Yesterday was surreal. I couldn’t physically leave work as I like to do to watch Champions League matches so instead I cloistered myself in my office and told my co-workers not to call me or knock on my door as I was watching the game. They are the kind of people who take pity on junkies such as myself and with the sad eyes that say “dude, get help” all agreed.
Kickoff came and watching the Arsenal performance you could see bits of bright play mixed with bits of dull play. The typical Arsenal game of the last few weeks where the club seem to be just collecting any odd thing that comes their way: an octopus’ garden as it were.
I made it 15 minutes into the game before one of my colleagues peeked through the blinds and made the “can you please help?” face. I paused the game, thinking this is something really important and spent the next 15 minutes ironing out what was really a minor problem, but hey, I paused the game, right?
Right now is where I should say that Fox Soccer Channel’s online stream of the games is actually just the raw feed of the match with their commentator’s voiceover. There are no graphics at all to tell you what minute of the game you are watching, what the score is, what channel you are on, whether America re-elected Barack Obama, nothing. Just a game feed.
I say this because I sit back down, click play, and I’m watching the game progress and thinking “gods, they really need to snap out of this dull period. They haven’t even had a shot! Come on Arsenal.” What I didn’t realize is that I was watching the 31st minute of the game and not the 15th. So, to my eyes, it looked like Arsenal were continuing their run of gods-awful form from the United game.
Just about the 43rd minute or so I hear the announcer say that Arsenal are holding on to a two-goal lead and that’s when I look at the little time-line thing and say out loud “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.”
So, I rewind and watch Arsenal’s two goals. Both of which I get a big chuckle out of because they are the kind of goals that Arsenal typically concede. You all know the type: Arsenal dominating possession, Arsenal pounding the opposition box, Arsenal conceding on a dreadful mistake at the back to the opposition’s first shot on goal and not even a very pretty shot at that, then Arsenal getting got on a second goal from astonishingly slack defending. You know, “shit people have been moaning about for the last five years”?
All the sudden the whole first half starts to make sense, Arsenal are playing the character of Norwich and Schalke the character of Arsenal in tonight’s play. And that’s when my phone rings and there’s a delivery for me, an important one that I can’t just ignore. So I hit pause again and spend the next 20 minutes settling the receipt of some equipment.
When I return to my desk and press play things are looking dire for Arsenal. Schalke is like pack of hungry wolves circling Arsenal’s defenseless doe and just tearing off chunk after chunk of lovely venison. This time I realize quickly that my match-day time warp happened again (or maybe they are quantum leaps?) and judging by the play I assume that Arsenal have conceded at least one goal. The commentators confirm that Klaas Jaaan Huntelaaaar has in fact scored but also that Uchida was hauled off with injury.
Every time Huntelaar’s name comes up I am forced to relive the early years of this blog when the number of readers could be counted on one hand. There was some spell that Arsenal went through (HA HA, just one!) where we just couldn’t get goals and there was a particularly commentful poster who insisted that Huntelaar was the answer. Of course, Arsenal had Robin at the time (injured) and as such it was a unrealistic transfer but given the form Huntelaar is in at the moment, he sure does look like he could help a team like Arsenal out of a goal-scoring drought. So, kudos to you, guy from three years ago who got so mad that he told us all to go fuck ourselves, you might have been somewhat right about Huntelaar.
Back to the game, and just like Norwich, it’s always just as the wolves are looking most likely to go for the kill that the defensive team gets a golden opportunity to put the game out of reach. In this case Podolski is played in by Cazorla and with a one-on-one versus the keeper winds up for the shot… only to have play stopped because the referee apparently… well, I don’t have a clue what the referee was doing there and neither did Poldi. The German striker goes ape-shit and gets a yellow card for dissent which is frankly pouring salt into the wound.
Why stop play then? Why not stop play in the build-up? Why stop play for an ankle injury? Was it because the defender was playing Poldi on side? Wouldn’t you stop that earlier? How do magnets work?
Funny fact, before the game I tweeted that Schalke v. Arsenal had the err of inevitability. And as if to prove the point Arsenal had their now customary moment of madness. Farfan had been a threat all game on the right and when Arsenal gave him a little space he powered home a shot that looked like it took a deflection off Thomas Vermaelen to keep Mannone from making the save. Vermaelen had actually been very good in the first half and with his relatively deeper positioning and positional awareness kept the Arsenal shape very well. But when Farfan took the ball Vermaelen went between the two center halfs and was in the perfect position to score the tap-in. Kids, if you’re watching and you want to be a center forward, do exactly what Vermaelen did there, that will give center backs fits. If you’re a defender, NEVER FUCKING DO THAT and NEVER ALLOW A STRIKER TO DO THAT.
The goal buoyed them and they had more chances to win the game but I settled in for the 2-2 draw. Not sure why but I felt the draw was secure, probably because my phone had stopped ringing and people had stopped coming to my door. Theo threatened at the death and probably could have scored or gotten himself another assist but to be fair, the keeper did very well to see the threat and smother it.
As I walked up the hill to get a cup of coffee so that I could power through the pile of work that I put off to watch the game, little yellow leaves were gently falling all around me. I tried to grab one out of the air but a slight gust took it away. It was an absent-minded grab at the leaf because at the moment I was thinking about my match preview and how fruitless it seems to even give match previews because you never know which team will show up: the possession hoarding team that took tons of shots and kept three clean sheets of the first few League matches? The team that has given up on shooting like the last few matches? The comically error prone team that has sprouted up since Szczesny went down injured? The team that gives up possession easily and now doesn’t even bother to try to win it back or break down the opposition with incisive dribbles that we’ve seen over the last two games? No. An Arsenal fan would have better luck catching a falling leaf with a pair of chopsticks than predicting anything about this Arsenal team.