Thursday, November 06, 2014

Arsenal Blows

When we are young, sports fans chose a team that, for better or worse, we will generally support for the rest of our lives. Different factors go into whom those teams will be, with proximity and the teams one’s father supports high on the list. Some also make choices based on who the best or most popular teams are at a given time. For me, proximity explained the majority of my selections: the Yankees, Rangers, Knicks and Jets. Beyond this, I became a fan of Michigan football rather young, as I liked Bo Schembechler and remember kind of being drawn to their uniforms. Finally, I became a Celtics and Cowboys fan because they were pretty good and I had early memories of gifts from my father related to each team. As far as football goes, I wasn’t really a fan until I moved to Barcelona in 1999. I quickly became a fan of their home team, of course, and then started watching English football on the side – particularly when I came back to the states and had a hard time finding La Liga matches. Back then it was going to be either Arsenal or Manchester United as the obvious choices, and I went with the later, entranced by their attacking and flowing football, backed by a solid middle and quality defense.

For the first few years, I was quite happy with my choice, as Arsenal won the league, won some trophies and then had the greatest season in the history of English football. But as the years wore on and my affiliation and loyalty grew stronger, Arsenal grew weaker and weaker, until they started to look like a feeder team sending their best players to title rivals Chelsea, Manchester City and then, in one of the worst moments in the history of Wenger’s reign, to hated United. I began to wonder why I failed to remember the French's record in war in the 20th century and pick the more English United, particularly as I was in Barcelona on that famous night when they scored two very late goals to win the Champions League over Bayern. Alas, it was too late by the time I realized Wenger was less flexible that a totem pole. But, But over the past two seasons, Wenger has finally “splashed the cash” as the British press likes to say and bought in some real quality – in Ozil and Sanchez, among others. They fought for the title valiantly last year before injuries and some defensive lapses saw them drop precipitously for a time, before rebounding to snatch fourth from Everton and the other chasers. They finished the season on a high, with the FA Cup and then started this one by adding the Community Shield. Expectations were high and everyone thought Wenger would buy the final three players needed before the window closed (a striker, a DM and a backup CB). But he only attained the first and fans have been angry ever since.

But I suppose I should probably move on to the game itself. Before that, let’s take a quick gander at the title of this piece, which could, in my estimation signify one of four things (let me know if there are any other potential meanings I have neglected): 1. Arsenal had a three-goal lead, which they subsequently “blew,” to end up with a 3-3 draw, 2. Arsenal are a terrible team that “blows,” thus continuing to drive their fans crazy, 3. Arsenal blew two points by giving up the 90th minute equalizer, or 4. As a double-entendre with the emphasis on #2. I will leave the interpretation up to you. But onward to the game, which looked really good for Arsenal for 60 minutes, before they threw it all away, like a alcoholic going on a bender the day of his wedding and showing up two hours later, after everyone, including the love of his life, has gone.

What can we say about the game? Welbeck was tripped up in the box in the 24th minute, leading to the opening score – a perfect penalty taken by Arteta, for his first score ever in a UCL game. A few minutes later Sanchez made it two with a sumptuous finish after his free kick hit the wall. Oxlade-Chamberlain added a third on 58’ when he raced clear and beat Silvio Proto with a curving effort that hit the inside of the side netting. All was thus going smoothly for the Gunners to qualify for the final 16 with two games to go, along with having the chance to beat Borussia and challenge for first place in the group. And then everything fell apart. How? Well, rather than offering a drawn out narrative of the collapse (goals by Borre in the 61st minute, penalty by Borre in the 73rd and then equalizer in the 90th by Mitrovic), I think I'll offer a multiple choice quiz on the reason(s) instead:

a. Wenger is Clueless in Transfer Window: enough has been said about this by me and others, but it is hard to ignore the fact an average defensive left back has been playing centre back for the past few weeks. His mistake led to the second goal and one could comfortably blame him for a part in all three. But, of course, we shouldn’t ignore the lack of a DM that could have done the job of stopping the attacks once that first Anderlecht goal went in, which leads to the second point.

b. Wenger is Tactically Retarded: I know that sounds harsh, but I think it appropriate to the circumstance, particularly if we remember a few years back when the Gunners allowed a 4 goal lead to evaporate against Newcastle. This term they have blown a fair number of points by letting teams back into games after they took the lead. And up 3-0 in a European game with huge implications, doesn’t it make sense to sit back, absorb the pressure and play on the counter? To anyone but Wenger, of course it does. To the mercurial Frenchman, apparently defense is something for those other guys to worry about – you know, the ones that win trophies and stuff (see ex-Gunner Paul Merson expand on this very point).

c. Wenger No Longer Knows How to Create a Culture of Winning: this is apparent given the long stretch without a trophy and the collapse of the team in the title race last year, and really several times over the past decade. Even the coveted FA Cup was almost snatched from under his zipper-challenged fingers when they quickly fell 2-0 behind. Some coaches get the best out of their teams, some coaches simply buy the best teams and then find a way to comb the collective egos of their stars and some, like Wenger, appear to hope for the best and expect the worst, while literally (and I do mean literally) wringing his hands on the sideline.

d. All of the above.

e. Anderlecht Secretely Flouridated the Water in the Home Locker Room

I'll go with D, though I suppose E is about as likely as Justin Bieber finding a way to have a career in adulthood. The Gunners are still in a position to progress, but a beating by Dortmund and a bad night in Galatasaray could change that. This is a team that is lost at the moment, largely as a result of too many injuries and a complete lack of confidence and mettle. Let’s hope they fair better on their trip to Swansea this weekend and that they stay within breathing room of the title and get out of the group before their stars finally begin to return in December and January. This was, for lack of a better word, an apoplectic-inducing and utterly pathetic display of why Wenger should go (a message I will stay on with the disciplined tone-deafness of a Republican politician until he is gone)!!!!!

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