Villa 2-2 Arsenal: The Good, Bad, and this is Getting Frustrating.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: A Knight’s Tale

The Guardian: It almost never snows at Christmas but sometimes you still get a proper Boxing Day match with all the trimmings: the woodwork shuddering, the managers squaring up to each other, a couple of pickpocket goals for a side that had looked as though it was heading for humiliation, equality re-established in injury-time from the most unlikely of sources and every member of a crowd of 42,585 going home both entertained and consoled.

Quote of the Day

“I think we have to keep the belief we have in the squad, because we have played Villa, Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool and lost just once. We have improved in the last two months tremendously, and we look more solid. We are young and I think the same team today with one year more, would not let Villa come back.” — Arsene Wenger on next year’s title race conveniently forgets that Arsenal have also lost to Hull, Citeh, Fulham, Stoke, and Villa.

The Good

In the first half, the woodwork put in a massive effort and was by far Arsenal’s best defender.

Ok, that’s not fair. Gallas put in some really good blocks, Silvestre’s massive noggin saved a goal, and if you didn’t see Sagna’s incredible save watch it here courtesy of the Arsenalist.

Then Arsenal went up 2-0, totally against the run of play. I was just sitting there thinking, “oh god Denilson and Song are having a nightmare” when Denilson puts in a good tackle, in an important part of the pitch, latches on to the ball and scores a good individual goal. Who knew?

And then, right after the restart Diaby scores a second goal. After about 20 minutes in to the match, I ordered a beer and had it there in front of me so that I could take a drink every time Diaby tried some cute little pass/dummy that resulted in a turn over.  Drink, drink, drink, JESUS, drink, drink, holy crap, what the hell is he doing? Wait???!!?!?! Diaby scores! Yes, it was like that.

Then for the next 12 minutes Arsenal looked like they were going to score a third. No more so than in the 61st minute when the ball bounced around inside the box and Villa enjoyed some of the same luck that Arsenal had in the first half.

And then…

The Bad

Arsenal went from 2-0 to a 2-2 draw and had to watch Aston Villa’s players celebrate like they has just won the Champions League. Where have we seen that before? Oh yeah, when Tottenham came back and pinned 4 goals on Arsenal.

The Ugly

Arsene Wenger is a poor loser. Of course, every other manager in the league is as well (look no further than Fergie) and honestly I expect no less from the manager of a big club. It’s his job to ask questions of the officials and stand up for his players on the sidelines. So, I really can’t stand listening to other team’s fans talk about what a poor loser Arsene is. So what? I’d rather have a poor loser than someone who gleefully accepts losses.

That said, some of Arsene’s antics are getting a bit old. The dust up between Wenger and O’Neill is one example, though that seems to have been settled when the two were asked to shake hands like two little kids fighting over who gets to play with the bucket in the sandbox. But Wenger just had to go a step further after the match and criticize all the officials in all of England.

What doesn’t make any sense is that there are officials, Howard Webb, who consistently call matches against Arsenal, that’s a fact, but unfortunately this is not one of those officials and this match was not poorly officiated. So why Arsene felt the need to say

I know how it works here, at half-time the referee gets stick and in the second half every little 50-50 decision goes the other way. That’s what happens. I waited at half-time to see what happened and I was not disappointed. There is nothing to explain more than that.

Dude… DOOD… I can’t think of a really bad call that any of the refs made. Not a single one. That tackle that Gallas put in on Agbonlahor? That was a foul. That was a clear penalty. I’ve seen it dozens of times and there is no fault there on the part of the ref. Gallas was just poor in the tackle. And moreover, Gallas didn’t need to make the tackle, he had two defenders helping in the middle. That was vintage Arsenal “defense” and no amount of biased reffing was going to save us from ourselves.

But worse, I can’t figure out what was he trying to accomplish with those remarks. If his goals was to get a touchline ban, a fine, and worse, every official in England is making calls against Arsenal, then mission accomplished. You don’t get on the officials’ good side by calling them all cheaters.

Final Thoughts

I joked about the woodwork being Arsenal’s best defender in the first section there, but let’s face it; Arsenal’s defense is dreadful. Up 2-0 with 5 outright defenders and 2 defensive midfielders on the pitch they still played the same ball-holdery, high line, “attacking” football that has been the hallmark of this failed first half of the season. Up 2-0 in the 65th minute Arsenal should have just held on. Any team that considers themselves champion quality needs to be able to hold on to a lead and this team just cannot do it.

The first goal was a horrible, horrible tackle by the guy who is supposed to be Arsenal’s best defender. Now, before I light into Gallas let me just say that in the first half, he WAS Arsenal’s best defender and showed why people think of him as world class. The problem is that as good as he was in the first, he was equally bad in the second. In fact, the only reason people are holding on to the notion that Gallas is a good defender is because the rest of the team (barring Sagna) are so defensively dreadful, they make Gallas look like a good player.

