Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal

Well, shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

Xabi Alonso - 41'
Patrick Vieira - 57'
Neil Mellor - 90'

The Champions: Jens Lehmann -- Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisane-Etane -- Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Francesc Fabregas Soler, Fredrik Ljungberg -- Thierry Henry, Jose Antonio Reyes (Robin van Persie 67). Subs not used: Manuel Almunia (GK), Justin Hoyte, Philippe Senderos, Mathieu Flamini.

The Scousers: Chris Kirkland -- John Arne Riise, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Steve Finnan -- Harry Kewell, Xabi Alonso, Dietmar Hamann, Steven Gerrard -- Neil Mellor, Florent Sinama-Pongolle (Antonio Nunez 69). Subs not used: Jerzy Dudek (GK), Igor Biscan, Salif Alassane Diao, Stephen Warnock.

Well, we lost, and in devastating fashion. It's never fun when someone drives a stake into your heart just as the last seconds are ticking away, but I honestly can't complain with this one. Liverpool deserved to win, and it would have been horrendously unfair for them if they hadn't...the nature of how they beat us makes it worse, but the point remains that they came in with a gameplan, executed it beautifully, and were flat-out the better team on the day. All congratulations must go to Rafa Benitez and his men, as you can't even say the Arsenal played poorly. This was actually one of our better efforts in a while, and we still got outplayed. It happens, especially when on the road against quality opposition.

Liverpool and Arsenal both had similar defensive game plans, oddly enough. Of course, it should be familiar to us, as it isn't too different from what we've always did under Wenger...stay aggressive and press the ball all over the park, and try and force turnovers that way. Liverpool opted for the same strategy, and it made for an interesting first half. Say what you will about the Arsenal defense, but there could be no excuses now with Sol Campbell back in the lineup. And, of course, Vieira was his usual combative ball-winning self. However, Liverpool are a match for us in this respect...Kirkland is about as good as Lehmann in goal, their back four is just as splendid as our (first-choice) one is, and Steven Gerrard (whether you like him or not) is a fantastic player who is every inch as good as Vieira when he's on form. We have met the enemy, and they look just like us. Because of this, there wasn't that many clear-cut chances in the entire match...the whole thing was played at an extremely high level defensively. Gerrard, who was easily the Man of the Match, actually was supposed to be on the right wing today. But, he was everywhere, thwarting one Arsenal attack after another. Liverpool fans have to be delighted with this, especially as this is his first full game back after that lengthy injury.

Actually, that was the difference. Other teams have tried the full-field press on us as well (Charlton comes right to mind), but most sides can only keep it up for so long. Conditioning is a factor, as is the general skill of the defenders. Normally, all it takes is a Pires dummy or a Henry flick, and all of a sudden there's beaten defenders everywhere. But, the Scousers always had a boot in to break it up, always had someone in support if they needed it, rarely missed a marking assignment...they were just brilliant in general. Likewise, Liverpool made some strong attacks, but we generally did a good job of fending them off. That said, I have to be honest and say that referee Alan Wiley erred greatly early in the match when he turned down Gerrard's claim for a penalty. It was a tough call in real time (you have to give the ref that benefit of the doubt), but the replays show that Kolo clearly kicked him in the knee, which very obviously took away a scoring chance. A red would have been harsh (have I ever mentioned that I fucking loathe the "professional foul" rule? Only like 20 times? Fine, here's 21: I fucking loathe the professional foul rule), but the penalty and a yellow would have been perfectly fair. Actually, speaking of Kolo, he had a bit of a middling effort for us tonight. He made mistakes, but fair play to him, he recovered beautifully on most of them. More on that later. Despite our play not being terrible, the Arsenal offensive machine just couldn't get going in the first half. The thing is, when you have a complicated and sophisticated machine, it's crucial that evey part is working well...and working in unison. So, if the first touch gear or the the final pass cog are sticking, the whole thing shuts down. It doesn't help when there's a bunch of Scouse punks jamming things up, too!

As the half wore on, it seemed to me that if anyone was going to score, it was going to be Liverpool. They threatened with a nice header from Kewell, off a wonderful cross from Finnan. Lehmann (who was absolutely brilliant today) did real well to save it. I say Lehmann was brilliant not only for the saves he made, but because he made some essential interventions (with feet, with hands, and with his head once) to help out the Arsenal defense when the Scousers were swarming forward. He has been a target in the past (and rightfully so in some cases) for being somewhat dodgy in that aspect of his game, but his awareness and distribution were top-notch today. It took until the 40th minute, but then the inevitable happened...an absolutely sublime (dare I say Arsenal-esque?) buildup from Liverpool culminated in a nice slide-rule pass from Gerrard to Alonso, who was just outside the area. The resulting thunderbolt from the Spanish midfielder was unstoppable by any human walking the earth...it was always going into that top corner. So, heading into the half, the home side were up by one...and you had to think that they were good for it.

