Thanks, Robin.

Our title hopes are dead and gone...that we knew. But, at this rate, our hope of finishing second seems to be falling by the wayside as well. Everton also won, so now they're just seven points behind us...now, I certainly don't believe that the Toffees will catch us, but can we completely discount it at this rate now? Anyway, the pertinent info:

Southampton 1-1 Arsenal

Fredrik Ljungberg (45)
Peter Crouch (67)

The Gunners: Jens Lehmann - Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Abib Toure (Emmanuel Eboue 75) - Robert Pires (Gael Clichy 45), Patrick Vieira, Mathieu Flamini, Fredrik Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie (sent off 52). Subs not used: Stuart Taylor (GK), Lauren Bisan-Etane, Jeremie Aliadiere.

The Saints: Paul Smith - Olivier Bernard, Claus Lundekvam, Andreas Jakobsson, Rory Delap - Graeme Le Saux (Paul Telfer 72), Nigel Quashie, Jamie Redknapp, David Prutton (sent off 45) - Henri Camara (Kevin Phillips 85), Peter Crouch. Subs not used: Michael Poke (GK), Callum Davenport, Danny Higginbotham.

Great. And as I write this, the red scum have just retaken the lead against Portsmouth with 10 minutes to go. Brilliant.

Anyway, this was always going to be tough for the Arsenal, given the absolutely horrendous decision by the FA to suspend both Bergkamp and Reyes for three matches due to the handbags against Sheffield United (Danny Cullip, by the way, wasn't punished at all for the stamp on the head that started the whole fracas). Also, remember that the Saints had us beat at Highbury until Robin van Persie's wonder strike rescued the point for us. In a way, I suppose it's fitting that Robin van Persie rescued a point for Southmapton in this match, as his petulance and horrifically short temper finally cost us in a key situation.

It could have been so much worse, too. The game wasn't even a minute old when Camara absolutely clowned Cygan, beating him to a long ball and then going around him as if he were a big, bald statue. To be fair, Cygan did track back and he did do just enough to deflect Camara's shot for a corner, but that's not exactly the kind of image you want to give your teammates in the first 30 seconds of a match. At any rate, it definitely set the tone for the half, as both sides played at an amazing tempo for the first 45. Southampton absolutely dominated the first five minutes...it wasn't shocking when the stat came up that they had 71% possession in that time. Things got a little better after our first real counterattack. Great passing from the defense and through the midfield got Henry into the penalty area. His lateral pass to van Persie left the young Dutchman with a glorious chance to score, but he ended up not hitting the target. A wasted chance for each side then, but perhaps we Gooners can be forgiven for thinking that van Persie really should have done better. At least on Camara's shot, he probably never expected Cygan to get back in time.

The next 20 minutes or so were quite enjoyable. Great passing from Arsenal, strong tackling from both sides...just perhaps a little bit short on the finishing stakes from both sides. It bears mentioning here that Senderos actually had a pretty good game in central defense. With the benefit of hindsight, I would rather have seen a backline of Cole-Senderos-Toure-Lauren, as the Cameroonian international's absence was never really explained. Was he hurt? Rested? Anyway, some half-chances were created on both sides, the best of which was probably van Persie's tame effort being stopped by former Brentford stopper Paul Smith (and how much I was to wish he was back in a Bees shirt, and not only because Brentford is my second team!). Also in this span, David Prutton and van Persie took reckless, stupid yellow cards. Ooohh...foreshadowing Southampton then had a good chance to score on a freekick, but Lehmann did well to save (actually, it was similar visually to the first Munich goal, and I feel lends credence to my statement that he really should have saved that one. There is also foreshadowing here as well with regards to one of the Munich goals and something later in this match).

Just as the half was dying out, Prutton stupidly flew into a tackle on Pires. I knew right then and there that he was off. But, Alan Wiley (who I feel did a tremendous job in refereeing a contentious match...he was everything that Neale Barry was not) smartly consulted with his linesman first. The linesman, who was about two feet away from the play, obviously suggested a yellow card, which Prutton was duly shown. Prutton went completely bonkers at that point, screaming at the linesman and even pushing the referee repeatedly to try and get at him! Now, can you imagine what would happen if this were an Arsenal player? It barely gets fucking mentioned in the reports today, but if it were Vieira or Henry, they'd get a 97-match ban and be fined the GDP of Mozambique. Of course, if it were Roy Keane or Cristiano Ronaldo, they'd get a stern finger-wagging and they'd be told that they were such naughty boys. Godfuckingdammit, the FA are really a bunch of cunts, aren't they? The worst part, though, was that Pires had to be stretchered off in favor of Clichy. The latter had a pretty decent match, but we could have used Pires' incisiveness and passing later on in the match. On top of that, given our already depleted squad, this is becoming an absolute nightmare.

But, I digress. As I mentioned last week, the first moments after having a player sent off are the most vulnerable ones, and the Arsenal proved my point by striking just seconds after the ejection. Ashley Cole's long shot was blocked by the Saints defense, but unfortunately for them, it came to Henry. Seemingly everyone in a red-and-white shirt tried to press Henry and force him off the ball, but he simply slid a lateral pass beyond all of them to the wide-open Ljungberg on the other side of the 6-yard box. Smith was all the way on the other side of the net as well, so Freddie was left with a simple tap-in to give us the lead. At that point, I would have bet my dodgy goalkeeping gloves that we were home and dry there. That took us to halftime, and as I write this, two awful things: 1. Robert Pires is apparently out for three matches with a severely-gashed ankle, and 2. The red scum have just put away Portsmouth. Awesome.

From the start of the second half, the men in blue (goddamn, how I hate having to type that) pressed the attack, and dominated the start of proceedings much like their opposition did in the first half. The only difference was that Smith had to do very well to palm away a close shot by Henry. Those types of saves that depend on positioning and reflexes are probably even more impressive to me than the flashy diving saves. But, that was to be the end of our dominance, though. Problem child van Persie lunged in with a reckless challenge on Le Saux, and deservedly received his second yellow. On his way to the dressing room, Wenger gave him a good piece of his mind, and rightly so. With Pires out and the FA single-handedly decimating most of our other offensive options, the last thing we needed was van Persie getting himself sent off. I suppose it's the classic case of "million dollar talent, ten-cent head."

That energized our opponents, and they started getting into the game more. Luckily for us, they couldn't really get anything going while we were at our most vulnerable, but in the end it didn't matter. Once again, set pieces proved our undoing, and it was one of the usual culprits who cost us once again. The actual defending was fine, but Lehmann (like the third goal against Munich) came charging off his line for a ball he was never going to get to. That allowed Crouch (who looks like he should be in the fucking NBA) to loop a header into the unguarded net. Well done, Jens. I've even been one of his bigger supporters, but now even I am consoling myself by imagining who we can get in the offseason (Issakson? Frey?).

