Mugs and Thugs

Good morning Kickers, I hope you had as good a night as I did! After the match we putzed around the house getting various things done and then I went out and had a few drinks with friends while watching the Sounders beat Kansas City in perhaps the most surreal stadium I have ever seen.

I’ve spoken about the MLS a few times and it’s usually been unfavorable but I’m not going to rip anyone here. Instead I’ll just say that watching football in a Northern League Baseball stadium is quite bizarre, but hey, at least they play on grass! Seriously, I was asking Benny why there were no sideline stands and in fact no stands for 3/4 of the pitch when suddenly I saw a pitcher’s mound off to the side and then it struck me: they’re playing on a minor league baseball ground! It turns out that it’s not even a minor league team, The Kansas City T-Bones are in Baseball’s Northern League, a sort of independent minor league, not heavily scouted by the Majors.

For my readers who have never been in a baseball stadium, they are sort of shaped like a cone. The home plate at the smallest part of the cone and a fence at the largest. In the minor leagues, the seating is all concentrated around home plate with stands running outward from there to the end of the cone. Usually, there are no stands in the outfield and instead there’s just, like yesterday, a little hill where people sneak in or just park a blanket and enjoy a summer baseball game.

Minor league baseball is one of the great joys of America: summer nights, hot dogs, the crack of the bat, some fireworks. If you have a chance, go.

It’s a wonderful bit of Americana but it’s not a place to play football. The only place to fit a regulation pitch in that kind of stadium is all the way in the outfield, where there are no seats! It was weird, like watching a junior high school football match broadcast in High Def. Attendance is listed as 10,000 but I honestly couldn’t verify that, I only saw part of one stand, the whole game.

That’s the state of Professional Soccer in America at the moment. Hopefully, it will get better. More on that at the next Nationalism break.

In Arsenal news, well there is no Arsenal news. There’s a nice little puff piece about the Verminator: 100% guaranteed to have all the quotes you’ve grown to love from him. I supposed Jermain Defoe’s stupid stamp on Saturday is vaguely Arsenal news, since he’ll be out for the Halloween clash against Arsenal. And I haven’t heard anything about Theo’s injury though I’m knocking on wood that he’s ok. That venemous shot he took right after the foul showed that he really wants to play and I’d love to see him get an angry run of form. Shooting from all over the pitch and terrifying defenders with his pace.

There’s still some lingering controversy over Ridgewell’s tackle that I would like to dispel. The Arsenalist has the MOTD highlights and I played that tackle back a bunch of times before coming to the conclusion that it was hard but fair. In fact, it was the same type of crunching tackle that I cheered when Vermaelen wrecked one of their thugs on the sideline in the second half. Ridgewell comes in hard, but it’s one legged, studs down, and he wins the ball. Had Theo seen even a glimpse of Ridgewell coming in he probably would have gotten out of the way. But the fact is that he didn’t. It happens in football, it’s not a no-contact sport. I feel like the intention was there on the part of the Birmingham player but it’s so hard to rule on intention and we have to go by the facts; it was a legal tackle. If he’d missed the ball, or been a little higher, it would be a different story.

The only other Arsenal news that I can make up is that Song collected his 4th yellow card yesterday. I find it funny that before the season a lot of folks pointed to Lorik Cana’s yellow cards tally Ligue 1 as a positive thing and here’s our very own Song now on as many cards as Cana — and has 200% more assists! I’m joking around a bit but only in order to show that maybe we should have bought Cana, we’re going to need him when Song gets his 5th yellow, and when he goes away to the ACN. Who better to play Song’s backup?

And finally, in web site news, I found a place that will print me some 7am Kickoff mugs for a decent price. They are going to be white ceramic, 15oz mugs featuring the Henry logo:

What a mug!I should be able to sell them for around $15 plus $5-10 shipping. If you’re interested, drop me a note — 7amkickoff@gmail.com

Right, that’s it for today. Unbelievably I’m sitting here rooting for Stinking Wigan, but then again, they are playing Fucking Man City so there you have it, UP THE ATHLETICS!

See you tomorrow, I’ve got to go get in some two-footded knee high challenges at Optimist park.

Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Arsenal continued their momentum with a 3-1 Premier League win over Birmingham at the Emirates Stadium.

Telegraph: Arsenal claimed their fourth successive victory at the Emirates Stadium with Robin van Persie and Abou Diaby scoring inside a four-minute spell early in the first half. Though Lee Bowyer replied, Arsenal responded late on through Andrei Arshavin.

Match Video

I can’t get 101 great goals to work (there’s a database error) and Arsenalist doesn’t have anything, so I guess it’ll have to be the dot com for the official match highlights (ATVO subscribers only).

Prologue

The last time these two teams met a 3rd minute tackle by Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg and a 90th minute mistake by Gael Clichy seemed to break this Arsenal team’s will. Because of the injury time, the DVR of the game that I was watching ran out and as the screen went blank I thought Arsenal were safe having seemed to secure all 3 points with a 2-1 lead. It wasn’t until later that I found out that Clichy gave up the penalty to allow Birmingham to tie the match.

Today, it was the 7th minute when Liam Ridgewell put in a hefty challenge on Theo Walcott essentially ending Walcott’s day and strangely at the 85th minute (again up 2-1) we lost our Satellite feed in the pub due to a major rain squall. “Not again” I thought.

Not again, indeed. When the feed came back on the score was 3-1 thanks to a cheeky goal from Andrei Arshavin and Arsenal looked more likely to finish the match 4-1 than 2-2. Had it not been for the profligacy of Diaby they would have done so.