But, several factors come into play here. Arsenal have been a better second-half side all year...Arsene always seems to get them going after the interval. And, as mentioned before, it's hard for a pressing team to maintain a perfect defensive record, even within a single game. Because the defender is committing on almost every play, a quick series of passes (especially a quick give-and-go) can certainly beat not only the man marking you, but also the man coming in to help out. That opens up space, so that the third man in will have time and space to either shoot, or get it into a position where someone can. Now, if there's anyone in the league who knows a thing or two about unlocking defenses, it is the Arsenal. That in mind, even the most hardcore Scouse supporter couldn't have been that suprised when Arsenal got the equalizer. While they hadn't seriously threatened until the goal, they came out much more brightly in the second half, and anyone who follows this team with any regularity could tell that the passes were being strung together just that little bit better. Sure enough, a great team move ended with Pires just outside the area. He scythed a pass through the two defenders as carefully and effectively as a neurosurgeon, leaving Vieira alone with Kirkland. PV4 isn't normally a scorer, as it's hard for the defensive holding midfielder to efficiently get into scoring areas without shirking his defensive responsbilities. However, when he's one-on-one with a goalkeeper, he almost never misses, and that's what happened here. Instead of trying to put a hole in the net to match Thomas Hitzlsperger, he simply lofted the ball over Kirkland (who was diving to his near post, as he should) and into the far side netting. Full marks to Kirkland, though...even going the wrong way, it looked like he got a hand on it.

After the equalizer, the game settled into a more-equal version of the first. Both sides made a change as the 70th minute neared -- van Persie came on for the disappointing-yet-again Reyes, while Nunez made his Scouser debut in place of the injured Sinama-Pongolle (if this keeps up, they're going to have a ball boy on the bench by Boxing Day). Neither man made much of an impression, but it couldn't have hurt either side to have fresh legs on. Anyway, Vieira got himself stupidly booked, and now he's going to miss the Chelsea match. Fucking wonderful...not like that one has any importance or anything, eh Patrick? Even worse, he probably should have been sent off for a fucking shameful dive. We all hate it when that bastard van Nistelrooy does it, and we hated it when that vile prick Kewell did it for them. news flash, Paddy: You're big and tall and strong, and referees know this. When a stiff breeze is enough to make you fall over, they're going to catch on pretty quick...the only way this would work with any regularity was if your shirt said "Vodafone" on it, and Mike Riley was the referee.

The momentum turned again, though, and Arsenal again were finding it difficult to deal with Liverpool's pressing. Gerrard got a fortuitous bounce at the edge of the area, but his scything shot across the face of goal was parried wonderfully by Lehmann...he got a strong enough hand on it to clear the danger entirely. Henry almost scored a wonder goal himself, though, as his ridiculously audacious shot from 40 yards out or so was only a little bit wide. If it was on target, it was in...Kirkland was a very, very beaten man. Henry also had the ball in the area a few minutes later, but the ball wouldn't sit for him, and that allowed three defenders to close in on him. That ended up being very important in the final reckoning, of course.

Mellor was kind of anonymous for most of the game, at least in terms of actual chances. However, he did plenty of running as the lone front man at times (Sinama-Pongolle and then later Nunez would cover the right flank when Gerrard was off doing his free-role thing), and he created some pressure on the Arsenal defenders with his part of the pressing game. However, what a wonderful strike he came up with to get all three points for the bastards...a high lofted ball caused confusion between Kolo and Sol. In volleyball (especially the beach variety), they call it the "husband-and-wife" play...each thinks the other is going to get it. As soon as I saw the two defenders in disarray, I audibly whispered "oh, shit." Sure enough, Mellor did really well to get between them. Now, keep in mind that he was on the run, and he had the barest of seconds to work with in between two top-class defenders who are both strong and quick. To do that and then half-volley a shot with pace and accuracy into the top corner...all you can do his tip your hat to him. It was a fabulous goal, and again, no less than Liverpool deserved.

So, I close with this. Bill Simmons of espn.com's Page 2 has his Ewing Theory (team gets better when supposed indispensible star player goes down with injury or gets traded), I have my First Law of Football: Just because you aren't familiar with a player or a team doesn't mean that they aren't class, and it certainly doesn't mean that they can't beat you.



Tooling around the net today, I've come across several blogs that I haven't seen before that are linking to my site. I'm both amazed and thankful...I much appreciate it.

If anyone out there is linking to me and I haven't yet returned the favor, please e-mail me (link is on the right, up at the top), and I'll get that sorted out straightaway.



I missed having a Site Meter...

Now that I've been able to get my Site Meter to work without it cutting my page in half, some helpful hints for people who got here via specific search threads:

Jenna Jameson Hell on Heels: Ummm...not that I mind, don't get me wrong. I enjoy her work, like most other males. Am I missing something here? Is Arsene going to put her up top with all the striker injuries we've had? Maybe she could use her mammoth mammaries to clear some space for Lupoli or something.

Brooklyn roller derby team: I'm not going to be able to help you with this one. I'm still finding my way around the neighborhood, let alone knowing if where a roller derby team would play. Coney Island, maybe?

Cesc Fabregas mullet: Why yes, yes he does. What can I add to that?

arsenal blog: I guess I can be thrilled that my humble site showed up as the third result in this search...though I wonder how many of the hits are coming form people surfing for porn. *smirk*


Arsenal-PSV tonight

I have certainly enjoyed my time in the Arseblog forums so far...there have been quite a few interesting and fun arguments so far. However, the downside is that I've been so busy arguing in there, I've forgotten about blogging entirely. It also didn't help that FSW didn't show the Arsenal-WBA match, and that last weekend was the weekend from hell (thus I couldn't make it to Nevada's).

