Pre-Match Presser: The Tao of Wenger

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Big match today, and before I get to the pre-match press conference I just want to say with 100% confidence that my American readers will be able to see the game live and possibly in high definition on your local Fox Sports Net (FSN) affiliate. Fox has pulled out all the stops and are wildly promoting their Champions League coverage with water bottles, mouse pads, USB drives, and tee shirts that look like they were drawn in my daughter’s art class. If that doesn’t work, I hear they’re going to follow up with a whist drive, a car boot sale, and a major, and I mean major… leaflet campaign.

Right, now that that’s sorted and you can even go to one location on Fox’s web site to find out who is carrying which game, it’s time to get on with the match preview.

It’s funny how we get different versions of Wenger depending on the mood of the team and the size of the challenge ahead. In yesterday’s press conference we had a clearly ebullient Arsene Wenger, flying high off his team’s 6-1 destruction of Champions League challengers Everton. This is the fun Wenger to cover, he’s philosophical, funny, and even lets his guard down a bit and we gain some insights into the man.

Now, I may be reading too much into this, but there was a point when he was asked about his system of bringing youth players along where he said a phrase that seemed almost well worn. As if he’d turned this phrase over in his hands many times in the past. He said that there are three things which guarantee success: Talent, Attitude, and Opportunity.

Maybe it’s just coincidence that those three words spell out “Tao” but it’s a bit of a strange coincidence if it is. After all, my own readers have pointed out that there’s some kind of connection between the way that Wenger coaches and the Zen Master Phil Jackson coached the Bulls and the Lakers. Yes, I am aware that Zen and Tao are not the same thing, but you get the point.

There’s still a lot of folks wondering about Wenger’s seemingly endless resolve to create this Arsenal team in his own image. Especially in the face of what has been pretty much ubiquitous criticism of that very system for the last 4 years. Rest assured, Wenger heard it, and promptly ignored it:

My belief (in the team) is full. If I had read, or listened too much to opinions I would not have done what I’ve done.

In so many ways this is possibly the truest measure of the man. I have often called him an iconoclast and occasionally even likened him to the founders of the Punk movement for his stalwart position on how football should be played and how a team should be built; football should be total, attacking, beautiful, even graceful movements. To accomplish this players should be technical, precise, quick, intelligent, confident with the ball, and strong and decisive in the challenge. And in Wenger’s world view, the best way to get players who can achieve that is to make them from scratch which will limit the potentially corrosive effect of negative attitude. Then, you throw them in and give them the chance to show what they are made of, whether that’s a 16 year old given a start in a League Cup match, or sticking to your guns for a whole season in order to grow Song and Denilson, he’s going to present players with chances to prove themselves.

Talent, Attitude, Opportunity.

You have to admit it looks suspiciously like the title of the book he’s going to write when he does retire from the Arsenal.

As for tomorrow’s match, he urged us to remember that though the result was great on Saturday, and though his belief in the team is great, it was but one game. He even claimed to see room for improvement both offensively and defensively. When pressed about Tony Mowbray’s supposed cunning plan and keen insight into Arsenal’s new-found pressing game, Wenger deflected from this single game and talked about the need for defense in general, saying

A team cannot concede 37 goals and win the Premiership, no matter how good they are going forward.

True in the Premier League and actually even more true in the Champions League where one goal in the wrong park can make the difference between moving on or going home.

Despite the talk about defense, I fully expect goals today, Celtic are an attacking team owing to the fact that Tony Mowbray is nearly as much of a footballing philosopher as Arsene Wenger and this should present us with some very real chances to score. Conversely, much has been made of the home field advantage and Arsenal have been susceptible to strong wing play which Celtic have in bounds. Look for the crowd to get to their feet every time a Celtic player bombs down the wings and puts in a nice cross.

Wenger feels, though, that it’s down to Arsenal to control the crowd, and to an extent that’s true.

The atmosphere will be very heated but at the end of the day it’s XI v. XI on the pitch and that’s what matters. We have been all over Europe at very heated places and we know by experience that what will matter is how well we play and so, if we play well we can keep the atmosphere low key. It’s only down to our performance.

