There’s an odd vibe permeating the buildup to this Arsenal v. Liverpool match.
From a sporting perspective, the match itself is important in that Arsenal are a mere 3 points above Liverpool in the race for the 7amkickoff 4th Place Cup™*. That fact is lending a surface tension to the game as both teams will see this as a chance to move up the table at the expense of a direct rival. But what’s beneath the surface is something bigger, something that neither team is talking about; the fact that both Arsenal’s and Liverpool’s cross-town rivals are 4 points clear of each team respectively.
No matter who wins today, neither of us can catch the old enemy. Not only will the points not be enough but Tottenham and Everton will have a game in hand at the end of the day. This fact isn’t much spoken about in my Arsenal circles, probably either through a combination of arrogant self-assuredness and outright fear. But the reality is that both Tottenham and Everton have good teams who will continue to challenge, over these last 15 games, for the 7amkickoff 4th Place Cup™. Consciously or subconsciously we all know that means that if either Arsenal or Liverpool want to be in the running they both need a win today.
On the Arsenal side of things, Wenger cannot afford to let his team start off on the back heel. Liverpool fancy themselves as a modern English team: they pass the ball, they attack, they are funded by a rich foreigner, and they openly admit to cheating. The best way to keep that cheating, biting, referee assaulting, convicted racist from hurting Arsenal by cheating is to not let him see much of the ball. And whatever you do, players, don’t bother sticking a leg out anywhere near him. If you do, you might as well just kick the ball into your own net.
Liverpool will try to exploit Arsenal’s penchant for weak starts and will spend a lot of energy in the first 15 minutes trying to get a goal. Liverpool have 7 goals so far this season in the first 15 minutes of games, their third best 15 minute period. If that doesn’t work, they will conserve energy and try to dominate the first 30 minutes of the second half where they have scored 45% of their goals this season. Arsenal’s 2nd weakest period in games is that 61-75th minute of games where they have conceded as many as they have scored (6).
A strong start is imperative to winning the match for both teams so, it could be quite insane. The end of the match as well, since Arsenal have one of the best records in the League in terms of scoring goals at the end of games and Liverpool one of the best defensive records closing games out. Kevin Friend is the referee today and Arsenal have never lost with Friend as referee. He has also overseen some crazy scorelines for Arsenal, 5-7 against Reading and 6-1 against Southampton. Bet on this match ending 3-3, 5-4, 6-6 or something just mental.
The other dark cloud hanging over the match today is a(nother) planned protest over ticket prices. This is a no-win situation for Arsenal FC. Having the highest prices in the League, by just a pound or two in some cases, has meant that Arsenal are now the target for opposition fan’s protests.
This ticket price issue is enormously complicated and crosses so many emotional boundaries that I am loathe to comment. It’s easy to simply be against higher ticket prices and I am. Hell, let’s make the games as cheap as possible: £20 for any seat in the house sounds good. But ticket prices reflect demand and if you artificially cap the price of a ticket, it just means more profits for touts. The real problem is demand.
And the demand is generated by the teams creating such a great product. And they create such a great product by going into great debt buying players from all over the world and paying them outrageous salaries and their agents obscene finder’s fees. It makes a cute poster to say that a pint of beer would cost £9 if the price rose at the same rate as matchday ticket prices but beer has been made the same way for thousands of years. The only way that analogy (or any on that sheet above) make sense is if you had all the top breweries in England purchased by the world’s richest men who were then competing to use the rarest hops, most expensive barley, and other specialty ingredients who were then charging you £9 for that beer, and still losing billions of dollars on the deal.
The reality is that you can’t have both Luis Suarez and £1 pints of Ale because while the billionaires are willing to lose some money, they aren’t willing to lose their fortunes to entertain you. You have to pick, do you want the best players in the world at your club or do you want to watch a lesser product? Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, and Man U are directly responsible for the prices that people pay for football tickets. If you don’t like it, boycott Arsenal, sure, but know that unless you stop buying the £400 Levis that Liverpool are selling, and the £12 packet of fags that Man City are selling, it won’t make a damn difference.
Which brings me neatly to the final factor that is driving the strange atmosphere around this game, the imminent closure of the January transfer window and the impending twitocalypse when Arsenal don’t buy every fan’s favorite £50m target. See, on the day that Liverpool fans will be outraged by the ticket prices that they have to pay to see the ghost of Andy Carroll, Arsenal have announced that they are freezing prices for next season. But Arsenal also have £153m in cash reserves, the only team to have such a sum and a sum which will be significantly higher the next time the club release the financials owing to several great commercial deals they have just inked.
So here we have a team who charge the highest prices, who have the biggest cash reserves, and you know what Arsenal fans want? Lower ticket prices, sure, but even more than that they want a big fuck signing. And they want it now.
So, what I’m hoping is that at the same moment the Liverpool supporters unfurl their banner about the “working class game” the Arsenal fans start chanting “spend some fucking money”. Because at that moment, irony will curl up in a ball and just die.
Meanwhile, I suppose a football game contested between multimillionaires will continue unabated.
*I believe I was the first to refer to 4th place as a trophy and even if I wasn’t and some minor blog beat me to it by a few weeks back in 2009 I’m still claiming it as my own.