Despite this being a holiday weekend, I hope to have a match report up for the Sunday match against the Scousers...enjoy your holiday, everyone.


Racism, Football and You

By now, every possibly drop of coverage has been wrung out of the Spain-England racism story, and with good reason -- it's a horrific situation based out of one of the most vile of man's failings. However, in the wake of all this, let's not all pile on Spain and the Spanish, and assume that they are the only villans here. Like almost anything else in life, it's not that simple.

First off, despite how hollow and insincere it sounded from the Spanish FA's press liaison, I really am willing to believe that the racist chants came from a minority, and don't reflect the nature of their nation as a whole. I think it's ridiculous to call a nation racist...racism doesn't know any borders. No abstract idea does...the idea of "nation" is an arbitrary one. In our short-attention span age, we've already forgotten what happened to the English team in Macedonia, the Lazio fans unravelling racist banners over in Italy. Are the Macedonians and Italians evil too? If these are racist nations, show me one that isn't.

The thing is, racism is everywhere. Anywhere that men draw breath, there will always be people who feel the need to exclude others -- racism, though a practice built on exclusion, is actually an inclusive practice. It is designed to and thrives on the idea that "we're together because we're not (insert color here). It's ultimaately not surprising that football ends up serving as a lightning rod for this kind of behavior...what is more inclusive than being a sports fan and supporting the same team? In the passion and fervor that sports (especially this one) fosters in people, it ends up not being all that shocking that racism becomes a bit more blatant than it would in other avenues. When 55,000 people are singing about two or three people (separated by the fences and security guards)...man, it sure is easy for those brave thousands to make monkey noises at the two guys down on the field. If Mr. Racist (in Spain, or Macedonia, or the United States, or Australia, or Uganda or...) sees someone of the color they hate (make no mistake...racism goes in every way possible...not just white on black) in a restaurant somewhere, he's not going to make a fucking peep, is he?

I think that when given a hard look, we really are better off than we were in 1950, far better off than we were in 1850, light-years better most likely than in 650. We at least make the pretense in most cases of understanding and caring about one another. And, while FIFA should absolutely punish the Spanish FA for letting this happen, the Spanish FA isn't the barrier between us and a racism-free world...best to be absolutely honest about that.

The barrier between us and a racism-free society is...well...us.


Tottenham Hotspur 4-5 Arsenal

Disclaimer: if any of my analysis is silly or incorrect, I blame sleep deprivation. Fucking 7 AM EST kickoffs.

Naybet (37)
Henry (45)
Lauren (pen 55)
Vieira (60)
Defoe (61)
Ljungberg (69)
King (74)
Pires (81)

So, another boring North London derby then, huh?

The lineups:

The Champions: Jens Lehmann - Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisan-Etane - Jose Antonio Reyes (Robert Pires 68), Patrick Vieira, Francesc Fabregas Soler, Fredrik Ljungberg - Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp (Robin van Persie 82)

The Lily White Scum: Paul Robinson - Noe Pamarot, Noureddine Naybet, Ledley King, Erik Edman - Reto Zeigler, Michael Carrick, Miguel Pedro Mendes (Simon Davies 68), Michael Brown (Frederic Kanoute 76) - Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane (Anthony Gardner 90)

My alarm went off at 5:50 in the AM this morning, as I anticipated a packed Nevada Smith's for this one, hideous start time aside. Turns out we didn't have to leave THAT early, but in the end, it turned out to be a match worth not sleeping at all to see (as my roommate did...I got about four hours). While we all hate the Tottenscum, even the guy with the reddest-and-whitest glasses out there has to admit that derby day is always a tough proposition. Hell, any London derby is a battle, as Crystal Palace so emphatically proved last week. One thing I was especially worried about was the New Broom Syndrome, with the alien-looking Martin Jol now officially in charge of the North London Sunday Parks League All-Stars. But, while it often wasn't pretty, Arsenal were just a shade less embarrassing on the defensive front than their opponents. This is three points that I don't mind having, and putting five past the white bastards is a wonderful bonus. Hey Martin! Ishn't dat veeeeeeeird?

If you saw the first twenty minutes, however, you would have bet all four of your limbs that there wouldn't be three goals in it, let alone nine. The Scum had the better of it in the early going...they weren't entirely in the rhythm of the game themselves, but Arsenal were just awful. Passes going too far, guys not making runs, the first touch failing everyone. To give our opponents some credit, they were defending decently, and they were starting to find some cohesion in the midfield. It was a worrying sign, and I figured that they would be more likely to score first (if anyone were to score at all) if it kept up. Even though Arsenal started to get some possession after the 20-minute mark, they couldn't string enough passes together to seriously threaten the Scum defense. And, as Arsenal improved, so did the Scum...by the half hour, they had all gotten onto the same page. Unsurprisingly, they were the ones to open the scoring. They won a free kick in a mildly dangerous area, but I didn't think there'd be anything in it (by the half hour, I thought this had "dire 0-0 draw" written all over it). Carrick floated it in beautifully though, with Naybet wide open. An easy finish ensued, and I can't say they didn't deserve it at the time.

So, 1-0 down, and it damn near could have been two. For all of you that assign all non-Cygan blame to Crazy Jens, I want you to pay close attention to this bit. If we go down 2-0 at Shite Hart Lane, this very likely ends up becoming a different game. A shot got deflected, and it looked like it was going to tuck itself in right underneath the crossbar. But, Lehmann recovered brilliantly and managed to juuuuuuust paw it over the crossbar. If we win the league by three points or less this season, I want you all to remember that save.