If that fixture 2 years ago was seen by many as a pivotal match that eventually saw Arsenal drop from 1st to 3rd place in the league, then perhaps the way that this team played today, showing some grit an determination to get the win despite not playing their best for long periods of time, is indicative of better things to come for this team this year.

Certainly it didn’t hurt that Liverpool was all but knocked out of the title race by a surging Sunderland; confirming my pre-season prediction that like 2005 Liverpool look most like to “make the drop” out of the top four. Chelsea too looked vulnerable and Villa looked rapacious in their 2-1 victory which saw Man U sent to the top of the table.

In fact, all of the top 7 teams, all the way down to Sunderland, look like they are going to challenge for those top four spots. It should be a fun season and one which a marauding Arsenal (with 27 goals now in just 8 matches) look like they will seriously challenge for Premiership honors.

The Good

Arsenal didn’t play well at times today or at least that’s my impression. For the first 30 minutes it looked like Arsenal were easily twice the team that Birmingham is but for large portions of the game after that they looked out of sorts. Maybe it was the nature of the conceded goal, maybe the heavy tackle on Walcott, maybe Birmingham just got into them better. I really can’t say, but we looked out of sorts for long periods.

But the good here is that they just kept playing. There were a lot of matches last year where this same team would play this exact type of match and rather than dig deep and pull out the win, they would go into their shell and concede goals. The fact that this team never gave up and kept going for the win is a true sign of maturity, that’s what an experienced team does. More than the goals, which were good don’t get me wrong, it was good to see this team fight back and play through the lack of concentration to get all three points.

And while I was hoping for a real blow out, who wasn’t after we took a 2-0 lead on the 18th minute, I’ll take a gutted out 3-1 win any day of the week.

Man of the Match

I can’t give it to any one player. I just can’t. Robin’s goal was brilliant, but it was Song’s play which set it up. Thomas Vermaelen was solid at back but can you win MotM for just being solid? Cesc had a good game at times but then at other times looked out of sorts. Diaby scored, but his header was most at fault for the Birmingham goal. Even Mannone, who shares some of the blame for the goal, made a game winning save at the end.

No. It was a team performance, I’m sure a lot of you will disagree but I think the whole team deserves the award, for digging deep and gutting out a win when they played poorly.

The Bad

This Summer many people publicly complained about Vermaelen’s lack of height at the back. He would never be able to deal with headers, they said. Well, Diaby is 3-4 inches taller that Vermaelen and he is an absolute liability when it comes to defensive headers. I’ve figured it out too, it’s that he just doesn’t know what he wants to do with the ball when it’s coming to his head. So, instead of doing something, anything, decisive, he always seems caught in two minds. Today’s header was a classic example of that. He saw the ball coming then probably remembered the Old Trafford own goal and rather than flick the ball over the net, he looped it up, sort of half way back and half way forward. Forcing Mannone to come out and claim the ball — which he failed to do. As much as I talked up their maturity, this goal was a sign of immaturity on both player’s parts.

The Ugly

I wonder about the tackle by Ridgewell that saw Walcott removed after just 33 minutes. It was yet another really hefty challenge at the start of a game and what gives me pause is that I wonder if Alex McLeish didn’t tell them to go out and send a message. You know, sort of “tell them we aren’t afraid to get stuck in despite what happened with Eduardo.” As I said when Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg, there’s a fine line between hard and aggressive and while I do understand that clubs have to go out and play hard, I really wish that they would spend more time learning fundamentals like ball movement, rather than how to get away with full blooded challenges.

I don’t have any news on the extent of the injury to Walcott but fingers crossed that he’s not seriously hurt (Arsene said he’s unsure at this point).

Conclusions

Arsenal have now won 7 matches in a row in all competitions scoring 21 goals along the way. Moreover, they have done so without the benefit of really clicking in every game: there have been some real hard fought matches that last year would have been draws and this year have ended up big wins.

We’re still a bit naive on defense, as the boss would say, but 3 points is 3 points whether the score line is 3-1 or 5-4. So, I’ll take it every time. In fact, last year I remember hearing so many of you say that you’d rather win ugly than lose pretty. I would go one step further and say that winning ugly is crucial if you’re going to win the league.

Of course, it’s a bit early to worry about the league. After all we just got back into 4th place!

Arsenal v. Birmingham discussion thread

As promised here’s your “official” Arsenal v. Birmingham discussion thread. Post your reactions, thoughts, joy, random hatred, and proposals of marriage below. For my part I’ll be down at Doyle’s and I’ll be twitting gems of wisdom, follow me over at twitter if that’s your bag, baby.

No team news yet but if something comes up before I leave for the pub I’ll post it. In the mean time, I’m just sitting here watching Villa v. Chelsea and reading about Andrei Arshavin. He really is a funny dude, if you have a few moments you should read that interview. My favorite quote?

There are a lot of crazy things here. What does ‘British food’ mean? I heard about fish and chips but I do not eat it. I heard about ales! Ales! A special drink like beer but without gas! I’ve not tried it. And what is porridge? At home, I eat soups and Russian salads.

Poor fella doesn’t know what an Ale is, I’d be happy to be Arshavin’s Ale Ambassador. We’ll start with a Courage Best Bitter somewhere near Emirates and finish with, oh, a Young’s Special at the Founder’s Arms. Just pick up the tab for the flight Andrei, and get me some match tickets, and I’d be happy to show you the ales of London!

Anyway, got to feed the baby and get ready for the match. If you’re in town, see you down at Doyle’s. But wherever you are UP THE ARSE!