Arsenal 2-0 Standard; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Arsene Wenger got the response he demanded as Arsenal secured a place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Standard Liege at Emirates Stadium.

Telegraph: In the riches of the Champions League, Arsenal progressed once more to the knockout stages. But at a price. Their 20 year-old left-back Kieran Gibbs will be absent for the next three months after fracturing the first metatarsal in his left foot. The injury came in injury-time, and in a wild challenge, with Gibbs due to have an operation later today.

The Good

Denilson’s goal was shades of his first goal of the season against Everton, but only shades. That first goal against Everton was an amazing bit of skill, 30 yards out, moving, and he first time curls it into the side netting. Yesterday’s goal was also 30 yards out but in that case Denilson saw the keeper off his line and hit a brilliant, dipping, swerving, shot which just beat the keeper. Some folks might find fault with the keeper, but I’d rather point out that I love the audacity of Denilson to even try the shot. A constant criticism of Arsenal since 2005 is that they want to pass the ball into the net, and so when a young fella has a crack at goal from 30 yards I have to applaud him.

Funnily enough there were these two, erm, well, cunts sitting next to me and one of them, the least cunty, said “I don’t know why Arsenal play Denilson and Song together, they are both the same type of one-dimensional player.” Then Denilson hits the goal and I turn to Lesser Cunt and said, “that sure looked like another dimension to me.”

Meanwhile, there aren’t enough good things to say about Alex Song. I suppose the best way to put it is that almost no one wants Arsene to buy a defensive midfielder, except maybe as cover. He’s added a new dimension to his play and has started marauding forward a bit and with Denilson in the lineup he can do that. Yesterday his passing in the final area was actually very good and it was only mis-communication which robbed him of an assist several times. He’s now able to see the runs that he didn’t last year and that is contributing greatly to his ability to push the attack up the pitch.

Alex Song has become the world class central midfielder we all wanted Arsene to buy this Summer. Congratulations are in order and hopefully the contract he just signed will keep some of the wolves in the press at bay.

I also want to give a shout out to Nasri for a well taken shot.

Man of the Match

Alex Song, completed 86 passes at 91% rate and won three duels in midfield. He’s a rock.

The Bad

Wenger likes to point to the fact that Arsenal keep their opponent’s chances to a minimum and he’s absolutely right. Arsenal’s brand of possession football keeps their opponents from seeing much of the ball and thus their chances to a minimum. Standard managed only 9 shots all night and only forced 1 save from Almunia, who kept a clean sheet.

The problem is that Standard were a dreadful squad and yet they had two chances that a better team would probably take. The first was an incredible strike by Mbokani that I’m sure Drogba will watch over and over. Mbokani received the ball on the left side, dribbled toward the middle just a bit and had a crack at goal which hit the woodwork. Drogba won’t miss that and it’s a lesson that the defense needs to close down on the opposition striker when they have the ball.

The other shot was even more egregious defending as two Liege players (Witsel and someone else) were left completely unmarked in the 6 yard box on a set play. Arsenal, as we have seen so many times this year, simply switched off and the only thing that saved the goal was Witsel’s lack of class.  Chelsea will not miss that opportunity on Sunday, I can assure you.

But I don’t know what to say. I can say Almunia should have claimed the ball, but we’ve all been saying that for 3 years and he still won’t do it, he never will. Arsenal have been susceptible from set pieces for 4 years now, saying that it’s something they need to work on seems pointless. And this year, they have developed a new trick: they turn off in games. But again, how many times can I say it and then sit back and watch as they do it in pretty much every game?

I think it’s better to just say, “ahhh yep, that’s how this Arsenal team play” than to get too worked up over it. They have a good team, they will be pushing for honors this year, but yeah, no team is perfect and this one has some major flaws that everyone can see.

So what? I only care if they are entertaining and have a good shot at winning something.

I think they do.

The Ugly

That's an ugly knot there Cappy.