After that, it was mainly Arsenal attacking, and the Saints holding on for dear life. Wenger strangely brought on Eboue for Kolo, but it didn't really make much difference. What did make a difference was the goalkeeping from Man of the Match Smith, who made some breathtaking saves...saves that won Southampton a point and cost us two. I'm a little pressed for time, so I'll leave it at that. At the death, there was much rejoicing as Ashley Cole got a header past Smith, but that was all so short-lived...it was pulled back for offside, and the replay showed that the linesman was 100% correct...Ash was offside by a good two feet or so.

Two things, and then I'll go.

1. First off, new link in the links section...Arsenal Images has some good stuff for sale, and you should definitely check it out. I'd pony up for the bar scene painting myself if I wasn't absolutely flat broke.

2. What the hell is going to be our lineup for the FA Cup replay and the match against Pompey? My best guess would be something like this:

Lehmann/Almunia - Cole, Cygan, Senderos, Toure - Clichy, Vieira, Flamini, Ljungberg - Henry, Aliadiere. Subs: Almunia/Lehmann, Eboue, Lauren, Fabregas (?), Quincy.

But, this is what I would want to see:

Lehmann/Almunia - Cole, Toure, Senderos, Lauren - Clichy, Vieira, Flamini, Ljungberg - Henry, Aliadiere. Subs: Almunia/Lehmann, Eboue, Cygan, Fabregas, Quincy.

If Fabregas is out, who will be the bench midfielder? Larsson?


An honor...

It's funny...for all the cliches about how the internet brings the world together and all, sometimes it turns out that it actually does. A routine check of my Site Meter tells me that a Gooner from Poland has actually put a link to this humble corner of cyberspace on his site.

Call me simple, but that blows my mind. One day, I would love to see and be part of a webring of Arsenal blogs that spans all seven continents (yes, even one run by someone stuck at one of those bases on Antarctica).

I have duly linked the fine gentleman from Poland back, over there in the links section.


Defiance, Part 2

Bayern Munich 3-1 Arsenal

We're NOT out.

I didn't see this one, being stuck at work and all. But, thanks to a kind soul on the Arseblog forums, I have seen the three Bayern goals. Thoughts follow:

Regarding The 1st goal: Don't believe the announcers...when the ball ends up beating you that close to your body, you always have at least a chance to save it...if your positioning and reflexes are there. I'm not saying that even most keepers would stop it...I'm saying the difference between a Lehmann and a Buffon is that Buffon probably stops this shot.

Regarding the 2nd goal: Hell of a time to have your worst-ever Arsenal performance, eh Kolo?

Regarding the 3rd goal: I have been among Lehmann's staunchest defenders, but this is inexcusable. A guy of his experience should know what he can and can't get to in terms of crosses...he's usually very good at that too, but he was NEVER getting to this one. He should have tracked back and covered his post. The Bayern guy was still likely to score, but he would have had to hit it much harder (thus giving him more of a chance to miss) rather than the tap-in he got.

Even still, don't toll the bells for us quite yet. Believe that 1-3 is better than 0-2...a 2-0 win will see us through to the next round. Yes, it's somewhat of a bleak hope, but it's not like we're trying to come back from 0-5 or something. If the squad gives their best, they certainly can see off those Bayern bastards and advance. And if not, it's my hope that at the very least, unlike tonight, they give an effort worthy of the Arsenal shirt in the return leg.

But, fair's fair. It's times like this when we see which of us Gooners are worthy of the badge as well. It's really fucking easy to support a team when they go unbeaten for a season...the team needs your support and needs your voices now.


A knockdown, drag-out encounter...

Arsenal 1-1 Sheffield United

Robert Pires (78)
Andy Gray (pen 90)

A bit controversial this one, eh? But, before I get to all that, I have to say...this was an absolutely cracking match. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this was the most fun I've had watching in quite a while...I only wish I had gotten up early enough to make the trip to the pub. As a matter of fact, I hope Sheffield United get promoted...this matchup needs to happen in the league next season. We've got a wonderfully bitter feud developing, I'd say, especially given recent FA Cup history. Anyway, the lineups:

The Gunners: Manuel Almunia -- Gael Clichy, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Abib Toure, Emmanuel Eboue -- Jose Antonio Reyes (Pascal Cygan 86), Francesc Fabregas Soler, Mathieu Flamini, Fredrik Ljungberg -- Robin van Persie (Robert Pires 65), Dennis Bergkamp (sent off 35). Subs not used: Stuart Taylor (GK), Sebastian Larsson, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie.

The Blades: Paddy Kenny -- Jon Harley, Danny Cullip, Leigh Bromby, Derek Geary -- Michael Tonge, Nick Montgomery (Jonathan Forte 82), Paul Thirlwell (Paul Shaw 45), Phil Jagielka, Andy Liddell (Simon Francis 82) -- Andy Gray. Subs not used: Alan Quinn, Danny Cadamarteri.

Well, let's get the obvious of of the way first...Neale Barry is probably the only referee in the league to rival Mike Riley in absolute incompetence and sheer cuntiness. Seriously, how does he get so many decisions wrong? Dennis gets sent off for wagging his finger at Cullip, he looks the other way at 2 legitimate shouts for a penalty (although to be fair, we were disgraceful with our constant diving all over the pitch, including more than once in the penalty area), and in the interest of fairness, the Sheffield United goal was a little harshly called back as well (although Almunia stopped on the whistle...had play continued, he certainly could have saved it). Barry was the one who let the tie get out of hand in the first place, as he let several absolutely shocking challenges from United go before things boiled over on the half hour or so. Even still, it was fucking handbags, and to send off someone for a non-contact violation (it was a violation, and it was worthy of a yellow card...not the red that jerkoff showed). That said, United probably did deserve something out of this game based on how well they played, but it's a shame that the referee ended up handing the draw to them (If Dennis is on the field for the whole game, we win it 3-1...not a doubt in my mind).

So yes, the actual match. United started off especially brightly, and actually created a half-chance right in the first minute. They really are no mugs, and they might have a better chance of surviving the Premiership than Norwich or WBA have this time around. I came away from this mightily impressed with several of their players -- first and foremost their goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny. He may look like a misshapen outcast from the lab that produced bald, shambling automatons like Cygan, but goddamn if he doesn't have all the tools to be a top class keeper in England. He's only 26, his shot-stopping is excellent, his positioning and angles flawless, and he gets up real well for high balls. If this guy isn't playing in the Premiership next season, I'll be surprised. I don't know if he has the quality to dislodge a Niemi or a Friedel or a Given, but I think he's far better than, say, Russell Hoult. Hell, he may not be too far removed from the two guys we've used this season. Actually, the guy he reminds me of is Dean Kiely. Along with him, I came away from this also impressed by Geary, Tonge, Cullip and Jagielka. I don't think they'd be everyday starters in the EPL, but how many teams would complain about having cover like that on their benches? Certainly, I could see any of them doing well for a team like Charlton. The thing is, they are so effective because of the style their team plays...and, whether we like him or not, because Neil Warnock is a pretty damn good manager. This Sheffield team has a bit of skill, but what they really have is a ton of spirit, an indomintable belief, and a sort of fighting determination that will always keep them in almost any match they play.