The rest of the first half dragged itself along, and the prospect of trailing to the Scum at halftime loomed large. But, in retrospect, could we really have expected Henry to stand by and let that happen? Like many of the goals in this game, it came out of virtually nothing -- Lauren just kind of hoofed a ball into the area. Henry did well to bring it down with two defenders on him. He scuffed the shot, but that's what I think beat Robinson...he had to be expecting Thierry to blast it. When a shooter is going to put power on a shot, they have to take an extra second or so to tee it up, and in that second, the goalkeeper will get himself set as well...planting his feet, mentally preparing for an object to come flying at him at high speeds, that sort of thing. But, while it all only takes a second, you're completely incapacitated in that moment. So, when a quick scuffed roller comes at you in that state, that's why you see a lot of goals scored that way. The keeper would save it normally, but the misdirection leaves them a second too late to get there. That aside, it was yet another case of Henry coming through in the clutch. That was a massive, massive goal...even if it probably didn't make Le Boss lower his voice any during the halftime team talk.

Whatever Arsene said though, it worked. From the second-half kickoff on, the guys had an energy and verve that was sorely lacking in the first half. The passes still weren't connecting, the runs still weren't timed right, but you at least thought that it was getting there. The thought was no longer "I'll take a point out of this"...it was becoming "If we can just make that one last adjustment, we're going to kick their fucking asses." It didn't pan out right away...the uncharacteristically-poor Reyes had a glorious chance fall by the wayside when he scuffed a shot tamely at Robinson (for the misdirection thing to work, you have to go low to a corner. It's far easier to make a reflex save high than it is low...you can even try this at home. Throw your hands up to where a corner would be real quick. Now, try and throw your hands down to where a low corner would be real quick...see which one is faster). Still, the gears were starting to turn, the understanding slowly coming back. The Lily White bastards were living on borrowed time.

The Scum had been strong defensively (Edman had a good game for them even in the final reckoning, at least from what my sleep-deprived mind could tell), but their back line collectively turned back into a pumpkin in the 55th, when Pamarot (who allowed a few calls against him to completely take him out of focus) hauled down Freddie in the area. While I'd be lying if I said that Freddie hadn't dived a few times previously (and Reyes looked like he was auditioning for the Olympics at times), this was as easy a penalty call as there can be. It was unquestionably a foul, and one that took away a scoring chance to boot. Oddly, Lauren was the one to take the spot kick. I thought that a strange choice, but the man did his job with the coolest of finishes. Two-One to the Arsenal, but it was three almost before the celebrations died down. Miscommunication among their increasingly-ragged back line allowed PV4 to steal the ball in their half. While the skipper is not known for his amazing offense prowess, he certainly had no problems scything past the little resistance there was. Even better, his finish was more reminiscent of a deadly striker than a defensive midfielder, as he easily looped the ball over the charging Robinson.

You have to give the Scum credit, though. They easily could have folded their tents and played out time on several occasions. But, they showed an uncharacteristic spirit, and got themselves back into the match. See, the thing with them is that they have a pretty talented assemblage of players, especially on the offensive side of the ball. For instance, I had never seen this Ziegler before, but he was fantastic for them. His bombing runs down the wing and his crossing skill gave us problems for the whole match. As a team, they get the ball through midfield very well, and they're arguably better finishers than a certain other rival of ours (no names given, but it starts with "Manchester United"). Seconds later, Defoe got one back for them off of an amazing individual effort, capped by a wonderful finish into the top corner.

That may have caused some nervous moments, but Arsenal were (offensively, at least) almost in that same mega-gear they found against Boro earlier this season. Boro are a far better side than Spurs, but the guys were just good enough to tear apart the futile roadblocks that the Scum tried to throw up. Just 8 minutes after Defore inched Spurs closer, Arsenal were again two goals in front. Cesc got the ball at the edge of the area, and his pass (against the grain of his own motion) to Freddie left everyone in a white shirt for dead. Once again, Robinson was the last guy standing in the Alamo. Freddie easily finished, and the game was dead. Right?

Well no, actually. That damned Carrick curled another free kick in, and King got on the end of it to close the gap. At this point, a game of "Can You Top This?" was breaking out...and with both defenses doing their best Jenna Jameson impersonation, this would have been a 9-8 game if they had played like this from the start.

(OK, I admit it...I'm rushing through this. Football Manager 2005 calls out to me. It's saying: "Don't finish the match report...no one reads this shite anyway. Play me...plaaaaaaaaaay meeeeeeeeeeeee")

Mendes went off for them, and pouted his way into the dressing room. Good luck with him, Mr. Jol. You may want to look into a full-time nanny. The disappointing Reyes went off to make way for Pires, and he made his presence felt bigtime. However much that kidney infection is bothering him, it's more than the Tottenham defense was able to...that's for sure. In a goal that ended up even better than Defoe's, Super Rob beat about 38271937 defenders, and then slotted home past the short side of Robinson. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. The Scum closed the gap again, though, when that damned Zeigler produced a wonderful cross that sprung Kanoute for an easy finish.

That 15 minutes or so of injury time didn't have you biting your nails, right? Nope...me neither.