The way that Standard Liege were tackling, the fact that the ref wasn’t going to call fouls unless they were overtly stupid (Carcela-Gonzalez’ headbutt), and the way that Arsenal were trying to hurt their own players, I’m surprised that only two players came up injured: Cappy Gallas and Kieran I Haven’t Thought Of A Nickname Yet Gibbs.

Gibbs’ knock is the worse of the three since it’s a fracture of his first metatarsal (the bone on the top of his left foot that connects to his big toe) and he’ll be out for three months. The tackle itself by Eliaquim Mangala reminded me of Dan Smith’s tackle on Diaby; it came at the end of the match, was obviously borne of frutstration, injured an Arsenal player, and somehow wasn’t considered a straight red. In fact, Mangala didn’t even get a yellow for that challenge (he was on a yellow already).

If I was Wenger, I’d complain to UEFA.

Fortunately, Arsenal are fully packed to the rim with left backs — and there are two spares left over; Traore and anyone but Silvestre. Digging any deeper than Traore and anyone but Silvestre, I suppose Wenger could play Vermaelen there, or uhhh…. Sagna.

I suppose.

Either way, I am praying to all of the Gods that Wenger doesn’t use Silvestre, he doesn’t have a good track record against Chelsea (see fun facts below) and he’s not really very good anymore.

I’m leaving the speculation over Sunday’s choice of left-back for you all, just remember no matter who you pick there Wenger will probably surprise you.

I expect Gallas and Arshavin to be unhurt from their injuries, unless one of them picked up a concussion: Gallas looked the most likely of those two what with the way he sort of punch-drunk tried to get back on the pitch. Fingers crossed that he didn’t suffer a concussion, if he did, he might not be able to play on Sunday.

Fun fact of the day

Theo Walcott has scored 2 times against Chelsea (in the FA and Carling Cups) and yet Arsenal have never beaten Chelsea when he plays, worse… Arsenal always lose when Theo Walcott plays against Chelsea.

Silvestre is in a similar position, he hasn’t played for a winning side against Chelsea since Nov. 2005 and Arsenal has lost every Chelsea game which Silvestre played.

Arsenal v. Standard Liege; don’t take any Boloni

...She just wants her double dose -- Beef, beef, beef, beef baloney, beef, beef, beef

Arsenal need just one point to ensure they get through to the Champions League knock-out stages but after the disappointment of Sunderland on Saturday and the Boloni that Liege has been talking, expect Arsenal to come out tonight and send a message to Chelsea and the rest of the world.

Preparing to host Chelsea on Sunday in what many are calling a “must win” or at the very least a “must not lose” Arsenal’s message will be simple and clear: we dominate at Emirates. If you look at Arsenal’s slips this season, they have all been away: 2-1 to Man U, 4-2 to City, 1-1 to AZ, 2-2 to West Ham, 0-1 to Sunderland, and even the first leg of this match where Arsenal barely squeaked by with a 3-2 win over Liege.  But the home games have been a different story. At home Arsenal are a perfect 10-0-0 whilst scoring 33 goals for an average of 3.3 goals per and never being held to less than 2 goals in a match. Arsenal dominate at home.

But more than a message about home patch dominance, Arsene Wenger has called on his team to stay focused, saying that Arsenal may have overlooked their opponents at the Stadium of Light. This last bit stretches credulity since every indication, every blog, and everyone I know who has watched Sunderland play this year knows that they are a well organized team who are hungry to break into the top four — or at least earn some respect. If 1-0 wins over both Arsenal and Liverpool haven’t woken up the rest of the league, nothing will.

Incredibly, Captain Fabregas was more interested in equivocation than in talking about taking control and fixing any problems. This could be because the whole team is insanely confident but I have to say that it worries me when the captain comes out and says that they were probably just a bit tired, and they knew that the only place Sunderland would score is a set piece, but that “these things happen.” Maybe it’s a cultural thing but there was an air of nonchalance in his interview that I don’t remember reading about after the other title challengers lost matches. I can’t recall Chelsea saying after the loss to Wigan, “these things happen” and having a little shrug. I recall that they actually had a team meeting and cleared the air. When asked if Arsenal had a meeting, Cesc said no, there was no need for a meeting.

