Sunderland v. Arsenal preview: are you ready for some football?

Wankers, the lot of them

Oh Gods this has been one of the worst Nationalism breaks I can remember and it’s finally over. Surely as the rain will fall in Ireland, the Hand of God II, Celtic Boogaloo will rage for months with pundits falling over themselves to one up each other as to what level of hell Thierry Henry has fallen to but for the time being we can put that, mostly, aside and focus on the giant(s) task ahead: getting three points against a hard-nosed and hungry Sunderland team on their home patch.

This isn’t the Sunderland of last year who were more than happy to come in to Emirates stadium and play to a 0-0 draw. This is a Sunderland team which has spent very heavily in the last few years and really added some spine to this team. Lorik Cana in particular has added an absolute boatload of fouls to Sunderland’s league leading tally, and he’ll be back after serving his one match suspension for 5 yellow cards. Cana will be tasked with keeping Arsenal’s skipper, Fabregas, from extending the torrid scoring streak that he is on from midfield. For many Arsenal fans, this will be the first time that we get to see supposed Summer target, Lorik Cana up close. Will we regret not buying him this Summer? Tomorrow will tell.

Darren Bent, up front, is a huge handful and has proven that with 8 league goals and having scored against top class competition in Chelsea (in a loss), Man U (in a draw), and Liverpool (in a win). Though he has also notably missed a penalty against Tottenham, he is a dangerous striker and Arsenal will do well to keep his chances at a minimum.

Fortunately some of the parts of Sunderland’s notorious spine are missing for tomorrow’s match: Bent’s huge strike partner, Kenwynne Jones, is out with suspension for a stupid red card and Michael Turner is similarly out suspended due to persistent fouling (are you seeing a pattern yet?).  Some of Sunderland’s players are not out due to suspension for fouls but rather out because they are actually injured: Lee Cattermole, who I thought looked brilliant this season, will surely be missed along with ace stopper Craig Gordon, who suffered a broken arm in a collision with Jermaine Defoe.

Steve Bruce’s teams always play Arsenal hard and work doubly hard to deny them space in the midfield which usually means persistent, niggling, little fouls in the midfield area. A lot of Arsenal fans tend to agree with Wenger that persistent fouling is as much a form of cheating as going over too easily and if you’re one of those, maybe you shouldn’t watch. Sunderland are going to kick Arsenal tomorrow I have no doubt, how we and referee Alan Wiley respond to that will decide the points I’m afraid.

The Arsenal team news is a bit cloudy at the moment owing to the playoff match that France won against Ireland. Both Sagna and Gallas have just played 210 minutes for France in a high intensity, highly charged, very emotional win over Ireland in the World Cup qualifiers. So, while Wenger is reticent to break up what has been a magnificent central partnership between Gallas and Vermaelen he certainly has a choice to make there given Gallas’ playing time. As for right back, Arsenal have cover for Sagna in Emmanuel Eboue and I would not be at all surprised to see the Ivorian come in for the Frenchman on the right.

Despite the good news that Gibbs’ metatarsals are only bruised, the question of Arsenal’s left-back is still open since Gibbs is out for tomorrow. Will Wenger go with the slower, more experienced left back in Silvestre or opt for Traore or even Vermaelen (as predicted here the other day) instead? Frankly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a back line of Eboue, Senderos, Silvestre, and Vermaelen. It’s a physical, experienced, back line that should be able to handle the threat of Campbell and Bent.

More good news in the middle for the Diaby haters as he is out with his usual calf/thigh/Iplayedmorethanonegameinarow injury while Arsene Wenger has called Denilson fit and said that he “will be in the squad.” Denilson’s been out for so long that a start tomorrow seems far off. Wenger does need to do something, though, because if Song gets a fifth yellow tomorrow he’ll be suspended for the Chelsea clash on the 29th. I have noticed that Wenger loves to throw Ramsey into these physical clashes so I’m predicting Rambo to start. Don’t be surprised to see a midfield of Rambo, Denilson, and Fabregas.

Up front, all the news is focused on who will replace Robin van Persie and his placenta leg. Odds are with Bendtner out three more weeks that we’re looking at Eduardo in the lone striker role. Dudu has just signed a new, long term contract, and has publicly stated that he is physically ready to play 90 minutes every three days to help Arsenal win the League. I do worry about how Eduardo will handle the physical nature of tomorrow’s match. Of course, Eduardo for his part is obviously mentally very strong to overcome the injury he suffered but you still have to wonder. Steve Bruce will instruct his team not to pussy-foot around with Eduardo and I can see Lorik Cana flying in on a hard challenge. This match will surely be Eduardo’s first real test of how well he handles the more physical teams in the Premier League; let’s hope his response is a brace of brilliant goals that only the Crozillian can deliver.

Who Wenger will choose as Eduardo’s partners is also a bit interesting. Vela is now healthy and a lot of folks are calling for him to be included in tomorrow’s action. That said, I suspect Wenger will pick Nasri on the left and Rosicky on the right to start, with what’s his name, uhhh, you know the Mexican striker, I forget, coming in off the bench.