But, either way, the job is done, the Scum are seen off despite a horrendous defensive performance, and Sol is coming back in three games. Works for me. Hopefully those blue cunts on the other side of London get stuffed in their London derby later today. As for us, West Brom at home next week...that should be the perfect game in our incremental climb back up from the Old Trafford injustice. See you then!


On the red card and the penalty...

Seeing what has gone down in the EPL the last few weeks, I thought I'd discuss some general football content for a bit. The thing about this greatest of sports is that because there are less scoring plays than in rugby or baseball or basketball or even ice hockey, every single one takes on far greater importance than almost any try or home run or three-point shot that you care to mention. To digress for a second, it also causes far more importance to be attached to luck than in any other sport. One lucky bounce can determine an entire season, whereas you'd be hard pressed to successfully argue that point with other sports (except maybe boxing or other combat sports, where one lucky shot can potentially knock anyone out). With all of this in mind, I don't think that referees honestly understand the impact that penalties and red cards can have on an entire campaign, let alone one skirmish.

Now, don't get me wrong. The first thing that people might think is that this in response to the Manshit United game...but, it simply isn't true. What actually caused this to enter my mind again (I say again because I never fail to ponder on this point six or seven times a season) was the red card issued to Jussi Jaaskelainen, and the mind-blowingly horrendous penalty/non-penalty calls in the Newcastle vs. Fulham match (and when I agree with that lunatic Souness, you know I feel strongly about it).

Also, don't get me wrong and assume that I have the same mindless hatred for referees that everyone else does. Believe it or not, Mike Riley aside, most of them are actually very good at their job. I freely admit to almost never being able to tell the difference in normal time between a foul and a dive. I've been watching sporadically for about 10 years, and I've been a rabid fan for at least 6. But, I still can't do it...sometimes, I can't even tell from the slow-motion replay. And, in the Jaaskelainen case, it was such a borderline call that a referee is going to have people calling for his head no matter what he does. I understand their plight, and can even talk from experience somewhat. I served one summer as an umpire in my old town's baseball Little League. Now, for those of you in England or other locales, everything you've heard about our parents is true...get little Jane or Johnny onto a sporting field, and the parents become a rabid, mindless mob of pure short-sighted evil. I had one parent try to get onto the field to attack me, because I called his little boy out on strikes (for any Englishmen present, it's sort of like getting their wicket taken).

With that out of the way, like I said, I still don't believe that referees or the authority figures of the game (going all the way up to that creepy old bastard in charge of FIFA) understand just how devastating a frivolous call in this respect can be. While nobody has apparently ever worked out a statistical method of tracking this stuff, you have to assume that a penalty or having an extra man (especially from the 70th minute or before) correlates to a much higher chance of winning. I'd love to find out, but I don't have the slightest idea of how to go about it. Anyway, I feel that both should only be saved for extreme instances...it should be sort of like how our justice system (theoretically, anyway) goes...you're innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I'm not advocating that referees be shy about resorting to either. Actually, I think they err just as much in the realm of not giving them as they do with producing the card or pointing to the spot. A penalty, in my estimation, should only be given when an absolutely obvious scoring chance is denied to the attacking team. With the Jaaskelainen "foul", there was no guarantee that the attacking player was going to score...at least not in my view. And, the most important fact to me was that if the first contact came right on the line...you can't conclusively say (especially in real time) that he handled outside the area. And, if you want to say it's a penalty because of contact in the box, can you conclusively say that that the keeper didn't get to the ball first? That it was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a play that robbed the attacker of a real chance to score? Look, if Pierluigi Collina called that a penalty, then I'll believe him. Even if Major League Soccer's Brian Hall pointed to the spot, I wouldn't argue that much. But, for a guy who I believe is a rookie EPL ref to be that sure...I'm sorry, I just don't agree (though I do admit that I'm wide open to my own "if you haven't heard of them, that doesn't mean they aren't good" argument from the Crystal Palace match report).

Even worse, I think referees who call a penalty for an inadventant handball on the line by a defender should be caned. Many of my USA-supporting brethern wanted Hugh Dallas' head for not calling the spot kick against Germany in the World Cup quarterfinal (Torsten Frings was the man in question, right?). I think most of us, having had time to digest the loss and realize what a great step forward it was for our boys, would admit that a penalty there would have been amazingly harsh and stupid. However, since I also support Celtic, I generally tend to want Hugh Dallas' head anyway. Heh. All kidding aside, penalties for things like that and obvious dives in the penalty area (Hi, Rooney! Hi, van Nistelrooy! Hi, just about everyone in Serie A!) are infuriating to the discerning fan. Well, they're infuriating to everyone except the beneficiaries, but realizing the true impact of such calls makes it even harder to swallow...especially in matches where you have no rooting interest, and are just trying to enjoy the game.

