Monthly Archives: April 2011

Chelsea beat Tottenham to break mini-league wide open

Chelsea leapfrogged Arsenal in the mini-league table by taking all three points at Stamford Bridge in a controversial 2-1 win over fellow Londoners Tottenham.

Tottenham started brightly and even took the lead when Sandro collected the ball from van der Vaart and fired in a long range shot that curled impossibly past Petr Cech’s outstretched hands. It was Tottenham’s League leading 11th goal from distance and yet another in the growing catalog of players who make their name for Spurs with cracking shots in big games. Though, whether Sandro will go the way of Danny Rose remains to be seen.

Harry Redknapp immediately called a time out and organized his team to park the bus. Despite the time wasting and defensive tactics which would see Spurs finish the game with just the one shot on goal, Tottenham managed to tack two more goals on to their total and thus surpassing their 41 goal haul of last season. This should prove conclusively that William Gallas was the worst signing of the Summer.

Redknapp might also be left regretting not signing a keeper in January as Gomes allowed a League leading 5th howler in just before half time to even the score. Lampard had but the briefest of moments of daylight but snatched his shot which tamely hit Gomes in the one place he has had trouble dealing with the ball all season; his hands. The ball dribbled between his legs and the keeper appeared to claw the ball off the line only for the linesman to award the goal.

Redknapp’s tactical naivete was again exposed as Ancelotti brought on Ramires, Kalou, and Anelka while Harry’s moment of brilliance was to bring on Jermaine Jenas. Jenas ran around a bit and Kalou scored the winner — almost certainly cementing Redknapp as England manager next season.

Barely scraping a single win in all competitions since February 15th Redknapp has bravely clung to the rim as his season has swirled out of control.  Just in January, Spurs were the talk of the nation and looked poised to win the treble and now four months later they are looking at mid-table mediocrity and likely losing all of their top players to the lure of European football.

Even Man of the Decade Gareth Bale couldn’t save Redknapp’s season as he was shut down by Ivanovich time and again. The result was that the future Balon D’Or nominee was kept to just a singe shot in this game.

Meanwhile, Chelsea staked their claim to the Premier League title and closed the gap with Manchester United to just three points. Arsenal could do everyone a favor with a win tomorrow and Patrice Evra openly worried when he compared Arsenal to a wounded animal. It remains to be seen what type of wounded animal they are: deer, raccoon, shrew, or that lizard which loses it’s tail to escape predators.

If Arsenal need anything to motivate then the thought that just one point from tomorrow’s game will allow them to celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day.

MLS Shows Spine The Premier League Lacks

(DO NOT WATCH IF SQUEAMISH)

Yesterday the MLS announced that Brian Mullan of the Colorado Rapids would serve a 10 game suspension and pay a $5000 fine for breaking the leg of Seattle Sounders forward Steve Zakuani. The league’s disciplinary committee described the tackle as “egregious” and for those of you who don’t want to watch the video I would describe it like this:

In the third minute of the game, Brian Mullan plays a long pass off his chest, there’s some shirt grabbing and Mullan clearly feels he is fouled, remonstrating the referee with both arms raised in the universal symbol for “where’s the call ref?” No foul is called and Steve Zakuani take the ball. Zak then turns upfield, giving Mullan time to collect himself, beats a defender with a pass to himself, and then Mullan perhaps seeing a little daylight near the ball comes in well over the top, well late and with the full force of his sprint. Mullan snaps Zakuani’s standing leg in two and receives a straight red card.

I watched the foul in real time and the sickening sound of Steve’s leg being snapped is something I will never forget. It was also clear in real time that Mullan, who leads his team in fouls committed, was out for revenge after what he perceived to be a foul not called in his favor. The challenge is reckless and the force used far beyond excessive. As I have explained many times in the past, the Laws of the Game are very clear that a red card is issued for excessive force or brutality. Whether a player “wins the ball,” whether he meant to do it, whether he is a great leader, family man, considerate lover, and patron of the arts are all irrelevant: the force of the challenge is all that matters.