Cesc also let out that Arsenal were a bit surprised by Liege in the first leg, how organized and attack minded they were. We can only hope that they don’t get caught out again.

The one thing that Cesc didn’t equivocate over was whether he will sign for Barcelona if so-and-so becomes President:

I am very happy where I am, there is a long season ahead of us, and the last thing I want to do is get disconnected from what I have to do which is to play football for my team, the club that pays me. I’m really looking forward to a great season with Arsenal and I don’t look more into the future.

Note to Adebayor; that’s how that’s done, son.

And while we’re on the subject of who pays the salary and who gets the benefit, Wenger was questioned about Theo Walcott’s inclusion in the World Cup squad this Summer and according to some sources said:

For fuck’s sake the World Cup is in June. Is he on holiday until June 11? You cannot be serious.

The only quote I have heard for myself is the following:

You know, I don… I don’t, for f… I must stop you there. From us, for me, the big season is Arsenal, not the World Cup. We do not pay the players to go to the World Cup, we pay the players to do well for Arsenal Football Club. The first pride of a man is to do well for the guy who pays you in life, not to go to the World Cup.

And he’s quite right but the problem is that these players, and especially English players, are under enormous pressure to play for their country. I’ve written about this before and I’m convinced that Arsenal’s youth contributes directly to the fact that they never bow out of international matches, like all of Chelsea did last week. Most Arsenal players aren’t established internationals, they’re still fighting for spots, which is how Diaby picks up a 3 week calf injury, or how Theo Walcott is incredibly selected to represent both U21 and the senior squad. He has to compete with c*nts like Defoe for his spot on the International team, so refusing anyone could turn the whole team, and the whole country, against him. So, while I think Wenger is 100% correct, the players will continue to get hurt in pointless international friendlies until they are all established in their first team and they can, LITERALLY, not even bother to show up, like Michael Essien did for Ghana.

Injury news for Arsenal is the same as it was last week, with the possibly inclusion of Kieran Gibbs. I’ve read a lot of analysis from a lot of folks about who will get a game today, who needs a good run, who needs a rest, and my conclusion is that it’s all guessing at this point. Wenger will field what he thinks is the strongest XI and with his access to the players on the practice pitch (which none of us have) only Arsene knows who that will be.  Yes, Rosicky needs games. Yes, Eduardo needs games. Yes, Theo needs games. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Will they play? Only Wenger knows.

Hell, he might play a 4-1-3-2 with Denilson in Song’s spot. Only Wenger knows.

One player some Arsenal supporters will not be happy to see back in Standard’s lineup is Liege’s own leg breaker Axel Witsel (WARNING: very graphic video). The 20 year old holding midfielder, along with his partner Steven Defour, has been linked with Arsenal in the past and is reportedly a huge Arsenal fan. He could be a concern if he feels like he wants to prove something against Arsenal and if the game isn’t going his way he could lose it. With Arsenal’s attacking options limited, Eduardo will likely be called upon to start as the spearhead of Arsenal’s 4-3-3 and the last thing that Arsenal need right now is a repeat of that ugly scene at Birmingham.

For Liege this is a must win game as well if they are to advance. Currently, AZ is ahead of them for the second spot and Liege can only control their destiny by coming out today, denying space, playing hard, and hoping to get a goal on the one shot they create: one out of Sunderland’s playbook. Which means that I guess we’ll see if Wenger’s lament that Arsenal would have won the Sunderland game if we’d played it at home comes true.

Given our goal-scoring record at home, minus van Persie, plus Liege’s need to get some points, I’m predicting a 2-1 half-time, 3-1 full time win for the Arsenal.

Watching the match live in the states is only on Direct TV. Though Fox Soccer Channel is playing the replay at 6pm (PST) tonight. Doyle’s in Tacoma will be playing the match live and I will be there at 11:45 (PST) for lunch, lager, and Arsenal.

Join me?

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.