Will the real cheats please own up?

I broke down last night and watched the MLS Cup final between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of football on display, as one should be when you are ostensibly watching the two best teams in the MLS play each other. Still, as well as Real Salt Lake moved the ball, and as fun it was to watch David Beckham show off his one trick pony my main three criticisms of MLS stand; they play on field turf (if they’re lucky), the level of play is pretty poor all around, and there’s a ton of cheating. It’s almost as if the MLS took all the worst things about world football — diving, overly physical play, moving walls, professional fouls, shirt pulling, yelling at the referee, etc — combined them and put them out on fake grass.

I’m not saying that there’s nothing good to watch in the MLS: the penalty kicks that decided last night’s game was pretty damn dramatic, the Seattle Sounders fans are pretty amazing, and Real Salt Lake despite being underdogs were the better team last night and deserved the win — they played some really nice football at times.

Rather, the game was so foul laden and had so many players rolling around on the ground feigning injury that it highlighted the issue of who gets called a cheat and who doesn’t.

I also had the displeasure of watching the Stoke City game yesterday and the outright cheating on display there was downright disgusting. At one point Rory Delap kicked Pompey’s Dindane in the face which resulted in a penalty. Did Delap admit that he caught Dindane? No, he protested, throwing a little fit as the referee pointed to the spot. Where’s the sanctimonious response from the “fair play” adherents that Delap should be retroactively punished for trying to fool the referee into changing his decision?

Both of yesterday’s games also had players who, on pretty much every play where the ball goes out of play, try to fool the referees into believing that they won the throw in or the corner. It’s cheating, and when Rory Delap gets a free throw in that he knows he didn’t earn in a dangerous area near the goal where’s the outrage?

And of course there’s the wall, which seems to have gone from having rules to having sort of “guidelines” these days. The referee will often march off 10 yards, point to a spot and then as soon as he’s not looking, the wall will promptly march up two yards. Then it will creep up until the kick is finally taken. Blatant cheating, and outright disrespect for the refs and the rules.

I could go on, pulling shirts, holding arms, pulling on a player’s shoulder, these are all fouls. Fouls that the referee misses, just like the ref missed Henry’s handball, but fouls that no one calls to have stamped out of the game.

I suspect that the reason that diving and handling the ball are considered worse than all of the other fouls is that those two are considered to be a “sissy” form of cheating. When a 6’3″ 14 stone defender goes into a tackle late, studs up, and takes the man out, doesn’t get the ball, and then turns to the ref to proclaim his innocence — when he gets away with that most of us just cluck and say, “well, it was a bit late.” I’ve never once heard that guy called a cheat.

Just look at the reaction up and down the English countryside after Martin Taylor went in, studs up, knee high and broke Eduardo’s leg. There were people who said they didn’t even think it was a foul! Truly incredible stuff, but it makes sense; there are people who believe that it’s manly, and thus right,  to go out and break legs and that it’s sissy, and thus wrong, for the striker to try to avoid a leg breaking.

I like that football is a contact sport and I’m not suggesting that we get rid of the contact. Rather, what I’d like to see is the referees call the contact correctly, just like I’d like them to call the handballs correctly. Maybe it’s “sissy” of me, but I see no difference between Didier Drogba throwing down a Man U defender so that John Terry can get a clear header and Thierry Henry tapping the ball to himself so he can pass to Gallas to nod the ball home.

They are both forms of cheating.

Sunderland 1-0 Arsenal; The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Cesc Fabregas looks dejected after conceding a sloppy goal against Sunderland

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Bent Goal Sinks Gunners

Telegraph: Arsenal failed to score for the first time this season and the end of their 13-match unbeaten run means they will need to make up some of the eight-point deficit on Chelsea when the two meet next Sunday.

Match Video

I have no idea why you’d want to, but you can see the whole match or even just highlights on Arsenal dot com.

Man of the Match

Alex Song was our brightest star by pretty much every account. It’s becoming a bit of a mantra to say “he looks much improved over last season” but the reason for the mantra is that he does look much improved. Obviously someone spent the Summer working on his defensive positioning and awareness, because every time Gallas or Vermaelen go forward, I’m no longer worried about who’s at the back because I know that Song is there. Passing forward, supposedly his Achilles heel, he is picking out lines and passes that I didn’t see him do last year. And it’s an axiom that if you’re not good with the ball, you get found out and when Song has the ball, again, I’m always confident.

No knock on Cana, he has skill as shown by the Zidane spin he put on the midfield, but I can see why Wenger didn’t buy this Summer. How much is Song worth to Arsenal this year?