As I’ve said before, Arsenal went to Fener and played our game and came away with a 5-2 win and polite applause from what is typically an insanely raucous crowd.  I’m not suggesting a similar score line, rather just that an Arsenal goal would go a long way to take some of the wind out of the Celtic crowd.

An average game will not be good enough against Celtic. It is a game we try to win, it’s as simple as that. Because it’s not a game where you can go into it and give 90% and then make up the difference at home.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s an exciting opportunity for Arsene’s current crop of talent and I’m guessing that Wenger has them pulsing with the right attitude.

Talent, Attitude, Opportunity, the Tao of Wenger will be tested today

American TV Schedules Confuse even Americans

There’s a lot of confusion right now as to who’s carrying what and where you can watch tomorrow’s Arsenal match over here in The States. I know previously I have been both railed upon and hailed for my position on ESPN carrying games in America and no doubt this current confusion will only add to the haters. But, if momentary confusion is the price to pay for getting to watch the EPL in high definition, then I’ll gladly pay that price. As Benjamin Franklin once famously said “Those who would give up their high definition for a little temporary understanding deserve neither understanding nor high definition football.”

The kind folk(s?) at Soccer TV Listings have managed to do what I failed to do last week; pull together a single listing for all the football broadcasts in the U.S. Sadly, they are listing the Arsenal match as tape delay and in Low Def on Fox Soccer Channel.

That said, this is where it gets confusing. If you go to msn.foxsports.com and check out your local listings you might find something that looks like this:

Ignore the watersports

See that “FSN 37″ and “FSN 537?” Those are my local Fox Sports Network channels. Normally they play things like Seattle Supersonics games and since the Sonics have left, all we have left to show on that channel is the Little League World Series from two years ago, Competitive Dominoes, Eric’s Little Heroes All 26 Episodes, and The World Series of Watching Paint Dry.

But it looks like, maybe, JUST MAYBE, they’ll be showing some “soccer” tomorrow. I’m being cautious here because I’ve been down this road before with live television broadcasts of football matches here in the U.S. There was an FA Cup match a few years ago that was supposed to be on Setanta, well I was at home and going through the listings, and lo and behold it was on pay-per-view. Well, rather than go to the bar, I thought, eh fuck it, and ordered the match. When the screen was still black 30 minutes into kickoff I knew something was seriously wrong. It turned out that the local TV company had listed a pay-per-view that they didn’t have rights to list.

See, this isn’t a football (American football) game so the TV Guides have a loose editorial policy toward these things and they sometimes list games that they don’t have the rights to actually play. Now, I know that these are both Fox channels, and I know that Fox DOES have the rights to play these matches which is what’s giving me hope that this listing is true. But if it is true, then why is it that when I go to the Fox Soccer web site, they don’t tell me to check my regional Fox Sports station for the Celtic v. Arsenal match live and in high definition?

You’d think that someone might want to advertise the fact that they are carrying a huge Champions League clash live and in high def. It is, after all the only Champions League clash that anyone outside of Sheriffville or Greece gives two fucks about.

That’s why I’m being cautious and saying that in all likelihood the game is going to be shown exclusively on Fox Soccer Channel at 3pm on tape delay. Because the brainchildren at Fox Soccer Channel decided that there was a more important Champions League match that day;  FC Sheriff v. Olympiacos. And if they can’t get that right, well then no doubt they’ve screwed this listing up as well.

Cautiously op(tim)istic, that will be on my gravestone.

There isn’t any Arsenal news this morning and that’s just fine. After Saturday’s festivities a nice quiet day of rest, or two, is exactly what’s needed. Nope, I’m not going to write about it if there’s a story or two about some quotes from some former Arsenal player who polished a turd on Saturday and then went bleating on about how Arsenal supporters didn’t support him, blah blah blah. You’ll have to suffer with the foreknowledge that the Champions League and Premier League’s most offsides man will eventually get an earful from the Moneybags City “faithful” when they see that his price is too high.

