Derby Day, Honors Even
On a day that looked as grim as the Reaper himself in the first half, Arsenal came back and showed no small amount of bottle in order to scrape a draw against our nearest and dearest. Many will say that the Scum asked a lot of questions against us, and they'd be partially right. I would say to that claim many things...not the least of which being our injury crisis vs. essentially their full squad. Also, the second half was quite the different story, with the Scum on the back foot for the vast majority of it. In the end, a draw was probably a fair result, and it ended up being a cracking game towards the end as well. I can't complain all that much in the end.
Right from the off, Tottenham grabbed the game by the throat and didn't let go until Steve Bennett blew the halftime whistle. They were just far more up for it than we were...I think there were a fair few players in burgundy who weren't aware that this was a derby day. Whenever we had the ball, there were always two or three guys in white there to shepherd the ball away to safety or to outright steal it. In short, they completely pushed us around. Teemu Tainio in particular was a snarling, vicious presence out on the wing...he would often jump in to the center to break up an attack or to harry one of our players. I can't imagine why he's not starting for them all the time. On top of that, Arsenal weren't helping themselves with the quality (or lack thereof) of their passing. The hallmark of our recent squads was the ability to just know where the other guy was going to run, and then slotting diagonal balls out for that player to meet. When it works, it eviscerates defenses. When it doesn't, it looks like there's 10 guys out there unaware that they're on the same team. Whenever the Arsenal did have the ball, they couldn't get anywhere near the penalty area...either the Scum closed us down, or one of our guys would send a lazy pass to nowhere. The only half-chance we had in the first 45 was a header from Mathieu Flamini that looked to have gone off his face or his chest -- the ball doesn't usually go off on right angles otherwise.
Speaking of young Flamini, he had an absolute nightmare. He not only probably should have done better with that half-chance, he was booked early and was also muscled off the ball damn near every time he had it. He's a quality player and I think he'll be useful to us in the future, but right now he's in an appalling run of form. Arsene Wenger saw enough at halftime (in every sense of the word), and took him off. I'll get back to that in a second.
First, there's the matter of the opening goal. I believe it was Flamini who fouled a Scum player in a halfway-dangerous area. Michael Carrick (who had a storming game for them, always a danger from set pieces) floated the ball in, and Ledley King took advantage of the fact that no one was interested in marking him to thunder home a powerful header. Some will look at that goal and reckon that Jens Lehmann should have saved it, since it did go in off his hand, and it was close to him rather than in one of the corners. What they don't understand is that when the ball is coming in that fast and that heavy, even getting something on it isn't normally enough. Especially when the ball is coming in close to you, your first instinct is to flinch -- it happens to everyone (even professional-level keepers) from time to time, and that's why it's actually easier mentally to dive full-extension to make a save. Your body handles impact better when it's ready for it (hence the reason why most KOs in boxing happen on punches the fighter doesn't see). So, I don't blame our mad German for that.
As I write this, Middlesbrough has just converted a penalty to take a 3-0 halftime lead on our other dear rivals, Manchester United. Life is good at the moment, I'd have to say.
Anyway, I wish they had broadcast the halftime team talk...I imagine it had something to do with hanging Flamini by his toenails from the rafters and swearing in French (apparently, if you believe those fancy moving pictures we call the movies, it's like wiping your ass with silk). Whatever AW said, it absolutely worked...Arsenal eased into the match for the first 5 or 10 minutes of the second half, but after that, the game was theirs. Flamini came off for Pires, and immediately our midfield made more sense. Cesc Fabregas moved from the right back to his preferred place in the center, Freddie Ljungberg shifted to the right, and Pires took the left. Once we got into the match, the passes started to click again, and all of a sudden, Spurs barely saw our end of the field. However, when they did, they were always dangerous...it took a string of absolutely top-drawer saves from Lehmann (including a fantastic lunge low to his left to deny Defoe) to keep us in it.
Speaking of Lehmann, he got hit by some sort of missile in the second half. Luckily, he was OK to continue, but I think it speaks volumes about the Scum. It especially speaks to the level of filth that supports them. In the first half when they were bossing the game, they showed a bunch of crowd shots of these sub-humans smugly celebrating. Intelligent people know that you can't get too excited when there's a long way to go, and on top of that, they're all ugly and misshapen. Believe me, I lived in Tottenham for three months (I studied in London, and they couldn't have put me ANYWHERE else...I mean, I was literally about 400 yards from Shite Hart Lane). Now, I've avoided my usual foul language elsewhere in this particular report because I want the following words to have their fullest possible weight...I want to make sure it conveys the depth of my loathing and hatred. Tottenham Hotspur fans, you are all fucking Neanderthal cunts. Maybe one of these days you'll evolve and actually become something close to human beings. Cunts.