Similarities to Arsenal

Arsenal have had three players legs broken* though overly physical play in the last few years: Abou Diaby by Dan Smith, Eduardo by Martin Taylor, and Aaron Ramsey by Ryan Shawcross.

The Martin Taylor leg breaking tackle is similar in that it took place in the opening minutes of the game, both tackles were high, and excessive force was used but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo was not a clear case of retribution as we could argue with Brian Mullan.

To see a tackle similar to Mullan on Zakuani you could point to Dan Smith’s obscene challenge on Abou Diaby since both challenges seem to have a motive behind them that wasn’t about winning the ball. The normally lawsuit wary British press even called Smith’s tackle “petulant and perhaps borne out of frustration” which is about as damning evidence that I can imagine. That said, Dan Smith’s tackle wasn’t nearly as reckless as Mullan. There’s no video of the incident that I can find, so memory must serve. My memory of the challenge was that it was more of a stamp on Diaby’s ankle (one we have seen him receive many times since) than a full blooded flying challenge like Taylor and Mullan.

Which leaves us with just one last challenge to consider, Shawcross on Ramsey. Again, the similarities are just not there. Shawcross has just won possession and because he can’t dribble loses control and lunges for the ball with a scything motion that snaps Aaron Ramsey’s leg in two. This wasn’t deliberate payback on Ramsey the way Mullan seems to do because Zakuani nipped the ball away, this was just a player who recklessly dove in to a challenge and used excessive force to try to win the ball.

Similarities in other games

Mullan’s challenge may have had the same outcome as the three challenges above but it was palpably different simply because you can see that he’s hunting Zakuani down for revenge. And while this doesn’t matter in terms of whether a red card should be issued, it does matter in terms of punishment meted out afterwards.

Nigel de Jong’s leg breaker on Hatem Ben Arfa is closer to Mullan’s challenge in that it’s a tackle in the third minute of the game and there seems to be some intent on the part of de Jong to send a message by swinging his back leg in the scissor motion that was made controversial this season. Meanwhile, Karl Henry’s tackle on Bobby Zamora had a similar taste to it, in that Henry employs that scissor motion which hacked Zamora’s leg in two. Amazingly, neither of these fouls were awarded a red card as the referee saw little wrong with the challenges despite the obvious fact that the force employed was excessive.

They are all nice guys

Will no tackle stand up as similar at all? Well for me the one tackle where the similarities are the closest is Karl Henry’s tackle on Jordi Gomez. It was the 11th minute of the game, Henry had already been warned for a previous tackle, and after Wolves lose the ball, Henry sees Jordi making a run, perhaps sees a little daylight on the ball, and flies in wildly. If anything, the force was more excessive than Mullan’s tackle and Gomez would certainly have had a leg broken had he not jumped to avoid the flying Karl.

This was the tackle that proved to me beyond a doubt that Karl Henry has absolutely no regard for the safety of his opponents. His apology after, where he apologized to his supporters for getting sent off, simply reinforced that notion.

What all of these tackles have in common is the defense that the player is “not that kind of guy” and the Colorado Rapids are no different. In issuing their official statement they spend considerable amount of time on the character of the assailant laying out their defense in the opening paragraph:

As a person with a kind heart and respect and feelings towards his fellow teammates and opponents, Brian is genuinely distraught that his challenge caused this injury.

This is reminiscent of the defenses trotted out about Martin Taylor and Ryan Shawcross after their leg breaking tackles and I’ve no doubt that Mullan, Taylor and Shawcross didn’t intent to break the leg of their opponents. Karl Henry? I’m not so sure.

The length of  the Mullan suspension showed some real grit on the part of the MLS who had earlier announced that they wanted to eliminate exactly these kinds of over-the-top challenges and specifically protect their creative players more this season. There has been a great gnashing of teeth over here that this will turn MLS into a “non-contact sport” but I don’t see it that way at all. Rather, this seems like a recognition that the game has changed.