Red cards are a harder thing to pin down, though. I remember reading a stat one time that said that 75% of all penalty kicks result in goals. That is real, tangible, and I can certainly believe it. When you take into account that the average professional soccer match probably has an average score of one-point-something to one-point-something, any team on the planet is always going to be happy to have a free 75% chance at a goal. But, no one has ever crunched the numbers to determine exactly what being a man up gives you, statistically speaking. For one thing, getting a man sent off in the 89th minute is a far different proposition than having one sent off in the 2nd. You could of course conceivably concede the winning goal in the 90th, or nick a 1-0 win with a man down the whole game (the latter is possible especially when playing the Tottenscum). But, how many times have we seen a man sent off only for his side to earn a draw...or steal a win? What about when you get someone sent off up 3-0 or down 4-0? At that point, what's the difference? Also, the actual person getting sent off can determine a lot of things. If you get your central midfield engine sent off, that is far worse than having it happen to your center forward. Worst of all for most clubs is getting their goalkeeper sent off, as evidenced by the horrendous play of backup goalkeepers in the last round of EPL matches (that guy from Southampton, Blayley, needs a ticket back to Stockport County in the worst possible way).

Still, while it may be impossible to actually quantify, it's hard to imagine that a red card against doesn't adversely affect your side's chances in some way. While the immediate affect of a penalty kick is greater -- an almost certain goal, RIGHT NOW -- the potential damage of a red card is actually far greater...the degree of which depending on how early the card comes. Say you're winning 1-0, with several tough matches coming up. What would be the bigger nightmare scenario? Having an unfair penalty called against, almost surely resulting in a 1-1 draw and two points lost? Or, having a guy sent off...thus making you more likely to draw or lose the current game, and also having a player unavailable for those tough matches looming on the fixture list?

Let's take...oh....Everton with the examples above. They're still clinging to third place in the table (nearing the end of the first third of the season), and they have a stretch towards the end of the season that looks like this: Liverpool (away, and the Merseyside derby to boot), W.B.A. (away, and likely fighting for their lives at this point), Crystal Palace (home, but we know what kind of side they are now), The Champions (away), Manchester United (home). Assume that Everton is still at or near third place in the table...even call it fourth, for Champions' League qualification, how damaging would it be for a guy like Thomas Gravesen to be sent off before THAT run of matches? It could be the difference between third place and eighth. You may laugh, but consider this, in this brave new world of English football. Last season, fourth-placed Liverpool eked into the Champions' League with 60 points. Let's halt for a second, to consider that a 3-game suspension could cost up to 9 points in the standings. Last season, tenth-placed Birmingham City finished with 50 points...amazingly close to the 9-point margin I was talking about.

Now, imagine one club getting an important player unfairly sent off TWICE in one season.

Again, I don't mean to pick on referees, who have the hardest job in professional sports. I just wish that fans, referees and everyone associated with the game would keep in mind that decisions that affect a game to this extent should be handled with extreme care and discretion.

Oh, and as an aside, I've applied for the vacant Arsenal correspondent post at Soccernet. For your reading pleasure, here is the sample fantasy column I sent to them.

With the January transfer window now open, Arsenal fans across the globe are debating the merits of adding to the squad. While most sides could rarely go wrong with another warm body or two (given the usual problems with injury, suspension and poor form), Arsenal have the sort of problem that most clubs dream about.

In short, would buying now have an adverse affect on the young players on the verge of breaking through to the first-team squad? Sure, few Gooners are doing backflips at the prospect of more first-team appearances for the likes of Pascal Cygan (although the constant scapegoating is enough to get on any sane fan's nerves). However, if you buy someone now, where does that leave a young center-half like Philippe Senderos? Perhaps he'll be willing to wait two or three more seasons for his chance, but how likely is that, really?

The thing is, those of us on the terraces (or in pubs and living rooms here in the States) often lose sight of the bigger picture...it gets lost in our passion and our hope for the immediate future. Short-term reward is always nice, especially when it comes 49 times on the trot. However, my hope is that the men in charge of our long-term future keep their eyes firmly on that goal. Let's take a honest look at what we have, friends. Last season saw the Gunners go unbeaten in the league. Our Under-23 side has had amazing results in the Carling Cup the last few seasons. The present is already bright, the future already even brighter. Sure, Chelsea's emergence as our true rivals for the throne may have some of us wanting to match them, ridiculously-huge squad for ridiculously-huge squad. But, the truth of the matter is that our club has to run on a different economic model (which is completely fine with me, might I add). Whereas Chelsea can throw money at players they only have a marginal-at-best need for, Arsenal have to keep cost matters in mind.

Look at it this way. If you buy John Aboveaveragecenterhalf, you are spending money to gain a player. But, you are also spending potential...you are spending the development time, the precious few minutes that they already get for guys like Senderos, like Justin Hoyte, like Ryan Garry, like Gael Clichy. Sure, some will fall by the wayside...that's fine. Le Boss has always proven to be an impeccable judge of talent. Those that remain must be given their chance at becoming Arsenal first team players, or else why do we even have a youth development program in the first place? On the other side of the coin (quick, before Chelsea uses it to buy whoever this year's version of Scott Parker is), allowing our youth players to have first crack at replacing Cygan and providing cover for Cole and Campbell and Toure not only doesn't cost the side anything monetarily, it maximizes the potential of the young players we have here already.

The bottom line is that Arsenal has an embarrassment of riches already. Caving in to the idea of desperation replacements not only could be damaging to Arsenal's profits and the chemistry of the club, it would have a devastating effect on the future that Arsene Wenger is trying to create for us heading into the upcoming new era of the club.


Crystal Palace 1-1 Arsenal

Palace 1 (Aki Riihilanti 65')
Arsenal 1 (Thierry Henry 63')

If you haven't seen the match, you'll have a pretty vivid picture of what this match was like based off the match reports and everything else. Of course, the picture is absolutely wrong, but when has that ever stopped the English sporting press before? I'll get into that for a second, but first, here were the lineups.

