I was actually thinking I might not bother posting this week’s piece for the Irish Examiner, as I ended up repeating much of what I’d already posted on Sunday and if I’d waited another 24 hours it would’ve basically been past it’s sell by date.
But then those buggers in Blue went and equalised in the 92nd minute (and not to mention our reserves taking a 6-0 mauling at the Madjeski) and since I felt the need to vent somewhere, I thought I might as well tag my weekly missive on at the end for you to read, or ignore, as you so choose.
I tell you something, from what I can glean, Frank Rijkaard was the epitome of self-restraint prior to the match, in the face of such extreme provocation from Mourinho. As an armchair psychologist, the way the Arrogant One always seems to feel the need to find some way to stoke the fire, before these almost annual encounters between Barcelona and Chelsea, I would’ve said that the Chelsea manager seems to be suffering from some sort of inferiority complex, which perhaps stems from some sort of desperate need to justify his footballing credentials whenever he returns to the Catalan capital, due to the fact that his career started from such humble beginnings, as Bobby Robson’s translator!
Now if only the Gobby One had come away from his experience under Sir Boobie, having picked up some of the old boy’s more amusingly senile habits and would occasionally refer to his Ivorian striker as Doddier Drigba, instead of coming across as someone who’s had a sense of humour transplant, he’d be a whole lot less offensive.
Can you imagine us coming up against Inter Milan this season (which isn’t out of the question) and Arsène slagging off Patrick Vieira in the same way Mourinho lambasted Eidur Gudjonssen for the theatrical habits his former striker has learned apparently only since leaving Chelsea! To be honest I can’t recall Gudjonssen being any more prone to diving than anyone else, or perhaps more accurately, any more likely to remain on his feet than any of those fellow Chelsea team mates who’d hit the deck from contact with a feather.
Then again, I can only too well recall my own anger at the sight of Le Bob taking a dive (obviously unless he achieved the rare feat of earning a penalty in the process), invariably wanting to scream at him to stay on his feet, wondering whether the ball might have finished up in the back of the net, if only the move had continued. But you’d no more hear Wenger warning the ref about Pires’ penchant for the horizontal hoop-la if we were to meet Villa Real, than he’d be likely to single out any other opposition players for the officials special attention.
Sure all the best managers of the big clubs are not averse to a little gamesmanship, when it comes to the pre-match press conferences, trying to gain any advantage going. Yet Mourinho’s capacity for such incredibly tactless comments, to the extent of inciting the sort of shenanigans we witnessed in the Nou Camp last night from both sets of players, never fails to astound me.
You would’ve thought by now that the Chelsea press office would’ve found a convenient method of gagging the Gobby One. But then again in recent history, the totally classless South London outfit has been guilty of stuffing their oversized feet in their Blackwall tunnel sized cakeholes, at every given opportunity.
Talking of ex-Arsenal players, who amongst us didn’t let out a little whoop of joy when it looked like Cashley Hole was taking an early bath last night? Up until now, the Gallas effect on the Gunners, compared with the relative anonymity of Cashley in Chelsea’s outings, has meant that I’ve not only not missed our old left-back for a second, but have actually been extremely grateful that his exit gifted us with Willie Gallas.
However I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that for the first time last night I found it quite galling after the Barca v Chelsea game, to hear the studio pundits singing the praises of Lampard’s link up with Cole on the left flank. Then again, I guess this wouldn’t have felt nearly quite so bad, if I hadn’t been so gutted about the jammy gits 92nd minute goal ruining an otherwise enjoyable encounter. I absolutely adore watching Barca these days, or more accurately, I adore watching the incredibly gifted Lionel Messi.
To be totally honest it was probably the correct result, as with Ronaldihno currently a fully paid up member of the same “off colour” club as our own Thierry Henry and without the prodigious skills of Samuel Eto’o, Barca look a bit toothless up front (but then I can’t talk, at least not without my dentures J . It’s most unlikely but if the Catalan club end up going out of the competition then Chelsea will have done everyone a service. More probable is the possibility of them qualifying in second spot, which might make them potential competition in the knockout stages, if we can turnaround last week’s result and maintain our top dog status in our group. Not having a calendar to hand, I am not certain of the dates, but if we are to have a return match with Barca this season, I’d much sooner meet them earlier in the tournament than later, hopefully before Eto’o returns and they hit a purple patch.