In England the “speed of the game” is trotted out as a defense of a player like Shawcross as if the answer isn’t to protect the players who are faster and more nimble but rather to slow the game down and allow players like Shawcross to have more time. Or at it’s worst, claiming that the speed of the game is the cause of this rash of broken legs could be seen as an excuse. With Major League Soccer and this 10 game ban they seem to have made a conscious decision to protect the speed of the game rather than use it as an excuse.

Far from being an attempt to remove all contact from the sport, this is a recognition on the part of MLS that the game has changed and that with the speed of the game the way it is, excessive fouls deserve harsher punishment.

I’d like to see the Premier League take a look at the number of red cards and broken legs this season and ask itself where it falls on the issue. Does the English Premier League want to protect the speed of the game and encourage open play, or does it want to see Karl Henry flying in on Jordi Gomez mere days after breaking Bobby Zamora’s leg?

*Arguably, Cesc’s leg was “broken” by Birmingham before the game against Barcelona last year but since he played immediately after I’ve chosen not to include it here.

More questions than answers as Arsenal publish supporters forum meeting minutes

Amid the rush for the Where Hast Our Arsenal Betaken? online shop to open and the club’s bizarre refutation of anything being amiss it seems that the minutes from annual meeting between members of the board and the supporters got lost. Like 26 days worth of lost. Or maybe the meeting was held on the 24th which is what the URL indicates. Either way, they finally got around to publishing them this morning. The important thing to know is that the club met with the various supporters groups and that all of the same questions that WHOAG are pretending to ask whilst actually selling caps, pins, and scarves, have been asked and answered. Though, you might not like some of the answers.

Ticket prices? They might go up, Arsenal haven’t decided.

Asking the players to acknowledge the traveling supporters? Done, the Captain is taking responsibility for this from now on.

Is it a violation of my human rights to prevent me from getting drunk at the game? Uhhh…really?

Is Arsenal a club that values profits over trophies? Sort of, but not really.

And then there’s this one:

In the past, there has always been a tradition that when we reach the Cup Final, players wore suits during the pre-amble to the game – this time around players were wearing tracksuits for the Carling Cup Final. Is this relaxed attitude reflected on the pitch?

It’s a great question because for me, this group of Arsenal players look too relaxed and seem to have crossed over from not feeling pressure to looking like they don’t care.

As I’ve said before, you could tell the difference in attitude between Arsenal and Birmingham during the warmups before the CC final. Birmingham looked like they wanted to win, like they were up for the game and Arsenal looked like they were about to have a Sunday kickaround. While Birmingham were preparing at full tilt (to the point where I thought they might injure each other), Arsenal were laughing and joking.

You have to read the full, rambling answer for yourself but what really got me is this part:

We know that some fans think that some of our players don’t care – but we can assure you they do and taking the pressure off them prior to such important games helps them enormously. It’s a shame the players feel that much pressure.

Folks have speculated that this club and some players are handled with kid gloves and those folks would apparently be correct.

I… just… don’t get it.

This is so mind-bogglingly 180 degrees opposite of what I know about sports that it’s incomprehensible. These guys are well plaid and play for Arsenal football club, one of the biggest clubs in Europe, they should feel fucking pressure! It’s not a shame to feel pressure when you play for Arsenal in front of 60,000 people who paid good money to see this game, it’s a shame if you don’t feel pressure.

Is this a cultural thing that I don’t get? Can someone explain this to me? I work in a small office where my performance is evaluated constantly and my work is highly public. My continued employment is completely dependent on me performing at the highest possible level. If I didn’t feel pressure in that situation I would be insane.

I agree that we don’t want players having nervous breakdowns but there’s a healthy level of expectation and pressure that all employees should feel in their job.

But sports in particular are about pressure. Sports are direct competition, your opponent’s job is to pressure you, your job is to cope with that pressure and pressure him back. If you never learn to deal with the pressure then when you get to that last point where the pressure is really on you might collapse.

Which is exactly what’s seemed to have happened since the Carling Cup final. Maybe of all the things that people want to see changed this Summer, this idea that the players should be alleviated of pressure should be the first thing out the door.