The match is being played live on Fox Soccer Channel tomorrow in The States. Kickoff is 7am local time and given the fact that the match is being played live on FSC I’ll be doing a liveblog. Stop by tomorrow at 6:30am PST when the festivities start.

See you then!

“Hand of God II” is the perfect example of why we need video replay

We love you too Thierry!

“Hand of God II, you heard it here first, Alex”

At just before 2pm yesterday, I got that text above from my French friend, Alex and knew immediately what was coming: the religious fanatics would start burning Thierry Henry in effigy.

So, I woke up this morning to the BBC and of course, they are talking about how Henry handled the ball, and whether they should use the word “cheat” due to possible lawsuits. And of course, they are talking about all this in that sort of reserved way that the Beeb usually covers world sport, but I knew, if they were covering this issue at all, then the internets is probably frothing at the mouth. I mean, the BBC actually wondered if Thierry Henry could keep his Gillette endorsement, what would the internet be calling for?

Before I go any further, I have a secret: I read Arsenal News Review. Wait, wait, hear me out… I read him not because I like his work but because everyone I know hates Myles Palmer so you know, I am curious. So, I’ve been subscribed to his RSS for a couple of weeks and all the articles have been like, “meh” and his style is like “eh, whatever” so I didn’t get what the big deal was about this guy. Until I read this about Thierry Henry today:

What a scumbag ! What a pitiful, cheating scumbag ! Thierry Henry, you are the scum of Paris, the scum of world sport, the scum of the earth.

I suppose Arsene Wenger will be making excuses for Henry tomorrow, defending his golden boy,  as always

He had three posts today and they are all hysterical: I mean, literally, hysterical, mad-dog, foaming at the mouth crazy.

One of his posts calls for Gillette to end their sponsorship with Henry and I immediately thought of the last time I remember a sports star losing his sponsors: when Kobe Bryant allegedly raped that girl in Colorado. And while I understand that we’re all up in arms over Thierry’s “outrageous” handball I hardly think that one handball merits the same punishment to Henry and his family as a rape.

So, now I guess I get what the deal is with Arsenal News Review and why so many people I know hate Myles Palmer. I mean, how can any Arsenal fan ever call Arsenal legend Thierry Henry “scum of the earth.”

Scum of the earth, for a single hand ball?

Hardly.

He’s going to have to do something a whole lot worse than a hand ball to wipe out the memory of him taking the ball 90 yards, weaving through the entire Tottenham defense, scoring and then running back to celebrate in front of their fans. And he’ll have to do something a lot worse than a handball to wipe out the memory of his meandering goal against Real Madrid. That’s just two goals out of 226 goals which make Thierry Henry more of a legend than someone like Myles Palmer will ever be.

The only thing this whole incident reiterates for me is that we’ve got to instill video replay. I’ve been calling for it all year and will continue calling for instant replay. As long as the Monday morning quarterbacks get to review these plays to death, and sanctimoniously call for Henry to be banned and have his sponsors dropped, why shouldn’t the referee be given a second shot at getting the call right?

Moreover, yesterday’s hand ball is a perfect example of how managerial challenges would work. The goal has been scored, play is stopped as Henry and France are celebrating, and Ireland feel strongly that there was a hand ball. The Irish manager would simply walk over to the 4th official and use one of his challenges. The head referee would then go over to the television, watch the replay, see Henry’s handball, give him a red card, and the goal wouldn’t stand. Ireland goes into the World Cup, France goes home in disgrace, and we don’t have to endure months of the British press wetting their pants over the incident.

My version of video replay is a pretty simple concept: both managers get 2 challenges, one per half, that they can only use when the ball is dead. If you want to make it more complicated, the 4th official could review every goal and flag for an official review if he sees something suspicious — like Didier Drogba throwing down a Man U player, while offside — and the match official would then take 30 seconds to get the call right. There’s no stoppage in play, no change in the flow of the game, nothing, just getting the call right.

In light of this latest “outrage” who could be against getting the call right?

Maybe I’ll get to talk about something Arsenal related tomorrow, you know, ahead of the match that Arsenal are playing on Saturday?

It’s the end of the world, Don’t Panic

“Going to watch the match this afternoon then?” Ford glanced round at him. “No, no point,” he said, and looked back out of the window. “What’s that, foregone conclusion then you reckon sir?” said the barman. “Arsenal without a chance?” “No, no,” said Ford, “it’s just that the world’s about to end.” “Oh yes sir, so you said,” said the barman, looking over his glasses this time at Arthur. “Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did.”

Ford looked back at him, genuinely surprised. “No, not really,” he said. He frowned. The barman breathed in heavily. “There you are sir, six pints,” he said.

Early yesterday, all the blogs were a twitter as the match feed from UEFA dot com updated the England U21 match and said “Gibbs out, someone Arsenal fans don’t care about, in: 21st min.” I instinctively reached for a towel, my well worn copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and began the mantra “don’t panic.”