Me, I’m going to take advice from Fabregas who said “We are a team, and you either want to be part of it or not. If you don’t, it is best you go.” That lad seems to know what he’s talking about.

As for the transfer news, or lack thereof, there’s still some rumblings about Lescott joining Adebayor in the treasure bath at Man City.  I’ve said it before, I think Lescott is a linchpin to a transfer merry-go-round involving Arsenal and Senderos and someone Arsene has his eye on as Senderos’ replacement. It looks like Everton are lining up Steven Taylor from Newcastle as Lescott’s direct replacement and then would want Senderos as cover. Who Arsenal are eyeballing is anyone’s guess, though I am almost absolutely certain that it will not be some Indian fellow as reported on Goal dot com.

Oh hey, one last thing: remember when I told you that if Tony Cascarino says something that Arsenal should do just the opposite, and Arsenal supporters should think just the opposite? Well in today’s column he’s decided to stick to his Guns (har har) and is still claiming that Arsenal will be, how do the Brits say it, bare shit (?). His logic is that Arsenal play well on nice days but can’t compete when it’s raining, in February. The problem with that logic is that it was February when Arsenal played Sunderland to a 0-0 draw at home and that was a magnificent day, I have the pictures to prove it!

Moreover, it was from December until March that Arsenal went on their unbeaten streak and despite the one week of fine weather that I suffered during my stint in London, the weather was hardly conducive to Arsenal’s supposed fair-weather dandies.

Like I’ve said before, Tony Cascarino is one of the least bright footballing minds and if you ever get advice from him, do the exact opposite.

UPDATE

My local Fox Sports Channel is now listing it on my DVR as “LIVE: Celtic v. Arsenal” and others are confirming that the talking heads on Super Sunday Pus (who incidentally I turned off after the third minute when they started talking about how only teams that spend huge have a chance to challenge for the league, in spite of the fact that the most dominant team on Saturday was the team who spent the least)

uhhh… where was I… oh yeah Super Sunday Pus… those guys were promoting tomorrow’s match on your local Fox Affiliate. Fingers and toes crossed now!

It’s only one game, but oh my what a game: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Despite contracting an illness that is nigh unspeakable and even a trip to the hospital to get a shot in the ass which staved off the nausea long enough to get some fluids in and watch the tape of Arsenals’ 6-1 win over Everton, I had a wonderful day yesterday. Such is the sickness of being an Arsenal fan.

The day started as inauspiciously as possible, I was awoken with a rumbling in my stomach and immediately went to the bathroom to empty the contents — that was 3:30 am.  6 hours before The Arsenal played Everton, ugh, what’s going on?

I sat on the couch with a glass of water and switched the television on to ESPN2 in high def, to check the listings to see if the Chelsea v. Hull match was listed; nope, huntin’ and fishin’ as far as the eye could see. Crap.

So, I waited and watched a turkey hunting show, well it was some kind of cross between huntin’ and NASCAR, very strange, but hey, I found out that Bass Pro Shops have a kick ass camo shotgun on sale for $1000! I need that, for, erm, turkey huntin’.

So, I waited, drank some water and waited until 4:30am, watching various huntin’ shows, when suddenly coverage switched from huntin’ to EPL… in High Definition. WOW. Yeah, I was watching Chelsea and Hull and no one wants to do that, but the high definition broadcast was as cool as it gets. For us Arsenal fans in North America this means that we’re going to get to see the first North London Derby (on October 31st) for free on ESPN2 in high definition. Very cool, I may even get up early every weekend and watch their broadcast, hell, the commercials for bass fishin’ and shotguns are a change of pace from the Upgrade and Wallbangers commercials.

The coverage was good too, I know a lot of fans were worried that the usual ESPN crews would be covering the color and play by play but it sounded like the Sky Sports guys to me, if anyone wants to clarify who was covering the match I’d be much obliged.

Anyway, that’s all just icing, the cake itself would happen at 9:30am.

As I’ve said before, I don’t do match reports, other folks do that better than me and if you want a match report you should click on over to ESPN where they’re saying “Gunners Crush Tottenham” or over to the Telegraph where the lead is “A summer of whispering doubt, silenced.