As for us, injuries and players rested for the big tie on Tuesday meant that we had a pretty thin squad, relatively...far younger overall then we're used to, certainly. Almunia, to his credit, rebounded from losing the first-choice keeper slot and had himself a pretty good game. As a matter of fact, Sheffield might have won this thing if Almunia hadn't kept out Gray's open header early on in the first half. To the untrained eye, it looked like he spilled another one. But, what really happened was that his positioning allowed him to be in front of the ball, and he did extremely well to paw the rebound away from danger. The stand-ins among the field players had pretty good games as well. The two wingbacks, Clichy and Eboue, were more than able deputies for the injured Cole and the rested Lauren. The central midfield pairing of Flamini and Fabregas (combined age: 12, maybe 13) were combative and spirited and passed the ball well. Senderos was OK in central defense, while Robin van Persie hasn't really broken out yet, and wasn't ever really a threat today.

Right from the opening whistle, United showed their intent with a hard foul on Reyes. That was the tone right from the beginning, and it predictably escalated as the game wore on. As mentioned, Barry did nothing to quell the rough stuff, and then was ridiculously harsh in sending off Bergkamp. It's too bad, because it ruined the game a little. Having 11 on 11 would have turned in already cracking match into something even better, I believe. Of course, a referee should never not send someone off if the player has committed an actual red-card infraction, but there weren't any of those in this match (scrappy as it was). United had been putting up an able fight anyway, and the red card gave them that extra little bit of drive. To be frank, I'm kind of surprised that they didn't score in the first half. They created several chances, including more than one free header in the penalty area. It's probably lucky for us that Liddell didn't get a chance to take any dangerous free kicks, or else we might be in West Ham's position right now. They did have more corner kicks in the match then us though, and they nearly scored from several of them. In fact, they're just generally good at set pieces. They're dangerous on the attack, and they defend them excellently as well. However, that didn't stop Kolo Toure from almost getting his first Highbury goal off a close free kick...his swerving effort had the corner of the net written all over it, but Kenny did amazingly well to not only get in front of it, but to catch it as well.

Halftime then, and no goals. Again, kind of surprising, but you have to be happy with that if you're Arsenal. After the break, they began to counter-attack with more precision and more verve than they had been previously. The first few minutes after getting a guy sent off are always vulnerable ones, as the guys on the pitch have to rearrange themselves with only the very little assistance you can get from the manager screaming on the sideline. Once they were past that, they settled in and started to bomb down the flanks as usual. Whether it was Clichy and Eboue or Reyes and Ljungberg, the Arsenal had far better going down the wings than they did in the middle. But, that's not to say that Flamini and Fabregas didn't pitch in as well. Actually, for my money, Fabregas was Man of the Match if Ljungberg wasn't. Speaking of Freddie, he was given the captain's armband after Dennis got sent off, and he fit the role especially well. I made it a point to watch him off the ball throughout the match, and you could see him marshalling the midfield and keeping Arsenal organized. Just an immense, immense effort from the Swede.

Now that I mention immense efforts, I have to say that BBC handles their coverage fantastically well. The camerawork shown by their people is perhaps the best I've seen in any sporting event. The close-in shots and the goalie cams and all of the rest of it are just superb, and it really enchances the enjoyment of the match for the viewer. I don't know who does the coverage for the EPL games that Fox Soccer Channel shows, but it's nowhere near as good as BBC's. If BBC did all the games, I might be more interested in that mid-January borefest between, say, Birmingham and Bolton. Also adding to the enjoyment of the game was the raucous atmosphere in the stands. The Sheffield supporters were in fine voice throughout the game, and the notoriously-quiet Highbury crowd livened up quickly once Bergkamp was sent off.

Around the hour mark, it became apparent that Arsenal needed a change in order to truly get going. Enter the super-sub, Robert Pires. Once the Frenchman came on, Arsenal arguably dominated the rest of the match offensively. Although that left us with no real striker, that doesn't matter so much with this Arsenal team. Pires, Reyes and Ljungberg all can score, and I don't think the day is too far off when Flamini and Fabregas start scoring as well. Sure enough, ten minutes later, the Gunners finally breached the Paddy Kenny forcefield to take the lead. Some great passing by the Arsenal midfield sent Flamini in with his back to goal. He beat his man with an exquisite spin around him, and then lashed a low shot at goal. Kenny did well to get a palm on it, and he almost had the rebound, too. But, Pires had just enough on his follow-up to get it in off the hand of Kenny. Surely not a goal for the highlight reels, but no Gooner in existence would have given it back, that's for sure. Even with a man down, it seemed that Arsenal were likely winners at that point. But, give Warnock credit where it's due...he made changes that paid off as well (although the one he made at halftime, Shaw for Thirlwell, might not have been so good. I actually didn't know Shaw played until I was getting the lineups from Soccernet). Forte and Francis seem like pretty good young players, and their speed and fresh legs helped Sheffield create some more in the offensive end. However, it was Cullip who created the Sheffield equalizer at the death. It was his ball that Senderos handled in the area, a penalty that I actually didn't have a problem with. It didn't seem 100% intentional, but you can't put your arms up when trying to head away a cross like that. Anyway, Gray converted the penalty easily, and now we have a replay on 3/1. I actually can't wait...that will make the average WWE cage match seem tame in comparison.

But, there's far more important things on the horizon first (and I say that despite the fact that I truly, truly love this competition). Munich on Tuesday is going to be a battle, and we will have to show the same spirit that Sheffield did against us in order to not let the tie get away from us. We'll again be without Cole and Campbell, and who knows how bad Henry's condition really is? It looked like Bayern might be headed for a dip in form after an awful 3-1 loss to Arminia Bielefeld, but they just hammered Dortmund 5-0 tonight, with a hat trick from Roy Makaay. So, it should be interesting, at the very least. As long as we keep it close (and especially if we can nick an away goal), I think we can put them away at Highbury. Here's hoping, anyway.

I'll close this time with the joyful news that my second-favorite team, Brentford, is still alive in the FA Cup as well. They came back from 2-0 down against Southampton to get a draw at St. Mary's, earning the replay at Griffin Park. I'll be rooting like hell for them, as it would also give the added bonus of one less EPL team alive in the competition. So far, the hat for thw quarterfinal draw is: Us/Sheffield United, Brentford/Southampton, The Red Scum of Manchester, Leicester City (who dumped out Charlton 2-1), Bolton, and tomorrow's Blackburn Rovers/Burnley, White Scum of London/Nottingham Forest, Newcastle/Blue Scum of London. Barring any further upsets, the final 8 would be us, Red Scum, Blue Scum, White Scum, Blackburn, Bolton, Southampton, Leicester. Personally, my greatest wish would be to knock out the White Scum in the quarters, the Red Scum in the semis, and then the Blue Scum in the final. If we were granted that, then I don't care if Bayern beats us by 10 goals. Really.