The Champions: Jens Lehmann - Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisane-Etane - Robert Pires (Robin van Persie 72), Patrick Vieira, Francesc Fabregas Soler (Mathieu Flamini 81), Fredrik Ljungberg (Dennis Bergkamp 72) - Jose Antonio Reyes, Thierry Henry

The Eagles: Gabor Kiraly - Emmerson Boyce, Danny Granville, Tony Popovic, Gonzalo Sorondo (Mikele Leigertwood 24) - Wayne Routledge (Vassilis Lakis 52), Aki Riihilanti, Michael Hughes, Ben Watson - Joonas Kolkka (Dougie Freedman 80), Andy Johnson

That out of the way, the match reports (and probably the highlight shows too, when they come out) will make you feel like Arsenal are now the worst team walking the planet...I mean, how dare they drop two points on the road to another Premiership side? You might think I'm grasping at straws and going overboard with excuses. That's fine. If you do, then you don't understand several concepts -- first off, I knew this was going to happen when we finished last season unbeaten. The first rough patch we hit, people were going to be tripping over themselves to award the Premiership trophy to the next contender (in this case, a very, very good Chelsea side). Second, and I have been as guilty of this in the past as anyone, assuming that a team or a player is not worthy of being in the Premiership because you haven't heard of them is silly and incorrect. Crystal Palace have proven themselves to me, at least...these guys are staying up.

It all started brightly enough for the Gunners...Palace couldn't get past the center line for a good 20 minutes or so. It wasn't Arsenal at their absolute best, but look...get used to this now. As great a team as we have, they're not going to kill everyone 5-0 with three Goal of the Year contenders. In real life, sometimes Arsenal is only going to play decently-well instead of with sublime panache...sometimes, a spirited opponent will be able to do to us what Palace did.

In said 20 minutes, they came out and established their game plan, and they executed it extremely well. The 4 of you who actually read this may remember how I described Norwich City's setup as 2 lines of 4 guys in front of Robert Green, kind of like they were a 18th Century army. On that day, Arsenal scythed through the home defense, and on this day they didn't. But, while I like Nigel Worthington (he seems like a really nice guy) and I like Robert Green, Norwich City just don't have the horses to stay up in the Premier League. If they win four matches all year, I'll be very impressed. On the other hand, Palace is almost surely staying up, barring a rash of key injuries or Iain Dowie being plucked away by a bigger club. These guys have an insane fitness level, they defend very well, and more important than that, they are always dangerous on the counter-attack. Of course, Dowie is proving himself to be a legit Premierahip manager as well. Looking at the promoted sides, West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City are at least close to Palace defensively...maybe a B- to Palace's B+. But, the fact that Palace are a threat on the counter is what truly makes up the gulf in class between them. Norwich's best offensive option is Darren Huckerby...feel free to point and laugh, as I have several times. Albion has the exciting Zoltan Gera, who will surely find himself with another Premiership club when Albion get relegated.

Meanwhile, Palace have Andy Johnson, who is proving himself to be a more than capable of shining on this biggest of English stages. He's fast as hell, a good finisher, and can even be effective when playing as a lone striker (which is extremely hard to pull off). Their two Finns (Aki Riihilanti and Joonas Kolkka) are both capable, and I really like the guy they brought on as a sub, Vassilis Lakis. Not only do I dig seeing the real-life version of one of Championship Manager '02-03's cheap bargains, but he's tricky, he's fast, he's good on the ball...he's a nice little player. I don't understand why he's not starting for them, personally. Speaking of not understanding someone starting, can someone explain to me why Gabor Kiraly started the season on the bench for them? He's an international # 1 (Hungary's place on the pecking order notwithstanding), seems to have his positioning and angles down, has sharp reflexes...the only thing I can come up with is that he has a Lehmann-esque penchant for scary moments, especially on crosses.

As for us, I think we looked OK...everything up to the final third was great. They defended most of Palace's counters well enough (Kolo had a fantastic outing), and got the ball up into the enemy area very well. But, the final touch seemed to fail them, just as it did in the Southampton game (quick word on them: I think they're staying up too...they're just devastated with injuries, and I think their form is a statistical anamoly on top of it...they're better than their positon in the table). After that first 20 minutes though, Palace really got into the game, and had us on our heels on more than one occasion. Unfortunately for the Palace though, Gonzalo Sorondo went down with what they thought was a hamstring problem, and early into the match at that. It's always a nervous proposition when you're bring in the deputy's deputy, but I thought Mikele Leigertwood had a great game. It's even more impressive when match announcer Peter Drury spent a good two minutes after Leigertwood came in telling us how he was considered to be a First Division-level player.

Oh, a word about that, while I'm on the subject. They can stick this "League Championship" thing directly up their ass. On this website, you will only see the names Premier League, Division One, Division Two, Division Three, and the Conference.