First things first! We’ve the small matter of putting the Muscovites in their place tonight. Prior to the game at the Nou Camp, I caught the second half of an extremely entertaining encounter between Spartak Moscow and Inter Milan. With Inter going a goal up in the first minute and with their Champions League involvement all but over, having garnered only a single point, Spartak really went out all guns blazing in the second half.
Spartak have a talented midfielder, Shishkin, who hit a stunning shot at one point from about 40 yards out. As it crashed off the crossbar, you saw a hail of ice falling into the goalmouth which served as a reminder quite how uncomfortable the conditions must have been for our warm-blooded lot a couple of weeks back. Apparently they were playing on the only entirely artificial surface in the Champions League (as, if I am not mistaken, there are some other playing surfaces where the real grass is held together by an artificial element) and I am sure this was a lot more conducive to an accurate passing game than the cow field we played on in Moscow.
I was quite impressed with the quality of Spartak’s football and since, I believe, they’ve been well behind CSKA in recent seasons, it says a lot for the ability of our opponents. However Spartak were roared on by an extremely vociferous crowd and since traditionally the Russians are dreadful travellers, I will be dreadfully disappointed if we aren’t able to turn them over tonight.
I am pretty sure I had a hundred other comments to make, but if I don’t get some kip I doubt I’ll be able to stay awake later this evening to know what transpires. Which will be pretty bad form considering we have two of Róna’s sisters coming with us to the game. Aisling and Cliona are over from Ireland and will be the first of our Gooner contingent from Dublin to take in a game at the new gaff. Big shout to Brian and John, as if it wasn’t for gratefully garnering a couple of their spare tickets, I’d have probably ended up just taking Cliona on Rona’s ticket and it will be great to go, as the French say, “en famille”. I have a feeling Cliona has never seen the Arsenal lose, which must be a good omen (then again, I guess the longer he record lasts, according to the law of averages, the more chance there is of her charm being broken!) and it will be good to get their view of our new home.
Oh yes, before I let you go, the one other thing that comes to mind is that it would be devastating if we were to lose tonight, especially in view of the enemy’s fluke victory. However whatever the outcome of our encounter, the one advantage of having Spurs playing in the UEFA cup on Thursdays is that no matter how we perform in the Champions League, we will either have our joy enhanced, or the conciliatory tonic of being able to “laugh at Tottenham”
Peace & Love
The Definition of a Mensch? Well It Sure Ain’t Mourinho!
Hard as I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to rationalize the allure of baseball. No doubt this is related to the same cultural chasm which prevents the majority of Yanks from being able to comprehend the attraction of ‘the beautiful game’. I can appreciate the pitchers’ talents and the half dozen variations on the theme of throwing a baseball, but how hard can it be to catch the bloomin’ thing with those bloody great gloves. And compared to the technique involved in cricket, the batters efforts to smack the cover off the ball hardly seems sophisticated
So it was by mere chance that I happened upon the utter misnomer that is the World Series, in the wee hours a few mornings back, whilst channel hopping in my semi-comatose state in front of the box. I watched the last innings as the St. Louis Cardinals brought home the baseball bacon for the first time in 26 years. But my ears pricked up on hearing that this success had been achieved only 7 months after moving into the New Busch Stadium (designed by HOK, who were also responsible for our new gaff).
However if this is to prove any kind of omen as to the outcome of the Premiership, then the Arsenal are going to have to discover some means of ensuring that we don’t get into the habit of dropping any more points at our new home, than the 6 we’ve already blown against Everton, Boro and Villa.
Saturday’s draw was even more frustrating than the other two and it’s no surprise that Wenger was left bemoaning the Toffees’ negative tactics in the immediate aftermath. Apparently we had an astonishing 91% possession in the second half. So say the ball was in play for 30 of the 45 mins, then on average each of the Everton players would’ve had the ball at their feet for less than 15 seconds! Moreover Moyes side managed 2 shots on goal, to our 29! Wenger certainly went for it, as we had four strikers on the pitch come the final whistle and with both our immediate competitors relentlessly picking up points, Arsène was bound to be irate that despite all our huff and puff, we’d failed to blow the Blues’ house down.