Rumors have it that it’s a metatarsal injury and that’s usually a long recovery time. Like, a whole season…. erm, Don’t Panic.

The good news is that Arsenal have plenty of cover at left back. Most folks are mooting Armand Traore to step in and that makes sense given Wenger’s track record of giving youth a chance but there’s another player that we need to consider there as well; Sagna.

It is an interesting idea, play Sagna at left back and Eboue at right back, but the boss has options and I think he’d rather keep both of those guys in their natural positions… don’t panic.

The one option that I’m surprised no one has mentioned is Vermaelen. He’s left footed, he’s played at left back and he’s got the speed and experience to cover there.  I would welcome him at left back and, say, Senderos in the center, playing Vermaelen’s stopper position. This is the strongest combination in my mind, because Vermaelen and Gallas would be able to cover for Senderos, and Senderos provides size, experience, and the ability to score flat-footed headers.

There is one other option at left back, the one that I hear a lot of talk about: Silvestre. That’s right, the only player who played in all of our worst losses last season might very well be chosen at his “natural” position, left back.  F*ck that, PANIC!!!

Seriously, I don’t see Wenger playing Silvestre while he has a healthy Vermaelen at left and Senderos in the middle. 7:00am Nov. 18, 2009 I’m calling it: Vermy at left back.

Meanwhile, fingers crossed that Clichy makes a quick recovery and that Gibbs is just a minor bruise or something.

The Salomon of Doubt

Here’s the thing about all these injuries that keep happening to Arsenal players during pointless matches like the U21′s and friendlies: the players are choosing to go and play in these matches.

Look at the Chelsea squad, ahead of this week’s pointless FIFA/UEFA masturbation, Lampard, Terry, Cole, Ballack and Drogba all came up injured. Meanwhile Salomon Kalou kicked someone in practice and got sent away, and Essien just didn’t even show up when called up. It’s more than a little suspicious that pretty much the entire Chelsea first team has not played for 2 weeks for various reasons. It’s even more suspicious when Terry and Cole are suddenly healthy again. Cunts.

There are a lot of factors that go in to a player choosing to play for country; how strongly they feel about their home side, how fit they are, the importance of the match, how old they are and thus how invincible they might feel, and whether they need to prove themselves to get into the full squad, just to name just a few. I think Arsenal’s youth here is actually the downfall. Both because young players often feel invincible, but also because they aren’t established internationals and thus have to play whenever their country calls them up. Throw in the work permit rules in England and et viola, as long as Arsene Wenger makes a team of aspiring, young, foreign players Arsenal are going to suffer more during international breaks.

I just wish that the Arsenal players were more picky about which matches they played in. I don’t mean Arshavin and Gallas, they have to play their teams are facing elimination from the World Cup finals, I mean Cesc. Cesc needs the rest, he’s the captain of Arsenal. He should be setting the example by feigning injury ahead of almost every friendly, just like those cunts at Chelsea. I think Cesc, at this point, could probably get away with saying he has a “tightness” in his hamstring ahead of his pointless friendly today.

Alas, no one has feigned injury and thus, Arsenal’s players have a huge batch of matches today, and almost all of them are important. Gallas and Sagna are playing in the fiery France v. Ireland clash, the one which will decide who goes into the World Cup Finals. Oh, and the one which features Robbie Keane playing for Ireland and imploring his teammates to leave it all on the field. This is the match I’m most worried about and since I’m stuck at home, I’ll probably be watching it, while touching wood.

Meanwhile, Arshavin is playing in another qualifier for Russia, another match, more wood touching.

I’m sure there’s more but as I type this I’m having an anxiety attack…

DON’T PANIC

Mostly Harmless, mostly

Of course it has to be that Egypt and Algeria would play in a one time, winner takes all match. It also has to be held on “neutral” ground in Sudan, because after playing through their group stage, they are exactly level on points, goals, and fervent hatred for each other. Though I hear Egypt has the bus stoning advantage.

Seriously though, this is the absolute worst of Nationalism Football and predictably FIFA is too busy worrying about Arsenal signing 16 year old’s to step in and do something about this.

For me, the moment the Egyptian fans stoned the Algerian bus, this whole debate ended. Egypt, sorry, you get docked points because you can’t ensure the safety of the opposition team. You don’t go to the World Cup and in fact you don’t go to the World Cup ever again until you can supply the minimal safety needed to ensure that opposition team buses aren’t stoned.

End of.

You can bet your ass that Septic Blatter would be screaming bloody murder if English fans had stoned the French bus and while chanting “Agincourt! Agincourt!”

So long and thanks for the dish

Finally, I don’t want to leave on a sour note so here is the world’s cutest ever video of Arsenal’s future #1. She’s got all the requisite skills, including the penchant for own goals:

See you tomorrow and I want all of you touching wood that the rest of the Arsenal team get through the day healthy, happy, and scoring goals.