Chelsea's Millions vs. Competitive Balance

(Palace match report is down some, in case you get here late.)

Football is a business. It always has been (romantic notions of the past aside)...the sport is now just more honest about what it's always been about. As in any business, having more available money (hard capital) than your competitors is an advantage not to be taken lightly. Today, the question on the minds of many supporters is whether Chelsea’s recently-found Russian billions are going to disrupt whatever competitive balance remained in the English Premier League. Given some of the hysterical cries from some corners of the media, and the equally ridiculous wailing from many fans of other clubs, a non-fan would be forgiven if they thought that Chelsea was going to easily stroll to every major championship for the next 20 years. I wouldn’t go that far. The west London club is now certainly a major player at the high-stakes table, but the dealers aren’t going to surrender every chip in the casino just because the billionaire Russian strutted in. Since analysis is a dirty word in today’s soundbite media, there haven’t been many voices aiming to add a little levity to the situation. Allow me to be one of them.

But, before I do, let’s get something straight. I’m not saying that rich clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United and our own Arsenal don’t have a major headstart over mid-table clubs like Charlton Athletic or relegation fodder such as West Bromwich Albion. That would be naïve at best. But, while Chelsea will not win every title for the next 20 years, it is safe to say that as long as most factors stay the same, the aforementioned three richest clubs will likely win in the neighborhood of 16-18 of those titles.

That said, my feeling is that for the moment, the perception of what defines “success” has to change on a basic level, relative to where the club you support is on the totem pole…at least when it comes to one’s domestic league. If you support Birmingham City or Osasuna or Borussia Monchengladbach or Brescia, the days are gone where you could reasonably expect to have a real chance at winning the title…if they existed at all. Going back through history, most of the major and mid-major domestic leagues have always been dominated by the few rather than shared among the many. More accurately, most leagues have a few mainstays who have been at or near the summit every season since the beginning, with intermittent dynasties lasting a decade or so from other sides. To wit, from 1889-2004, only 23 different sides have won the top division’s title in the English game. It breaks down like this:

Liverpool - 17
Manchester United - 14
Arsenal - 13
Everton - 9
Aston Villa, Sunderland - 8
Newcastle United, Sheffield Wednesday - 4
Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town, Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers - 3
Burnley, Derby County, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Preston North End, Tottenham Hotspur – 2
Chelsea, Ipswich Town, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion – 1

It’s not as bad as say, Scotland’s league, but 23 champions out of 110 seasons or so is not all that big of a return when you think about it. If one is going to make the argument that competitive balance is worse now than it was then, how do you explain the fact that there are big clubs like Newcastle who haven’t won titles since the 1930s? There weren’t any Russian billionaires in the 50s or 60s, were there?

I mentioned the word “dynasty” before, and that was quite intentional. Much like the dynasties now consigned to the pages of history, nothing lasts forever in football. Most human beings have the irritating habit of believing that current events and factors will continue on in perpetuity. Chelsea has a lot of money now, so they always will. Manchester United wins many titles now, so they always will. It never ceases to amuse one who thinks along a more historical timeline. Look at it this way. Imagine that you travel in time to 1890, and you tell a Preston North End supporter that their team has since gone 114 years without winning another top-division title. They’d have either laughed in your face or challenged you to pistols at dawn. I mean, they’re the two-time defending champions, the best team in all the land! Surely you can’t mean that things…*gasp*…change! Right now, I’m reading the Chinese historical classic “Three Kingdoms.” In short, it’s a half-historical, half-fictionalized account of the fall of the Han Dynasty, which lasted over 400 years. The (historical) event that sent the dominoes falling was, of all things, an uprising by a bunch of peasants called the Yellow Scarves. I know this has nothing to do with football, but work with me here. If a bunch of farmers with pitchforks can indirectly take down a 400-year old dynasty, how can anyone think that the current power structure will last forever? Roman Abramovich has made Chelsea a player now, but he could get bored in 5 years and move on to the next time killer (I don’t know…shagging supermodels on piles of cash, maybe?). When Alex Ferguson finally retires, Manchester United could be cursed with terrible managers for the next 10 years. Look, Greece just won Euro 2004…we have officially entered the realm of “absolutely anything can happen at any given time.” Anyway, this paragraph was mostly facetious, but I think you get my drift. The teams at the top have a very good chance of staying at or near the top consistently, but nothing is ever certain. That’s the first major point I wanted to make.

So, while we can never predict what will happen 5 years from now (let alone 20), the second point I want to make is rooted more in the present. At this moment in time, yes, Chelsea is going to be difficult to compete against. However, to what degree will they be a fiercer rival than the ones we’re already in mortal combat with, that being Manchester United? United is a global force, with no shortage of money to throw around. While Chelsea has the rich sugar daddy, they are going to have the rug pulled out from under them if he ever decides to take on the world with, say, Spartak Moscow. United and our own Arsenal, on the other hand, are well-positioned to maintain their finances for the long term (United being admittedly even more of a juggernaut than us at the moment, although we’ll see if the gap narrows some when the new stadium is ready to go). Both have strong boards of directors that always have the future in mind. That said, United doesn’t have the sheer amount of quality players that Chelsea does, and we will have to wait two or three years to be in that discussion as well. In fact, our London rivals could probably field a reserve side that could claim a European place if they entered the Premier League separately. But, the gap between us and them is not all that large in reality. Now that the need for a goalkeeper has been made abundantly clear this season, only a madman would think that Arsene and David Dein won’t go out and get a top-class netminder once this current campaign is done. Our current squad with a solid anchor in between the sticks will always be a match for Chelsea, no matter how many millions the Blues spend. You can only have 11 guys out on the pitch, and even with injuries and suspensions, most clubs do not honestly have a need for more than 16 or 17 top-class players in a season (statistical anomalies aside, of course). Hell, if Liverpool continues to buy as well as they did before this season, they could threaten Chelsea as well.

Buying well not only requires being a judge of talent as it stands in the present, but you also have to be able to project the future worth of the player as well. Looking at some of the most expensive transfers of all time, one can see that there are as many risks as there are rewards to being a big spender. Take a look at some of these transfers, and then consider what their worth was just several years later.

2001 - Javier Saviola – from River Plate to Barcelona – 15.7 million
2003 – Adrian Mutu – from Parma to Chelsea – 15.8 million
2003 – Hernan Crespo – from Inter to Chelsea – 16.8 million
2003 – David Beckham – from Manchester United to Real Madrid – 17.25 million
2001 – Hidetoshi Nakata – from Roma to Parma – 19.1 million
2000 – Marc Overmars – from Arsenal to Barcelona – 21.6 million
1999 – Nicolas Anelka – from Arsenal to Real Madrid – 23.5 million
2001 – Juan Veron – from Lazio to Manchester United – 28.1 million

All of these guys are good players, but given their relative ability after the transfer, contribution to the new side and so on, even staunch supporters of these players or teams would have to admit that in most cases, these transfers are not anywhere near value for money. In our own near past, we have Sylvain Wiltord for 13 million…which was a disaster, relatively speaking. It especially looks bad in comparison to most of the other deals Wenger has done since coming to Arsenal.