Back to the matter at hand, in the starting lineup, my main issue was the lack of a start for Robin van Persie. I don't know why he's not starting every game (oddly, I have the same question about Robbie Keane for the other mob), and I don't know why he didn't come in at halftime (Dennis Bergkamp was completely anonymous today).
An Arsenal equalizer was starting to look increasingly likely. And, sure enough, some comical goalkeeping from Paul Robinson allowed us to get the draw we deserved. Before I get into that though, I should say that Robinson was very good in the few other times he was tested. For as little as we produced early on, he was called into question a few times, and made one good save in particular off the foot of Ljungberg. But, off an Arsenal corner, his two-handed slap at the ball didn't come anywhere close to clearing it, and Pires couldn't contain his smile as he hammered the ball into the empty net. All square then, and as stated, that's a fair result.
Despite the goal, and definitely uncharacteristic for me, my Man of the Match was one of their guys. Michael Dawson was immense for them in the back, making several key blocks and generally making life miserable for us. Having been a fan for a decently long time now, it's disconcerting to me to see this team actually having a defense worth mentioning, but all four of them are good, solid Premiership-worthy players. Odd.
Good match, solid entertainment, and now I'm off to booze it up. Take it easy, Gooners!
Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City
Call it arrogance if you like, but then at least mention in the same breath that Chelsea is leading the league in that respect. Call if shambolic if you want, but at least mention in the same breath that if we win our game in hand, we're SECOND in the league. Not 15th, not 20, SECOND. The press assholes aren't too quick to mention that one in their rush to skewer us whenever possible (at least that miserable fuck The Insider at Soccernet admits that he's a biased little shit. That's fine, if you're doing a fucking blog...when you're on a major website, a little objectivity would be nice, you daft cunt).
Anyway, once again Arsenal are being raked over the coals for not providing a 30-shot on goal, 4-0 or 5-0 masterpiece like they did a few years ago. For fuck's sake, that was then, this is now. It's a different side, one ravaged by injury at the moment mind you. For all the whining about sqaud depth you see in some corners, look at it with some degree of perspective, will you? Do you think the filthy red Manks have more depth than we do? Liverpool? The Lily White Scum? Well, actually, the Lily White Scum have more depth up top than we do, with Robbie Keane being inexplicably bolted to the bench over there. Henry is fit, apparently JAR and Campbell are on the recovery trail as well.
Of course, a buy or two in January would be awesome, M. Wenger.
To give Citeh credit, they're really not a bad side - one point away from Europe last season, and this time around, I think they'll make it. I think they're a little thin up top, but they're decent otherwise. Particularly, they're well-suited for matches like this one, where workrate and the willingness to get stuck in will go a long way. Stuart Pearce has worked miracles over there, and I think he was a better shout for Manager of the Year last year then the guy who had the 200 million-pound bankroll to work with. Just saying, is all.
Oh, and Mike Riley is really not any good at his job. I would bet my paycheck that there are 5 or 6 guys kicking around Division One (again, I refuse to use that poncey moniker "The Championship") who could handle Premiership-level football better than Riley can. To his credit, he man-manages games exceptionally well...he's always talking and explaining his decisions, and he does well in cooling down most volatile situations. Sadly, that's only 15% or so of his job...and, he's always explaining things because most of his decisions are so inconsistent and/or completely fucking barking. He's just a shit, shit referee, although I only think the penalties are being called controversial because they happened to us. If they happened to Chelsea, you wouldn't hear a fucking peep.
Honestly, I think we got two more points than we deserved out of this one, although all credit to the team for hanging on to the one-goal lead. I especially liked the efforts of the back four (even Cygan had a relatively good game), and I thought Gilberto and Flamini did enough to assist them to make it a relatively quiet night. Jens Lehmann continues to have a great season, and while he didn't have to make any spectacular saves, he did have to be sharp several times on set pieces and in coming out to claim crosses. Well done, Jens.
So, the Tott'Scum are next, and I for one can't wait. They're sounding a liiiiiiiittle too confident down the shit end of the Seven Sisters Road, and I personally think they have a bit of a surprise coming. They have a lot to prove in terms of showing whether they belong this high up the table or not. We'll see.
Poker and stuff that sucks
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Second, I didn't see the West Brom game, but I suppose that's what happens when half your full-time squad is out injured.
