Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm” – Bob Dylan
What a week, eh? (No, I am not Canadian.) First the storm in Manchester, then the storm of transfer window activity, with some wondrous additions coming in to Arsenal. Lastly the thousand-year storm of utter crap and negativity about Arsenal, Arsene, and the entire enterprise. Just incredible. There’s numbers for everything except that last. And if its not as good as what Bob found, well, it ain’t bad…
The Hundred Year Storm in Manchester
You know the idea of the hundred year storm? Well, this is Arsenal’s hundred-year defeat, and while that doesn’t make it any easier to take, it should help bring needed perspective. Some times, everything goes wrong at once
Was it a surprise that Arsenal lost at Old Trafford? Don’t see how. Even at full strength, and ignoring Howard Webb’s presence, it was most unlikely. What if Arsene chose to park the bus? Do you think that’s something they practice a lot? Down in the reserves, maybe? And anyway, given the player absences, all Arsene would have been able to park was a large cardboard packing crate on roller skates that had been left out in the rain.
So if the defeat should not have been a surprise, maybe it was the size of the defeat that shook you, because I’m willing to bet that if the result had been 3-1, 3-2, even 4-2 with a missed PK, most fans would not feel so violated. Well, don’t, because I’m here to tell you that more than anything else, the size of the defeat was down to two reasons: United were unusually superb and they piled it on. Consider some numbers:
12.6% – percentage of shots United scored with last year, tops in the league
33.3% – percentage of shots they scored with on Sunday
19.0% – percentage of shots Leo Messi scored with last season
21.7% — percentage of shots Thierry Henry scored with in 2004-5
36.8% – percentage of United shots on goal that went in last season (also tops)
57.5% – percentage of United shots on goal that went in on Sunday
36.4% – percentage of Messi’s shots on goal that went in last season
5.5 — United’s average shots on goal per game last season
14 – United’s shots on goal on Sunday.
315 – matches Ashley Young has played as a professional (since 2003)
3 – times before Sunday that Ashley Young has scored twice in a match
Is that Young stat a “hundred game” rarity? Obviously, there are lots of stats like this. It was an amazing performance by United. I know our defense could have been much better, and this is not a matter of ignoring that, just acknowledging what Arsenal faced. I didn’t research it, but can anyone really think that Wayne Rooney has netted two such fine free kicks in one game before? Not me.
For comparison, Arsenal netted 11% of their shots last season, second highest in the league, and 14.3% of their shots on Sunday. They put 25% of their shots on goal in on Sunday, compared with last year’s average of 30.5%. (That was tenth in the league, yet Arsenal made up for it by putting 11% more shots on goal than United last season.)
The match breaks down this way. Through 62 minutes, it was 3-1, and should have been 3-2 but for RVP’s horrible penalty. Coquelin’s removal weakened the middle, and United got three great goals in 14 minutes. Then the red card, and that’s when United put up the numbers that resulted in their passing superiority. Down to ten men, down 6-2, United poured it on, completing 127 or 132 passes and scoring two more goals. It was a rout, and no doubt Wenger rues subbing off Coquelin.
When the entire United team performs at levels that Leo Messi can only dream of, do you not have to give them some credit? On Sunday three things happened that can be checked off your “Things I’d like to see Before I die List” – Ashley Young nets two Beckham-like goals in one game, Rooney nets two free kicks with finesse, not force, and David De Gea saves a penalty. It’s a one-off, folks. Happens to everyone, and usually more frequently than once a century.
As for piling it on, that was class, wasn’t it? Ferguson’s remark that they could have scored more should be all the proof you need. United let up? What a lark! Is that why they were in the box when Theo gifted them a penalty? Is that why Young took that long shot in extra time? GMAFB. The man who was knighted by The Arsenal Fan wanted to crush Arsenal, stamp them into the ground, make their supporters squeal in pain. And he got what he wanted in the way the press and fan base responded.