The Good

Sunderland played the exact game they wanted. All credit to them for an organized attack, organized defense, and keeping a clean sheet against the premier league’s leading goal scorers. Also, they played hard but I can’t say they played dirty. So, fair enough to them, they deserved the win.

The Bad

At the ten match mark I pointed out the fact that Arsenal’s away form is poor and that if they want to challenge for the title, they will need to tighten that form up. At that point, we’d played 5 and accumulated a 2-1-2 record. Since then we’ve played two more away matches and gotten one win and one loss and now sit at 3-1-3 in away matches.

More importantly, we ship goals in away matches and currently have one of the worst records of the top four for goals allowed in away matches, on 11.  In fact, if you take out the 6-1 win over Everton, Arsenal’s goal differential in away matches is zero.

That said, it’s not really brown trousers time yet. The top clubs all have a significantly poor away record and an incredible home record; Chelsea is 7-0-0 at home and 4-0-2 away, ManUre is 6-1-0 at home and 3-0-3 away, and Arsenal is 5-0-0 at home and 3-1-3 away. All the top clubs’ losses are on away matches and while people point to the point differential between Arsenal and Chelsea and say that next Sunday’s match is “must win” I’d rather look at the overall losses and ties because you can’t get losses back. Overall, we’re not doing too poorly in the losses category. And while any loss hurts, losing to a well rested, well organized, and hungry Sunderland team right after the Nationalism break isn’t the end of the world.

But it is bad.

The Ugly

I swear that there are some “Arsenal fans” who are only happy when we lose. They’ve been wringing their hands ever since the Invincibles season — because while we went an entire Premier League season unbeaten, we could have done better, we should have won the treble. And now, after the International break, Arsenal get a tough away draw and manage to throw away three points in a rather unspectacular fashion. I’m sitting here, watching the Stoke v. Pompey match and already starting to worry about that fixture in February.

Truth be told, I was talking to my friend Benny and I worried about the Sunderland match, going as far as saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if Sunderland gets the win. But with so many hand-wringers out there and highly biased so-called-fan sites what’s the point of being so negative? What’s it going to accomplish? It might confirm your sour grapes world view but you’re not “being realistic” you’re being a tiresome prat.

Everyone knows that Arsenal are going to drop some points from now until the end of the season. Chelsea will drop points between now and the end of the season, mark my words.

I’m no wide-eyed optimist (though you can’t spell optimist without “tim”) I see it when we have problems, but I choose to support the team, especially during matches. I might have a bit of a criticism of a player every once in a while — yesterday I thought several players should have don more to get the points — but overall I think this is a very positive team with a huge future and will still challenge on several fronts.

It would be nice, for once, if the half of us Arsenal fans who groan at every stray pass and point out how “you knew that so and so was shit, and that pass proved it.” It would be nice if that half of the Arsenal support climbed down off the team’s back and started supporting.

If not, then please consider a different team to complain about. The rest of us are tired of carrying you.

See you tomorrow.

Liveblogging Sunderland v. Arsenal

Two weeks gone bye and finally, back to football!

Looks like Arsene Wenger didn’t choose my “dream” lineup and instead opted for:

Almunia

Sagna Vermaelen Gallas Traore

Song  Ramsey Fabregas

Rosicky Eduardo Nasri

Song? Really? Come on big fella, don’t get a yellow.

Just finished Liverpool v. Man City, meh another draw for City. My daily complaint about ESPN2′s coverage is that for some unknown reason they replaced the somewhat attractive woman who they started the season with, with the hideous retard Tommy Smyth… who just said “bulges the old onion bag.” WHY??? I’m emailing them, what was the name of the chick? Does anyone remember?

Tommy Smyth just claimed to have played football when he was a youth, that can’t possibly be true, football wasn’t invented until the 19th century.

OH GODS… Tommy Smyth is going to talk about the handball, I was going to switch to FSC but I really need a little outrage to kick the Arsenal game off right. Switch over to ESPN2 if you need a little shot yourself.

Matt, you mean they actually put us in a 4-3-3?

Kevin wins the day: Georgie Bingham.

Kickoff — Sunderland gets us started

4′ — Neither team looks their best quite yet. Did I miss something, is Darren Bent not playing?

6′ — Rosicky with his patented half volley, saved well. How many times has Rosicky hit a volley this season?

8′ — Kevin, you are not allowed to be funnier than me.