And if, for some crazy reason, you missed the match, you can head over to the Arsenalist who always has the highlights.

What I usually do is a Good, Bad, and Ugly and a man of the match. Why break with tradition now?

Man of the Match

Sometimes this can be a controversial pick, but I’d be shocked if today’s MotM was anything less than unanimous: Cesc Fabregas. All he did was have a hand in 4 of the 6 goals scored while doing a fine job captaining the team.  It’s only the first game and I’m not trying to get too high on anyone just yet, but Cesc looked like he had a good spring in his step and seemed to be organizing the boys very well. Obviously, the true test of a captain is when he’s faced with adversity but the young man has done well here.

The Good

There were so many goods yesterday it’s hard to pick out just one or two, so I’m going to limit it to just three: Vermaelen, Song, and Bendtner.

In Vermaelen (TV5 from now on) Arsene has found his dominant aerial player and actually his heading seems to be contagious. I have to wonder if the squad’s lack of heading ability the last few years hasn’t been down to just not being brave enough. Vermaelen doesn’t seem to suffer that affliction and gets his head in in places that normal guys wouldn’t dare. Maybe it’s just a perception on my part but it seems like everyone was getting “head in” on every play. Maybe Wenger worked on it? Maybe Vermaelen is an inspiration at 4’11″ or whatever he’s supposed to be? But whatever the case the whole team was amazing in the air. His goal was just a bonus.

Song seems to have picked up another aspect of his game, man marking. Ok, well, maybe Wenger’s the one who picked that up, but whatever the case Song simply marked Felliani out of the game. Song didn’t win every header, you can’t expect him to, but he did fight and tussle, and basically took Felliani out of the game. Moyes didn’t seem to know what to do. It was as if he came with one plan, “Arsenal aren’t good in the air,” and when Song and Vermaelen neutralized that attack, Everton didn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, Song simply did his job, broke up plays, and then started the attack with a neat pass to the captain.  It was the kind of performance that he was putting in regularly at the end of last season and there’s no reason why we can’t expect more from him this year.

Bendtner had a lot of question marks hanging over him this year, especially about his ability to score goals. But I think we saw what we should expect from the big fella this year; he’ll be some kind of wing-ish, attacker, hold up player. Seriously. It’s strange to see a big man on the wings, receiving a long ball, holding up play, and then moving it on to a marauding midfielder. The commentators noted that they’d never seen a big man deployed on the wings  and I’d have to agree with them. It was strange but it worked and it worked because, unlike some other tall feller I could name Bendtner put in a massive work rate yesterday. More than once, Everton tried to exploit space behind Sagna by passing a long diagonal there and then bringing in their own player into the space that opens in midfield, only to be thwarted by Bendtner patrolling the midfield. If he can do all that AND be a target man I think a lot of folks will be very happy with him this year.

The Bad

I really wanted that clean sheet. I wanted it so bad that I started getting nervous at the end ofg the match, kind of like I was watching a 1-0 lead in the FA Cup or something. Not quite, but still you get the point.

Plus I hate messy, scrambling, goals. Unless we score them.

The Ugly

The only ugly yesterday was the fluids coming out of all my orifices (HA HA POOP THREAD). But I did wonder why the Everton folks were booing Cesc?

Conclusions

As much as anything, this game was a signal to the league. It’s pretty clear that this team felt like they had something to prove yesterday, from their defense in the air, to their slick passing, and shots from distance they took every criticism that Arsenal have suffered these last two years and turned it into a strength. How well they’ll be able keep that up will be the tale of the season.

I haven’t seen Arsenal beat Everton this badly since the 7-0 win that immediately preceded the FA Cup which marked Arsenal’s last piece of silverware. On that day, it was a masterful 34 year old Dennis Bergkamp who won man of the match, today it was the 22 year old Cesc Fabregas. One has to wonder if the torch of the old invincibles hasn’t been finally extinguished with the departure of Toure, and a new torch lit yesterday. 37 more games will tell, for now, I’m basking in this one glorious victory, the day when Arsenal’s season started perfectly.

Enjoy.