Late Acquisitions Restore Some Hope
I’m thrilled at the new signings, and don’t think they’re as much a departure from past practice as people think. Every season in recent memory Wenger has started the transfer window by bringing in a rising yet largely unacknowledged future star, usually from France – Sagna, Nasri, Koscielny, Vermaelen, and Chamakh. All are internationals and the first three were made so by coming to Arsenal. Then he signs some promising youngsters, sometimes for a lot of money, getting flak for each one. There is the winnowing out of the youth corps to send those who will have no chance on their way, plus loans for others who
need more seasoning. And near the end of the window, he picks up some opportunistic bargains like Gallas and Baptista or older players like Sylvstre and Squillaci to fill short-term gaps created by an injury or departure.
Normally, undesired departures have happened at the start of summer, like Henry, Viera, Flamini, and Hleb, and Arsenal had time to figure out how to replace them and stay within plan. This year, that wasn’t the case, and we will likely never know all the reasons why it took so long, but to me they all are pronounced “Barcelonan toads.”
Looked at that way, the transfer window seems closer to normal, if far more numerous: Gervinho in at the start, followed by young players like Campbell, Miyachi, and AOX. The youth winnowing went as usual, accompanied by off-loading players who had made the squad, but for whom it was time to leave. That was different.
Then, when all efforts to keep the midfield intact failed, Wenger went to the usual; end game, perhaps with a bit less time to do so than normal. Dos Santos is both a defensive need and a fire sale buy from Turkey; Mertesaker is said by many pundits not to be as good as Cahill, although he has played 77 times for his country’s team, and they have done a bit better than England in international competitions, so not sure I buy that. He is bigger than Samba, and can’t be less mobile. The Korean is there for a number of reasons, but mostly, I think, because with the departures of Nasri, Bendtner and Eboue, to name three, Wenger has fewer people to play on the wing on offense, and also wants an alternative to Chamakh in the middle. Benayoun is a classic late
career signing, though in midfield. And Arteta is more, and the truly different acquisition.
Our New Field Commander
As long as Cesc was at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta was the player least needed by the club. Then he became most needed, and we got him. His game is mature. He’s had to produce and command the offense in the offensive wasteland that is Everton. He knows the Premiere League. It should be a great signing. Everyone is talking about his frailty, which I don’t see. Except for 2009-10, when he was injured, over the past six years he has started and played a similar amount of games as Cesc. His numbers last year at Everton weren’t the best he has put up, but they were still better than Nasri’s, in a much worse and offensively limited team.
Last year, Everton were 11th in the league in goals scored, 6th in assists, 7th in shots on goal, 15th in percentage of shots on goal, 8th in percentage of goals created with an assist, and 9th in percentage of shots that were on goal. Arsenal were second in all these categories, except the last, where they led the league. How can Arteta not be more in a squad that is far superior offensively to
his old team in every possible manner?
Watching those Refs
Well, even though his decisions did not affect the outcome, Howard Webb did make some game-changing decisions last Sunday. I recall at least three: the PK given Arsenal, perhaps wrongly, the PK given United, and the red card to Jenkinson. Any others?
Finally, A Word for the Press
On Sky Monday morning some See You Next Tuesday named McCarthy delightedly went over the Monday coverage of the debacle at Old Trafford. He noted that all the coverage focused on Arsenal, not United, and how right that was, quoting at length from such “wise heads” as Samuel and Williams, before mentioning, all the while shaking his head in wonderment, that a few, Paddy Barclay, to be one, found something positive to say. Then without pausing, he contrasted that with the coverage of Spurs-City, where the focus was on the excellence of City, not the woefulness of Spurs. How breathlessly approving and amused he was. And if you look at the weekend’s routs, who did the world’s media cover? City, Barca, Real, and Arsenal. Made me go back to the following…
A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices
Which, bawled by boys from mile to mile,
Spreads its curious opinion
To a million merciful and sneering men,
While families cuddle the joys of the fireside
When spurred by tale of dire lone agony.
A newspaper is a court
Where every one is kindly and unfairly tried
By a squalor of honest men.
A newspaper is a market
Where wisdom sells its freedom
And melons are crowned by the crowd.
A newspaper is a game
Where his error scores the player victory
While another’s skill wins death.
A newspaper is a symbol;
It is feckless life’s chronicle,
A collection of loud tales
Concentrating eternal stupidities,
That in remote ages lived unhaltered,
Roaming through a fenceless world.