Actually, that brings me to my next point. Money is only as useful as the intelligence used in spending it. Sure, the fact that Chelsea has bucketloads means that they can afford to make far more mistakes than most other clubs. But, how often do the main players in the chasing pack make mistakes of that caliber? Chelsea are so far ahead this season because in the last two seasons or so, they have bought as well as they possibly can while Manchester United and ourselves have arguably done only a C- job or so (I still believe Howard was a good buy for United, and most of our moves were made with 2-3 years from now in mind). The thing is, squads like Chelsea’s can never maintain themselves for too long. The guys who aren’t playing inevitably find their patience wearing thin, and they start dreaming of first-team football in someone else’s colors. The guys who are playing won’t necessarily be as good as they were this season, although some invariably end up even better, of course. To maintain the level of dominance that Chelsea has had this season, you have to spend as wisely as they did last offseason every year, with no let-up. The Manchester United teams from 1990 to 2000 or so were a special case. Ferguson won the first few titles with the old core, but he was finding and developing an entire class of young players who not only were amazingly talented, they gained experience playing together at many different levels (this should sound familiar to current Arsenal fans, by the way). The core of that team was kept together, and it was supplemented brilliantly year after year (of course, having Schmeichel in goal was a gigantic help as well). Chelsea hasn’t really done that, as their team is almost entirely comprised of mercenaries. And, you know what eventually happens to squads like that, right?

Well, let me use an example from American sports. The New York Yankees are one of our oldest baseball teams, and they’ve been by far the most successful. They’re not an exact comparison to Chelsea, but they’re close enough. They’ve had their sugar daddy owner, George Steinbrenner, since (I believe) 1973. In the years since then, with their payroll climbing higher and higher into the stratosphere, they’ve won the World Series 10 times. Not a bad return at all, wouldn’t you say? But, they have won almost all of their titles in spurts, when they had a solid core of players to work with. They won 4 times from 1976-1981, but then the exact phenomena that I went into in the paragraph above came into play. George threw his millions around, the expensive players became his boys, and he traded away all the guys who won him his championships. From 1982-1995, the Yankees, despite still throwing money around like it was going out of style, did not win a single championship. In fact, they had several years where they were one of the worst teams in the league. Not only that, but they didn’t even make it to a final in that entire time period. Why is that? Simple. Throwing money around for any other reason than to supplement an existing core will never work, no matter what the sport. Of course, there’s a difference between “throwing money around” and “building a core.” Building a core comes from using your resources to acquire players based on the long-term goal of your franchise, often also based on the type of team that the manager wants to have. Throwing money around is more like:

“Ohh, shiny!”
“That’ll be 20 million quid, please.”
“Sure! It’s shiny!”

Of course, Chelsea has the makings of a pretty decent core…that is, if they keep them together for more than one or two seasons. If they keep Cech, Terry, Lampard, Duff and Robben in the side and in the first team, they’ll be a force just like Manchester United has been in the past decade and change. Even still, that isn’t a guarantee of holding up a big, shiny silver thing at the end of the season. Remember? “Teddy, Teddy, went to Man United and you won fuck all!” Chelsea will always have to deal with Man United and us, and possibly Liverpool (I really rate Benitez as a manager, and he’s getting some good players in there. All he needs is a goalkeeper that he can depend on like he did with Canizares, and he’s set). Not only that, who knows who will come charging out of the ether? If Everton had kept Gravesen and completed the Beattie deal in the offseason, who knows where they’d be right now? Even still, in most seasons, they’d be closer to the top than they are now.

Speaking of which, it’s true that the top tier of teams seem to be separated by quite some way from the teams below them. How about we test that theory? Since the advent of the Premier League, this is what the difference between 1st and 5th has looked like (5th being a completely arbitrary choice, as there are usually only three or so teams in it after Christmas).:

1992-93: 21 points
1993-94: 21
1994-95: 16
1995-96: 19 (this being the first season with 38 as opposed to 42 games)
1996-97: 14
1997-98: 19
1998-99: 22
1999-00: 26
2000-01: 14
2001-02: 22
2002-03: 19
2003-04: 34 (this being an anomaly due to Arsenal’s unbeaten season).

In this respect, the theory seems to hold – the average is somewhere around 20 points, which translates into around 6 wins and 2 draws separating 1st and 5th. However, to just look at this and assume that there is little competitive balance is a mistake (taking away the point already made that relatively few teams have actually won the championship). If it were the same clubs year in and year out, then I’d be forced to agree. But, a shockingly high number of teams have broken into the Premiership’s top 5. Going through the tables, it turns out the number is 13 (Aston Villa, Norwich City, Blackburn Rovers, Queens Park Rangers, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Arsenal, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham United, and Ipswich Town.) This season, both Everton and Middlesbrough have an excellent chance to add to that tally, with Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic also outside shots. In the overall scheme of things, that’s not so bad.

One final point, and I’ll call it a day. Football has its haves and have-nots (relatively speaking in many cases), just like any other business in the world. There’s stores that have franchises all over the world, stores that are the big chain in a country or region, little mom-and-pop stores, all the way down to a kid selling lemonade on his street. There’s a food chain, and that’s just the way it is…and always has been. But, unlike American sports, there is more than one chance per year to win a trophy. Sure, the trophies have a food chain as well, but if you don’t have a chance to win the league, then there is always the chance of taking the FA Cup or League Cup home with you. Over a 38-game season, the best team is usually going to emerge in the end. But, in a knockout situation, anything can and will happen…history is laden with tales of epic giant-killings in the cups. With the FA and League Cups, the number of teams who have won them are even greater:

League Cup, 21 different winners (1960-2004):

Liverpool - 6
Aston Villa – 4
Leicester City, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham Hotspur - 3
Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers - 2
Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United, Luton Town, Manchester United, Oxford United, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke City, Swindon Town, West Bromwich Albion – 1

FA Cup, 34 different winners, (beginning from 1884, when first modern team won it)

Manchester United - 11
Arsenal – 9
Tottenham Hotspur – 8
Aston Villa – 7
Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool, Newcastle United – 6
Everton, West Bromwich Albion – 5
Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers – 4
Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United – 3
Bury, Nottingham Forest, Preston North End, Sunderland – 2
Barnsley, Blackpool, Bradford City, Burnley, Cardiff City, Charlton Athletic, Coventry City, Derby County, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Notts County, Portsmouth, Southampton, Wimbledon – 1

So, in short, my honest belief is that Chelsea’s ascension to the throne will not spell the doom of football as we know it. Judging by the evidence above, I can’t help but think that competitive balance is about the same as it’s always been…not only that, but the fact also remains that Chelsea is by no means unassailable at the top. Arsenal and Manchester United will be there to challenge as long as current factors remain the same, and it is certainly plausible that teams like Everton or Middlesbrough will also throw down the gauntlet and become forces to be reckoned with.