Sometimes you have to make your own luck
On a day where Liverpool completely capitulated against last year's purchaser of the Premiership title, this was a match that Arsenal definitely needed to win in order to keep pace with those fuckers in blue. Thankfully, a fortuitous bounce ensured that all three points ended up with the Gunners, although it turned out to be exceedingly harsh on the Brummies.
However, before all that, there were some nervous moments along the way. For the first 20 minutes or so, Birmingham bossed every facet of the game. They were incisive on offense and held their own when Arsenal made a rare foray up the other end. Actually, Ashley Cole had to clear off the line from an Emile Heskey effort (Jens Lehmann did get a piece of it, fair play to him). It could have been better though...it wasn't the only time we'd count our lucky stars that Heskey is deeply, deeply shit.
On an Arsenal counter though, the game became its direct inverse thanks to one rush of blood from Kenny Cunningham. A nice through-ball found Ljungberg level with Cunningham...the Irish international was the last man, and his cynical foul on the Swede resulted in a thoroughly-deserved red card from the referee. Actually, I should clarify that. It was deserved because the rules are what they are...however, I don't know if I'm a big fan of that kind of foul resulting in a straight red. Personally, I wouldn't mind if a last-man infraction resulted in a penalty, no matter where the infraction occured (along with the perpatrator getting a yellow card, of course). To me, a penalty pretty well replicates the chances of scoring as if you had beaten the last man and were in on a breakaway. In both cases, the shot can miss, or the keeper can save it (more on that later!)
Anyway, that effectively ended Birmingham's period of dominance, and began the siege on Maik Taylor's net. However, Taylor ended up being more than up to the task. First off, he saved a penalty. Why yes, after getting fouled by Cunningham to produce the man advantage, Freddie got taken down in the area to win a penalty not 5 or 6 minutes later. Oddly, Pires was the one to take it (he scored in Amsterdam, but still...with Henry out, Lauren of all people has historically been our second-best from the spot). Taylor guessed right, and that was all he had to do...it ended up being a comfortable save thanks to the fact that it wasn't anywhere near the corner. It's the sort of penalty that seems fine when the keeper guesses wrong, and is an automatic save otherwise.
That gave the Brummies some confidence, and their workrate really ought to be commended. They held their shape well, and they were helped by the fact that we got NOTHING from our wingers (Hleb had his worst game yet for us, and Pires...yep...still D-O-N-E). In the occasional times when Arsenal broke through, Taylor was there again and again with a string of absolutely top-class saves. Reyes in particular was his victim, getting denied no less than 5 times in the first half alone. The Brummies got to the half with zeroes on the board, and at that point, I figured that I was looking at the final score.
As the second half wound on, I feared that my halftime prediction was spot on - the lads were running out of invention and ideas, despite the tireless running and energy of Reyes, Ljungberg and Fabregas. Hleb was pulled for Bergkamp, but the Dutchman didn't make much of an impact at all. Later, van Persie came on for Pires, but we still didn't look all that dangerous. In fact, that prick Jermaine Pennant was the architect of some excellent counter-punching chances for the visitors. If Heskey were anything more than a poor man's Didier Drogba (keeping in mind how shit Drogba is), we probably lose this game. Luckily, Heskey was his usual muppet self, and the few chances they did get went begging.
Down the other end, the visitors were just minutes away from a brilliantly-battled draw when a loose ball came out to van Persie outside the area. It was just a hit-and-hope, really, but you do that for a reason. Throw enough shots at the net (no matter what net-based sport it is), and eventually something will break for you. In this case, the ball deflected off one of their guys, which left Taylor completely wrong-footed. However, to give you an idea of how superlative his performance was, he actually changed directions and got there in time. But, a cruel bounce off the pitch was more than even he could stop, as it bounded over him and nestled in the back of the net. To be frank, I was almost too embarrassed to celebrate. We may have deserved the win based on the number of chances created, but I freely admit that I felt gutted for Taylor. To perform like that and still not win, it's the absolute worst, and anyone who has ever put on a pair of gloves (from the pros down to rec-league idiots like me) knows what I'm saying.
Either way, a win is a win, and we'll gladly take it in the wake of the seeimingly-unstoppable machine over there in the west end of London. However, don't be so quick to claim the title yet, comrades. If you have this kind of lead after 20 games, then fine...congratulations on buying success once again. But, I think it will end up being waaaaaay more interesting than the English Press Idiots would have you believe.
In short: Everton match good (SOL~!), West Ham match OK - I'll take a point on the road against a club that is better than most people think.
And, nice work beating Ajax in Amsterdam, lads. Well done!