magnificent on the ball, not only did he treat us with his usual brilliant passing and team play, his runs back to cover defensively were a thing to warm a true Arsenal fan's heart. He may only be here for about a season total, but he already knows what it means to put on an Arsenal shirt. Awesome.

Anyway, Charlton actually could very well have been 1-0 up at the interval if they played everything right. Had Kiely gone back in time, it would have been 0-0. They had a free kick right outside the area in injury time, and Lehmann was badly caught out (his only mistake of the game, not that he was tested all that much in the end). Hreidarsson should have gotten on the end of it, but he sort of tamely went up for the header, and missed the ball completely...oddly terrible effort from him.

Even still, Charlton were very much in this game as the second half started. Henry, though, had something to say about that just 3 minutes after the interval. You know, the goal that you're going to be talking about for a decade or more if you saw it. THAT goal. Reyes on the side of the area, nice ball into the area for Henry. However, if Fortune was marking Henry any closer, it would have been intercourse. Henry, back-flick, stunned Kiely, Highbury goes nuts.

Maddeningly, Charlton still didn't stop fighting. However, unlike the first half (when they still conceivably could have fought their way back into the game), this was the honorable showing from an already-defeated samurai, one who knows their fate. And, of course, when you're depending on Jonatan Johansson to score goals for you off the bench...yikes.

Arsenal's third was somewhat inevitable, given the flow of the second half -- a half that was played almost entirely in Charlton's end (other than some more semi-dangerous free kicks that would have actually been dangerous if they had anything in the time zone of a real goal-poacher). And, it was just the typical Arsenal goal. Which means, of course, that it was a thing of absolute football mastery. Thanks to being able to rewind, I was able to track the entire goal for you...check this out...

Clichy runs down a loose ball in his own area. Up to Vieira in the middle. Pass to Campbell on the right. Quick tap up to Pennant (in for Freddie), back to Campbell, up to Vieira. This has gotten them most of the way through their zone, no one on Charlton has come close to touching it. Up to Bergkamp in the center circle, short to Reyes on the left, tap back to Vieira, through ball back to Bergkamp, beating two defenders in the process. Reyes sort of knocked it off a Charlton man, which would be the only time they would come within astronomical units of the ball in this entire sequence. Longish low pass up to Henry, who then finds the running Reyes in the left side of the penalty area. Reyes with the square pass to Henry, in the middle, just outside the area. Henry draws both defenders over to him, and he sends it back out to Reyes. Reyes pauses, moves a bit further to the endline, drawing both Charlton defenders back to him. That leaves Henry wide open in the very same spot he was in when he made the pass. Reyes kicks it back out to him, rocket of a shot into the top shelf, no chance for Kiely, 3-0 Arsenal.

Arsenal fans, know that this team is a joy and a privilege and no one deserves to have a team of this class and quality. This is absolutely ridiculous, but hey, I'm not complaining. Trevor Francis actually had a great line here: "These are class players they're playing against, and Arsenal is just taking the mickey." It's so true...when Arsenal finds this gear, they're just not even trying. Charlton are, for the 2934028th time, a really good side. And, to do this to them...damn. Martin Tyler: "I can't believe I'm even suggesting this, it's really quite ludicrous, but when Arsenal gets like this, they're almost trying to spread the goals around. Here, you have one."

Seconds later, Reyes got the ball almost where he made the pass to Henry from. But, on his own, he hammered the ball past Kiely from an impossibly-sharp angle, right into the far corner of the net. As wonderful as that was, it was the THIRD best goal of the match. As great as the opener was, that was the FOURTH best goal of the match. What else can you say?

So yes, international break is upon us, so two weeks hence is when next we shall meet...

...no, actually quite sooner. See, I (unlike many Arsenal bloggers) actually love international matches. So, as a semi-protest about the constant whining about international break, I'm going to report on the U-21 match between England and Wales. Hey, it's on free TV, so why not? See you then.


Nope...missed the game.

Woke up on Saturday, and then it was like two in the afternoon before I remembered that it was indeed the day that Arsenal was playing. Whoops. My bad.

That said, Arsenal 4-0 Charlton is not only a great result for us, it's making me have a rethink on just how good Athletic is these days. I don't think they're anywhere near as good as they were two seasons ago. I'm beginning to think that Scott Parker was absolutely vital to that side, and they've never been able to recover from the way he abandoned them so quickly. I think his months of warming the bench is karma and nothing less.

Outside of that, got nothin'. The international break is coming up, so if I don't have my shit together in two weeks, well, then I didn't deserve to have readers anyway. :)

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