Arsenal 5-1 Crystal Palace

Dennis Bergkamp (32)
Jose Antonio Reyes (35)
Thierry Henry (39, 77)
Patrick Vieira (54)

Andrew Johnson (pen 63)

The Gunners: Jens Lehmann -- Gael Clichy, Pascal Cygan, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisan-Etane -- Jose Antonio Reyes, Edu (Mathieu Flamini 61), Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires (Francesc Fabregas Soler 80) -- Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp (Robin van Persie 79)

The Eagles: Gabor Kiraly -- Emmerson Boyce, Fitz Hall, Gonzalo Sorando, Danny Granville -- Tom Soares, Michael Hughes, Aki Riihilanti (Mikele Leigertwood 31), Wayne Routledge (Vassilis Lakis 64) -- Dougie Freedman (Joonas Kolkka 64)

The one thing I love about this Arsenal side is that they almost never fail to come back with an imperious performance of sheer defiance (hence the headline, besides the fact that "five-star (insert winner here)" is about the most tired headline imaginable...I see that Soccernet uses it, and I bet my right eye that BBC and Sky and whoever else used it as well) after a horrendous one. This season has had more demoralizing defeats than we're used to, but it's heartening in one sense to see them absolutely pillage a pretty decent side like this. Yeah yeah, I know what some of you are thinking: "Palace are down by the bottom. That means they can't be any good." Well, I could see why some would think that...the only problem is that they're wrong. Iain Dowie has made these guys into a pretty tough outfit to break down, as they showed for the opening half-hour today. I'm reminded of a great call that Alan Parry made during Charlton Athletic's visit to Highbury earlier this season: "These are class players they're up against, and Arsenal are just taking the mickey." They were up for it from the opening whistle, but don't let the match reports fool you...they were not steamrollering Palace in that first half hour. After that though, the legions of Gooner fury were just too numerous and bloodthirsty to keep at bay any longer. Even with the game well and truly won, Arsenal didn't drop much below, say, fourth gear or so. Why is that, you may ask?

Simple. Arsenal kept their boot on the throat of Crystal Palace for one reason -- to send a message. That correspondence is intended not only for the Mank bastards and the Blood Money XI on the west end...but to Sheffield United and (more importantly) Bayern Munich as well. There were some worrying moments from this one as well...don't get me wrong. But, all in all, this is a bombard sounding from every cannon in Islington (and around the world) -- We have not yet BEGUN to fight.

The thing is, it all could have been different for Palace. If some things broke their way, this would have looked much more like the home match against the Tottenscum than the home match against Everton. Right from the opening kickoff, Palace came out swinging. All credit to them, they fought with the desperation and the swagger that they had to have to get anything out of this game. In the first minute, a terrible clearance from Cygan (I'll give you a moment to scrape your jaw off the floor............OK...done) allowed Freedman to nip in behind the defenders. He was in a central location, and to be blunt, he should have scored. Instead, Lehmann saved well to his left, and then recovered in wonderful fashion to get off his line to block on Andy Johnson's rebound chance. If you've ever been between the sticks (even in just an indoor or Sunday league), you know the second save is always much harder than the first. Well done, Jens.

Believe it or not, it actually could have been 2-0 Palace within three minutes. A scramble off an Arsenal corner resulted in a few blocked shots, and the Eagles counter-attacked. It didn't come to much directly, but the Gunners were forced into a hurried clear back to the goalkeeper. The only problem was that because it was so rushed, it wasn't a straight, medium-paced back pass. He had to really thump it, and it was bouncing off the turf besides. Of course, the torches-and-pitchforks set will be all set to hang Lehmann from his balls for letting it get by him. But, well, if it wasn't that, they would just find something else to bitch and moan about. Anyway, Lehmann showed nice quickness and agility to get back and clear off his line at the last possible instant. It was a bad bounce, and the bottom line is that he fucking saved it.

The game settled into a rhythm after that, with Arsenal attacking well and Palace counter-attacking with pace and vigor. My written notes mark the 18th minute as the time where Arsenal started to get that little bit of an advantage...that little crack showing in the Palace armor. Henry signalled his intentions with a crisp half-volley that curled just wide of the near post (which, for some reason, they attacked ruthlessly all night...maybe Monsieur Wenger found Kiraly's weakness?). Bergkamp created the chance, and now I look like a total moron for saying he was done a few weeks back. He was his old imperious, majestic self...he wears a magic hat indeed. Arsenal then won a free kick in a dangerous area, but as they would all night, Palace neutralized it with a run-like-mad offside trap. It was a bit goofy, but you have to admire their timing and precision.

Anyway, the turning point came on the half hour, as Aki Riihilanti took a knock and had to come off. Note that this was not the reason Palace lost (shite finishing and bad luck allowing Arsenal time to get going would be more like it), but it definitely did have a major impact. Riihilanti is an aggressive little pest in the mold of Robbie Savage (if not quite as effective), and a guy like him is vital if you're going to play the type of game needed to counter an increasingly-rampant Arsenal side. On came Leigertwood, who is a perfectly acceptable squad-rotation fullback. This, friends, is not an upgrade.

Palace never did have the same bite to their counterattack after that, nor did they have the pace to make Arsenal pay for their constant bombing runs forward. Once that happened, it only could have one outcome from there. Dennis got the party started immdiately after the Finnish sparkplug left the field. Arsenal had a free kick, and a pinball series of three passes unlocked the Palace defense -- visually, it looked like a checkers player jumping three pieces in white and getting kinged in the end. Bergkamp got the ball from Reyes in the area, and just kind of deflected the ball past the near-post side of Kiraly. Some may not agree, but despite the beautiful build-up, I think the Hungarian No. 1 really, really should have saved it...or at least been able to make a better effort. If DB10 was in a central area, then fine. But, off to the side like that, you have to protect your near post first.

Despite that, Palace again should have scored two minutes later (keep in mind that at this point, it could and probably should have been 1-3 to the Palace). A long ball from the back (which Arsenal were vulnerable to at several points in the match, likely due to the absence of Sol Campbell) found Freedman, who ended up again behind the defense. His half-volley went high and wide, much to the relief of Lehmann. It wasn't as easy a chance as it looked, but he probably should have hit the target.

Anyway, if you squander a chance to put Arsenal away, they will make you pay dearly for it. No more than two minutes later, Reyes' goal-scoring drought was over...and the rout was officially on. A typical spell of one-two passing from Arsenal hypnotized the Palace defense, allowing Henry a shot outside the area. His hard shot caromed off of Fitz Hall, but the ball bounced fortuitously to Reyes. With one touch to settle it, the Spaniard blazed a shot across the face of goal and into the top corner...just a class, class strike.