11′ – Arsenal really getting everything they want. Sunderland’s game plan is laid bare, all the pre-match gum-bumping about Sunderland “attacking” is clearly not coming true. They are sitting back, in their own park, and isolating Bent.

Cesc has a great crack at goal. High.

17′– Kevin, Subs are Mannone, Vela, Walcott, Denilson, Silvestre, Arshavin, Eboue.  I guess Wenger didn’t forget about Vela for once.

19′ — Rambo ponderous with the ball is easily dispossessed by Richardson who leads a quick break. Song was working hard to get back but no one was covering Steed Malbranque at the back post. Fortunately, he’s a bit shit and his shot was seriously poor.

23′ — Sunderland waking up here, and Song puts in a really important tackle to break up play. Come on Arsenal, get the ball to Eduardo, let him work some magic.

25′ — Finally, someone gets the ball to Eduardo and things look very dangerous. Cleared by Sunderland. BTW: the fans booing Gallas for the Ireland game is pretty much the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week. Boo Gallas? Really?

29′ — DMC or Darren Bent?

30′ — I’ve been holding this one back, but Shay Given totally looks like Eddie Munster, I’ll post it at half time.

33′ — Song with a great move, as he dribbles around all of Sunderland and lays off a delicious 1-2 with Eduardo who, to be fair, really fucked that up. That pretty much should put to bed any notion that Song sucks.

37′ — The Sunderland fans should just boo everyone on Arsenal. WHOA — Traore like a rocket breaks for Arsenal, makes a fool of their center-back, and puts in a delicious cross for Eduardo who was crowded out. Wow, I really like this kid Traore going forward, but can he defend?

43′ — Give him a chance Kevin, Eduardo is pure class.

45′ — Arsenal really deserved a goal in this first half but the best chance went to Eduardo who tried to chip and just didn’t quite have the right touch. Oh well, Arsenal scoring 3+ goals a match, I have faith that they will get some goals today.

Back in a minute.

A brace from Essien has Chelsea 3-0 up at half, oh well, there went that pipe dream of Wolves getting something from Chelsea. According to ESPN, Arsenal have 8 (2) shots to Sunderland’s 2 (0), and are enjoying 66% of the possession. I love when the announcers talk about everything going according to plan for Sunderland. What plan is that? Let Arsenal dominate?

Here it is, your Shay Given looks like Eddie Munster mash up:

Shay Given looks like Eddie Munster!

1 corner each, Kevin.

Second Half — Shot of Arshavin on the bench.

48′ — I was just going to say that Sunderland played a clean first half and then Darren Bent hauls down Gallas and Richardson fouls and now they put in a third consecutive foul. I think I get it, play the first half clean, kick them in the second?

53′ — Sunderland now pushing Fabregas around, we need him to stop complaining to the ref and just win the ball back.

56′ — I’d like to see subs for Rambo and Nasri.

58′ — Great bit of action there as Rambo sees he’s about to get subbed and puts in some really good work. Good change by the boss, Rambo has been off tonight.

61′ — Jimbo, you keep talking about how “we” aren’t going to score, your team, Tottenham, is playing tomorrow., so yes, you aren’t going to score. WE, The Arsenal, are certainly going to score.

67′ — Sagna looking jaded, Eboue will be the next sub.

71′ — Arsenal concede on Sunderland’s 5th shot, and their first shot on goal. The boss pulls out all the stops, Vela and Walcott on.

76′ — Jimbo 2 on the ban list, Jimbo 1, Arsenal have scored 55 goals this season, a “realist” would expect them to score. You, aren’t a realist, you’re a whiner. Support the squad or fuck off to Arsenal News Review.

80′ — Jimbo 1: the only “Arsenal” fan who cheers when the opposition scores. Welcome to the ban list, fucktard.

85′ — We love the Arsenal, we do. We love the Arsenal, we do. We love the Arsenal, we do. OHHHH ARSENAL WE LOVE YOU.

87′ — Arsenal knocking, Wenger twirling, Arsenal scoring? Come on boys.

90′ — 4 minutes is awfully generous, for Sunderland. There have been 6 subs and Fulop was down for at least two minutes.

93′ — Appeal for a penalty, denied, Traore lucky not to get a straight red card for a dangerous challenge. The match slipping away.

FT — Shocking, looked like the hangover from the international break there. Song was tremendous, but the rest of the team just looked out of sorts. Vela was uninspired, Sagna was obviously jaded, Rambo had a terrible night, Nasri had a stinker, and Eduardo squandered the best chance. Credit to Sunderland, they played their game and took their one chance.

Stop by tomorrow for The Good, Bad, and Ugly.