Once Palace got settled into the game, it didn't take Nostradmus to see "0-0 at the half"...although Kiraly had to do well to save from a long-range effort by Kolo. Even after the restart, I figured this had nil-nil written all over it...mainly because both sides were doing a better job countering the opposition than creating anything themselves. But, out of absolutely nothing, Fabregas got the ball to Freddie, who crossed into the box. As noted before, Kiraly's weakness seems to be in handling these things, and it showed again here. I didn't see what he was trying to do, but when the replay got to him, he was on the ground for some reason. Henry was ridiculously open (meaning he only had one guy on him), and he easily nodded the ball into the vacated net. As I was breathing a sigh of relief (assuming we'd kill off the match), Henry showed more emotion that we've seen out of him in quite a while. He wanted that one as much as we all did.

But, the mark of a good side is being able to rebound from a mistake and get right back into a game. I'm beginning to think that Palace will be a good lower-midtable side, and two minutes later, they were level. The thing is, it wasn't an Arsenal mistake this time. It wasn't something you can blame on Pascal Cygan, which seems to be the new favorite sport among Arsenal fans (I hear he's responsible for AIDS, hunger, war, and George Bush being re-elected as well). They used their speed, some nice passes, and a clinical finish to get their goal...simple as that. It was a cross from Lakis in the end, and Riihilanti was there to direct it past Lehmann for the tying goal. Well done to them...they deserved it.

Actually, while a draw was a fair result, we couldn't have complained too much if Palace had actually won the damn thing. And, while Arsenal did get forward some after the goal, it was Palace who had a glaring chance to get all three points. Johnson was out wide (which he did to great effect throughout the match), and his cross found Lakis all alone in the area (OK, maybe this was Cygan's fault...I couldn't tell if Lakis was his or Kolo's to cover). But, Lakis' volley from four or five yards out went sailing over the crossbar. He may take some stick for it, but volleys aren't the easiest thing to control, and he did very well just getting that open. I guarantee you he'll get more chances like that, and he'll convert more than he misses. Johnson was always a threat as well, one instance requiring a Keown-esque saving tackle from Kolo to ease the danger.

I'll admit it...I breathed a little easier when the final whistle went. A little more van Persie magic would have been nice (speaking of which, our subs were largely anonymous in this one), but all told, I'll be glad with the point. Of course, Chelsea was able to see off Everton at home, so now they're top of the league by two points. However, don't put those blue and white ribbons on the trophy just yet, will you please? Not only is there a long way to go, Chelsea haven't had a stretch of not playing well yet...and, in a 38-game season, it's going to happen somewhere along the line. It's now up to Arsenal to stay consistent and get results more often than not. I think we can do it...we have a better chance than the Manchester scum, referee-assisted Battle of Old Trafford or not (wait until we get you at Highbury, you pricks).

So, it's Everton in the League Cup (as with the league names, so with the cup names...I'm not seeing any advertising money) on Tuesday. Good luck to the kids there, as a nice run in that competition will get some starts for people we can't fit into the starting 11 at the moment (van Persie, Flamini, Manuel Almunia). After that, next weekend sees our best chance at getting the train back on the rails...our annual trip to Shite Hart Lane to play the Tottenscum. Now without their allegedly-World Class manager, in disarray and coming off a home loss to stuggling Charlton Athletic...yes, please. I hope the guys are already drooling at the prospect of putting five or six past those jerkoffs. See you then.


Some catching up...

Time Warner is coming tomorrow to install my very own cable modem. It's worth the expense at this point.

In the meantime:

-- Portsmouth beats Man United: Karma comes in strange forms sometimes. The oddly misshapen form of Harry Redknapp may be one of the strangest of all, but I certainly am not complaining.

-- Arsenal 2-2 Southampton: Not the best result, but people often incorrectly assume that bottom-feeding clubs are going to just lay down and die when they come to Highbury. Unfortunately, unless the guys are playing their very best, teams like Southampton are going to be coming in and fighting for their Premiership lives...so, these results will sometimes happen. It could have been worse...without Super Rob(in), we could (and probably should) have lost the game outright. So, congrats to the Saints, and congrats to Rory Delap...who will probably never have another night like this ever again.

-- Arsenal 1-1 Panathinaikos: Another off-night in Europe, but again, at least we didn't lose. From the Soccernet commentary (done by Man United's # 1 fan apparently), it seemed as if the Greeks were exceptionally tough to break down. From what I gathered, they played a great away match, caught a lucky break (get off Cygan's back, guys...unless you want the 9-year old Senderos out there, he's what we've got), and got the point. Well done to them.

-- Only those with the reddest of red-colored glasses would try and dispute the fact that our guys are going down under the softest of challenges lately. I hate it, and I think we're better than this. However, in the wake of that vile pig-faced twat Rooney and his partner in Olympic-caliber crime, Rude vanDivingcheat, I can't blame them too much for their "if ya can't beat them, join them" attitude.

-- "OMHMYGODTIMETOPANIC": Arsenal fans, settle down, will ya? This will happen to Chelsea, as it already has happened to Manshit United. We'll even play worse at points this season, mark my words. However, when everything plays out in the end, we'll be right there...I promise you that.

-- Middlesbrough 2-0 Lazio: Non-Arsenal related of course, but I feel as if I have to congratulate the Boro for a fine, fine European win. It seemed from the match report as if they earned every bit of it, and congrats to Boudewijn Zenden for leading the way with both goals. I've told you and told you and told you again that Boro are an extremely good side this season, and Steve McLaren has them on absolute fire right now. Hell, I hope they win the whole effing thing...for Ray Parlour, if not anything else.

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