The home side kept threatening, and Palace were definitely on the back foot now. Kiraly first had to be sharp to palm away a wayward header from Sorondo, and then could only watch as a defender cleared his line off a short corner (which Arsenal used to great effect on several occasions). Actually, it was off a short corner that Arsenal got their third, as a one-two pass between Henry and Reyes ended with the Frenchman scoring a goal that looked a lot like Reyes'. The only difference was that he took a moment to cut inside the area first.

So, 3-0 to the Gunners at the interval. But, it very easily could have been 4-4 or 5-4...nobody could claim that they hadn't gotten their money's worth already.

The second half wasn't played at the same frenetic pace as the first, but it was eventually much of the same...a version 0.75 of the first half, if you will. Freedman again got open early in the second stanza, and again he pulled his shot wide of the mark. If Palace goes down, then it will be because they hardly have any scoring threats at all if you can neutralize new England man Andy Johnson. Sure enough, Arsenal made them pay again with their fourth. Another masterclass of short and medium-long passing saw the Eagles' defense eviscerated once again. Bergkamp played it forward to Henry, who then sent a breathtaking slide-rule pass across the face of the area. If you've ever wanted to see an entire defense + goalkeeper wrong-footed all at once, this is the play for you. Kiraly tried to charge off his line and stumbled, allowing Vieira to cheekily walk the ball into the net for the 4-0 lead.

At that point, Arsenal took it down a notch, mostly content to play keep-ball to the delight of the Highbury faithful (Ole! Ole! Ole!). For the most part, Arsenal were far better defensively in the second half, as Palace couldn't even hang onto the ball much of the time. If you've ever played Football Manager 2005, and you're watching your team win 7-0, that's what it looked like for large portions of the half. An opponent moves two feet, and one of your mob takes it off him like it was his lunch money in grade school.

However, Palace did deserve something out of this, and they finally got it on the hour. Boyce's long ball gave Johnson some time and space, and he used it to skin Toure on his way into the center of the penalty area. The backtracking Vieira caught him with a clear foul, so Rob Styles rightfully awarded the penalty. Johnson decided to go with power over speed, and it worked out for him...the ball struck the bottom of the crossbar and went in instead of out. By the way, a quick word about him. The guy is definitely Arsenal class...and if Palace happen to get relegated, we'd be insane not to get him. He's English, relatively young, seems to have a great attitude, works hard, and has done this well with almost no help whatsoever. With Henry and Pires and Reyes around him, this guy would be unreal.

This is getting long, and the hour becomes late. So, I'll sum up the rest of it. Pires hit the post, but probably should have scored. The game got scrappier, and some yellow cards came out. Clichy's gorgeous long cross-field pass found Bergkamp on the touchline. He absolutely skinned Granville, and then found Henry in the center. He faked to his left foot, got it back on his right, and sent a thunderbolt into the near top corner for the final goal. Leigertwood actually should have scored, but sent his chance over the bar. The chance was created by the hard work and running of Lakis, who (I'll say it again) should probably be in their starting ii. Fabregas and van Persie both got a run-out, and that was that.

All in all, a good win for the Arsenal, and I belive the good signs outweigh the bad. Actually, the perceptive types had to have known this was coming. The first rumblings came in the Newcastle match, and they started to manifest more in the Villa game. This is another step up, as the old Arsenal came only after an opening 30 minutes where we could have been 2-0 down. Still, for a match where we had no Campbell and no Cole (also no Ljungberg, since we're on the subject of defensive players), this wasn't as bad as it could have been. Now, it remains to be seen if we can keep this momentum going heading into two of the more important matches of the season.

There's still hope as long as the team keeps fighting like this. Bottom line.


Encouraging signs

Aston Villa 1-3 Arsenal

Fredrik Ljungberg - 10'
Thierry Henry - 14'
Ashley Cole - 28'
Juan Pablo Angel - 74'

The lineups:

The Gunners: Jens Lehmann -- Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Philippe Senderos, Lauren Bisane-Etane -- Jose Antonio Reyes (Francesc Fabregas Soler 82), Edu (Mathieu Flamini 74), Patrick Vieira, Fredrik Ljungberg - Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp (Robert Pires 74). Subs not used: Manuel Almunia (GK), Justin Hoyte

The Villains: Thomas Sorenson -- J'Lloyd Samuel, Liam Ridgewell, Olof Mellberg, Gareth Barry -- Ulises de la Cruz (Thomas Hitzlsperger 62), Steven Davis, Eric Djemba-Djemba (Mathieu Berson 66), Nolberto Solano -- Luke Moore, Juan Pablo Angel. Subs not used: Stefan Postma (GK), Martin Laursen, Carlton Cole.

Well, this is more like it, right? Not only is my internet back up and running (and it should be for good this time), the Arsenal come back from that soul-crushing defeat to really turn over a pretty decent team...and on their own patch, to boot!

As I said in my last entry, even I have to admit that we have no realistic aspirations to the Premier League title at this point in the proceedings. Those who know me (or who post with me at the Arseblog forums) know that I'm about the most positive and optimistic person possible when it comes to Arsenal (or Celtic, or USA rugby, or the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, etc etc etc). So, I was probably the last to concede (although I do note that I conceded right around the same time as Monsieur Wenger). However, a performance like this is still of the utmost importance. If the boys can turn themselves back into Mega Arsenal, then there is still a very good chance at winning the Champions' League and the FA Cup, as well as attaining second place in the Premiership. All of these are worthy goals, as is the simple fact that the famous Arsenal spirit must be maintained as well.

And, if you were looking for spirit, it came in droves for this game. Just before my internet went out again, I read some of the usual bullshit from the doom-and-gloom merchants, especially when faced with the prospect of a central defense partnership of Pascal Cygan and Justin Hoyte (who is a natural right back). While everyone's least favorite shambling automaton actually did play, Philippe Senderos passed a late fitness test, enabling the young Swiss fullback to slot in alongside him. Reyes was preferred to Pires on the left wing, and the recently rejuvenated Dennis Bergkamp partnering Henry up top.

Right from the kick-off, Arsenal swarmed forward just like the dominant marauders of the first few matches. Time and again, they scythed through the Villa defense with purpose. Whereas the Newcastle match showed the larval stages of the old Arsenal game coming back, this match was more the pupil stage. If you took away some absolutely woeful finishing, the lads could have very easily put 6 or 7 past one of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership. Interestingly, Villa actually seemed OK for the first 5 or 6 minutes, but once Arsenal were comfortable with the flow of the match, they just flicked the on-switch. If anyone in this age knows what it must have been like to man a castle wall as thousands of Vikings or Huns approached, Thomas Sorenson would be the guy. First, he had to do especially well to save off the foot of Bergkamp, and then he was a spectator as Vieira blazed over the bar, despite the yawning mass of empty net in front of him. Truly a shocking miss, that one. Anyway, the inevitable happened in the tenth minute, as Arsenal's true unsung hero got on the scoresheet. Edu (who had a wonderful game) found Freddie Ljungberg on the end of a mid-range through ball, and the Swede cooly chipped the ball over the onrushing Sorensen. One-Nil to the Arsenal!