Don’t just take my word for it, this Arsenal team is worse, defensively, than Fulham and equal to the laughable defense that is Tottenham. Tottenham, the defensive joke of the EPL.

Defense wins championships. Defense was the key to every trophy that Arsenal has ever won. Somehow, Arsene has lost sight of this fact and now thinks he can turn this club into the Dallas Mavericks of the EPL. The Mavericks were famous for putting on offensive displays unparalleld in the NBA. People called their basketball “beautiful,” “flowing,” “magnificent,” and all the other adjectives you’ve heard to describe Arsenal, and you know how many NBA titles they won with that? Zero. Because when push came to shove, more balanced teams could hold on to a lead and the Dallas Mavericks could not. Just like this Arsenal team can not.

Similarly, the fans of both teams feel a tremendous injustice is done to them whenever one of their players are out-muscled for the ball. Both teams complained that the referee’s were against them (which has the kernel of truth) and neither team will win a championship as long as they have a defense that cannot hold on to a lead.

Can Wenger explain how Arsenal are going to beat Roma with a defense that leaks goals? They have to see that display and be licking their chops ready to come to the Emirates and get that crucial away goal… or two.

No, Arsene, this is not a championship quality team. When you have 6 outright defenders on the pitch and two defensive midfielders (neither of who could be arsed to track back and cover Zat Knight) and you can’t hold on to a 2-0 lead there are serious problems.

Given his post match comments about how this team is “so close” to being Champs, you have to wonder if Arsene just doesn’t get it.

Well, the boys head home for a matchup with Arsenal on the Coast on Sunday. Kickoff is 6am local time and Doyle’s is playing the match live. I expect to see all you locals there on Sunday. Yesterday I was surrounded with 20 hostile anti-supporters and was all alone supporting Arsenal. Get out and support the team no matter where you live.

Villa v. Arsenal: the battle for 4th

Good morning and I hope that you got everything you needed yesterday. I made biscuits and gravy and then we sat around the house all day and watched daytime television. Then we cracked open som Guinesses and ate some leftovers from the 24th; standing rib roast, roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts cooked in bacon. Not a bad night!

Today we have all 20 EPL teams playing each other and, judging by the Chelsea v. West Brom match that I’m watching as I write this, there will almost certainly be some movement in the table today. In fact, looking at the match ups the traditionalist would have to see that this is a real chance for the top four to put some space between themselves and the also-rans. Unfortunately, Arsenal could end the day there in that “also-ran” category.

Just look at the matchups: Stoke host Man U, Liverpool have Bolton, and Chelsea have WBA at home. Come on, those should all be wins, right? Even in this wild season, where we’ve seen some unpredictable results, there’s no way that Chelsea, Man U, and Liverpool are going to drop points against those teams. That leaves just the Arsenal/Villa game as the decider.

Every Arsenal supporter the world over knows how important this game is, if everyone else wins (which they are at the moment) and Arsenal loses, they will be 11 points off first place and 6 points off 4th place. Not an insurmountable lead, sure, but certainly puts any talk about winning the title to bed and puts Arsenal 6 points from keeping the Champions League spot. With all the injuries and growing pains of this team, you’d have to think that 6 points is a lot harder to come back from for this team than it is for a big, experienced squad like Man U.

Worryingly, Wenger is warning Arsenal supporters that Champions League football is not our birthright. I’ve been saying that same thing for a while but the difference is that I’m not Arsene Wenger. When I say it, I’m just some American with an opinion, when Wenger says it, it makes me think that he has a plan. It seems kind of crazy to say it but it seems like Wenger has accepted the reality that Arsenal, as they are constructed right now, are not legitimate title contenders and are instead looking squarely at 5th place. His plan then is what? Another year of rebuilding? Given his activity in the transfer market over the last few years that seems the most likely explanation. If you have another I’d love to hear it.

Whatever the plan, or lack of plan, I do think this squad has the talent, even missing Ade and Cesc, to beat Villa. We’ve seen what they can do in the second half of the Liverpool game, we’ve seen what young talent like Wilshere and King Ramsey I can do when unleashed by Wenger. We’ve seen it before and I think we’ll see it again. Let’s hope it starts today.

As for who Wenger will play today… HA! I’ll have a guess, I… erm… guess… but even God doesn’t know who Wenger will play today. I’ll say that Wenger plays a 4-2-3-1 with Denilson and Song in front of the back 4, Nasri left, Diaby right, Chocolate Lightning in the hole and Bendtner up front. If we’re down, Ramsey and Vela will come on in the 70th minute. If we’re getting blown out, Wilshere will come on.

Right, I’ll leave you on the blow out note and just say that despite the fact that the game is on FSC, a lot of us are going to Doyle’s today for the festivities, so come on down and join us.

Oh and for the record, I’ve changed my mind on Arteta. He reminds me of a more polished version of Denilson and he’s having a very good season. Go get him Arsene, he would be a great addition to the team.

Cheers and see you tomorrow.