You couldn’t wish for a more gracious geezer than le Gaffer, who gave all due credit to the fact that Everton “defended well, intelligently, and with great spirit”. But due to the weight given to Wenger’s whinging about the Toffees’ timewasting tactics in the majority of the media, I get really wound up by the fact that le Prof is once again unfairly perceived by Joe Public as this moaning Minnie, who naively expects the opposition to play to our strengths. No doubt Chelsea fans are similarly incensed by the way the Arrogant One is portrayed in the press. Although obviously in his case it’s all true!
What annoys me most is that no matter how dominant we are and no matter how entertaining the poetry in motion of our passing game, until such time as we learn to vary our point of attack, sadly we remain all too predictable and will continue to be thwarted by the graft of those teams capable of getting everyone behind the ball and ensuring the centre of the park is too congested for us to make progress. Exactly how long is it going to be before we begin to appreciate the maxim that if you can’t go through, then why not try going around the opposition.
We’re badly missing Manny Eboué as he’s about the only player who offers us natural width. With his frightening pace, I was hoping Walcott might make a difference as he joined the fray for the last 20. I suppose Theo’s striking instincts are to blame, but like every other bugger in red & white, Walcott seems programmed to advance so far into the enemy territory, before turning and making a diagonal run towards the most populated area on the park.
Yobo and Stubbs both appeared untroubled, as every ball into the box was fired in from midway in their half. I can’t recall a single cross from the byeline that might’ve forced them to make an uncomfortable interception whilst facing their own goal. Although some would suggest there’s little point in us whipping in crosses from the byeline, or anywhere else for that matter, as despite some recent success, we’re hardly renowned for our heading ability. However with such large expanses of grass on our new playing surface, we absolutely must learn to make the most of that much more width, even if only to stretch the opposition defence, thereby leaving space in the penalty area that can be exploited with our intricate passing.
Notwithstanding our apparent predictability in attack, we’ve little real cause for complaint, while the likes of Fabregas, Hleb and Rosicky continue to orchestrate such a symphony of scintillating footie. Sure some of us are beginning to mutter under their breath about our captain’s lethargic body language. But Thierry can be a long way from his best and still be miles better than most, as he’s only ever a moment of inspiration away from stealing the entire show.
I certainly didn’t hear Henry receiving catcalls on Saturday, as was reported by some in the press and I honestly can’t imagine anyone being so bloody stupid as to boo the best player in the world. Henry might well be suffering some sort of hangover from last season’s contractual soap opera. However having signed on for a couple more years and with his incredibly consistent, 30 goal strike rate in recent seasons, our club captain has banked sufficient Gooner goodwill, that he could slip off on a winter cruise in search of some renewed motivation and he’d still be welcomed back with open arms.
Meanwhile banging at the door for 90 minutes as we did on Saturday is not such a big deal with a secure defence. Sadly we still look vulnerable from set pieces. I’ve never been a fan of zonal marking and I wish someone could explain to me the supposed advantage.
I had the privilege of quizzing Frank McLintock some time back, when our defensive failings were under scrutiny. According to Frank, Don Howe would have our defence drilled into shape in no time at all and I was left with a souvenir bruise on my bicep to show for Frank’s vice like grip, as he illustrated how they marked touch tight in his day. As a result I couldn’t get out of my chair quick enough when someone else repeated the query soon after, so he might demonstrate by damaging some other dummies arm.
When man marking, you can track a player’s run so that you have the same momentum as them when leaping for a ball. Whereas in a zonal arrangement, as the attacker converts horizontal speed in to vertical height, surely the defence is at a disadvantage of having to jump from a standing start. What’s more the opposition ain’t exactly going to favour the defence by heading in their direction, as they’ll inevitably try to find the space between each zone.
As far as I’m concerned if every player is given an opponent to mark at set pieces, there is none of the uncertainty involved in waiting to discover who ends up in who’s zone. We certainly can’t afford a repeat on Wednesday night of the lapse in concentration against Everton that resulted in Cahill’s goal, as CSKA’s Brazilian trio won’t requre an invitation to take advantage
Considering Arsène’s customary reluctance to criticize his charges, it was interesting to hear his honest appraisal that “they were too confident to go there and take the points” in Moscow. If there was an element of complacency that crept in after wining two wins out of two in the Champions League, then hopefully the defeat against CSKA will have acted as a wake up call to remind them all that there are no “gimmees” , not in this game. In which case I’d hope that we certainly won’t be found wanting for the right attitude in this week’s return game. I guess we’ll soon find out?
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Wednesday, 1 November 2006