Four minutes later, the lead was doubled...this time, Ljungberg the creator. His pass found Thierry Henry, who had earlier missed an absolutely glaring chance to pick up his first goal in ages (by his standards, anyway). This time, Henry made no mistake, firing a rocket past Sorensen. The funny thing was, of the three great chances he had, the only one he scored on was the most difficult...the strike coming across the face of goal, and from an harshly acute angle at that. It will likely be forgotten in the wake of this dominating performance, but Jens Lehmann welcomed his recall to the side by flying headlong out of his net to double-punch away a dangerous cross. That chance, coming somewhere around the 20th minute or so, was Aston Villa's one real opportunity to halt the momentum and get themselves back into the game.

Shortly afterwards, Arsenal closed the book on Villa (and their European hopes, most likely) with a goal that was breathtaking in its mastery and execution. Just like the Arsenal of old, they began by foiling a Villa attack deep in their end. After that, it's all one touch, one touch, one touch, all the way up the park. Henry ended up with it at the midfield line, over on the right-hand side. He beat three defenders, cut inside, and whipped the ball towards Bergkamp. The Dutchman (who I may have been wrong about after all), used his knee to flick the ball into the path of Ashley Cole, who was streaking towards the penalty area. In an absolutely ridiculous display of skill and panache, Cole never let the ball touch the ground...he simply hit a volley from the heavens towards the top corner. All Sorensen could so was stand there, as dumbfounded as those watching in their living rooms. What a brilliant, magical goal...real "running out of superlatives" stuff.

After that, Arsenal kept creating chances, but they didn't seem all that interested in actually converting them...it was more to keep themselves occupied and run out the clock more than anything else. With the three points won, I think they were as aware as anyone else that there are bigger games coming up on the horizon, games that have a somewhat Bavarian flavor to them shall we say. To Villa's credit, they did pull one back late in the second half when Angel rounded off a nice team effort by firing past Lehmann from the edge of the penalty area. No chance for our goalkeeper, who had a decent afternoon otherwise. I have to tell you, I was a proponent of giving Almunia a run in the side. I defended it when Wenger did it, and I defend it now. To castigate Wenger for it after the fact is gutless...the type of shit we could expect from Lily White Scum supporters. Wenger is a gambler...I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. He gambled on Almunia and he ended up losing. Thing of it this way -- he gambled on Anelka (who did well when he was here, and ended up netting us some 20-something million euros when Real Madrid bought him). he gambled on Kolo Toure, he gambled on Patrick Vieira, he gambled on Thierry Henry, for fuck's sake! He gambled on Freddie Ljungberg (no, really, who had heard of him before he came to Arsenal?). He gambled on Cesc Fabregas early on this season. Those turned out all right, didn't they? So, Almunia didn't. Oh well. Now it's clear that we have to get Timo Hildebrand or Sebastien Frey or someone similar in the offseason. If Almunia had panned out, then hey, that's 10 million or so that we didn't have to spend this offseason.

But I digress.

Other than the goal (and a period of a few minutes before and after it), Villa never really looked like scoring. Cygan didn't have his best effort (with all that entails), but Senderos actually looked very good for an inexperienced kid who was supposed to be out with a knee injury. He made some big challenges, especially in that brief period when Villa was threatening. The main thing that the team can take away from this, besides keeping pace with the Manchester scum that is, is the fact that all of our key players seem to be rounding back into form at just the right time. If we play like this, we're going to kick the shit out of Munich.

The international break is coming up, which I'm actually relishing. On this side of the pond, the United States is kicking off the final group phase of our qualification with a trip to Port-of-Spain. We have quite the history with Trinidad and Tobago -- in 1989, Trinidad needed one point at home against us in the final game of qualification to book their trip to Italia '90. Paul Caliguri's header, however, booked our trip at their expense. Also, my manager at work is from Trinidad, so there is also some inter-office rivalry riding on this one as well. Anyway, I digress again. Our next match is at home to Crystal Palace, who are in far worse form than when they held us to that draw in Selhurst Park. The FA Cup match against First Division opposition (be it West Ham or Sheffield United) comes next, and then it's Bayern Munich away after that, with our trip to reeling Southampton following. To me, this seems like the perfect setting for us to get the Arsenal machine going again.

I'm still optimistic, if not for the league.


The end...

My internet is out. Again. I drunkenly slept through the repairman's last visit...this weekend, I'm not going out at all, so I should be OK.

I just wanted to take a second here after work to mention that I'm absolutely fucking gutted about Tuesday's result. I didn't watch the game...I don't want to. I was actually flicking onto Fox Sports World to record one of the replays, and they were showing the game...it was 4-2 in the 90th, and to say my heart sank is very much an understatement.

Even I'll admit it now...our league season is over. Now, we're merely playing for a place in next year's Champions' League. At this rate, even that is not a formality. You know, losing is always a terrible thing. We all invest so much into this emotionally, it's always kind of like being dumped by a girlfriend when your team looks so promising, and then they let you down.

The worst part, of course, is that the death blow was delivered by THOSE fucking cunts. Every time I imagine their smirking fucktard of a manager gloating to himself about this win, I wish I was alone in a room with him, armed with a spear or some other sharp, pointy thing. I hate that team more than I hate the Lily White Scum. I hate them more than Real Madrid, than Bayern Munich, than even the Mexican national team. There are no bigger bunch of cheating fucking wankers in the entire footballing world. Their manager is the most arrogant, cocksucking prick in the entire footballing world. To contrast, I keep coming back to our league encounter with Chelsea. Say what you want about their financial advantage (and I have a major piece in the works about it, once my internet is up again and I can do the research), but when we played them, it was a tough, clean game. They didn't foul incessently. They didn't use the fact that they're a big club to induce shitty refereeing decisions. They just played their asses off, just as they've done all season.

If it really has to come down to Chelsea and Manshit United, then I hope the London club wins the title by 20 fucking points. I don't particularly care for Chelsea...don't get me wrong. I'm no Mourinho fan especially. And, of course, we'll have to see what the truth of the Ashley Cole situation is before I pass final judgment on this. But, even if they tried to steal Ash from us, I'd STILL rather see them stroll to the title than have those Mank cunts anywhere fucking near it.

All we can do now is try and turn over Bayern in the Champions' League and then go from there...and, we're still in the FA Cup, so we can at least win that. It's still possible for us to have 2 trophies and for our Mancunian friends to have none, so this season is still not all lost.

Chins up, lads.

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