Saturday, March 10, 2012

Oh, How the Worm Turns: Arsenal 3 - AC Milan 0

Columnist Ed Enjoys Feeding Worms to His Pet Pigeons
photo by foxypar4via PhotoRee

Just when you thought they had been left for dead, Arsenal threw everything but the kitchen sink at AC Milan on Tuesday, and despite putting up three of the four goals needed to tie the scoreline on aggregate, came up just short by failing to score in the second half.  This might have been the best game of the season to watch so far, and it raises the following issues:

1.     Top to Bottom to Top.  It’s amazing how low Arsenal were when they found themselves two down to Tottenham, and how high they’ve flown after coming back to thrash Spurs and then end Liverpool’s season the following week.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team more dispirited than the Arsenal team that took on AC Milan in Milan.  What happened exactly?  It's hard to say, really, although I can think of a few items below.

      But what we all need to be reminded of is that it’s a long season, and the story arc constantly changes, despite the predictions of the experts.  I recall a few saying a couple of months ago that Fulham was a dark horse to be relegated – now they're being compared to the best team in Fulham history.  We’ve also seen Uncle Harry at Spurs go from coronation to two straight thrashings, with fourth place now looking like something other than a lock for Tottenham.  To use one of my favorite clich├ęs—Oh, how the worm turns.  (Try using that one a few times, I bet you’ll like it).

2.     Oxlade-Chamberlain.  Despite illustrating the real problem that occurs from a hyphenated surname (for example, what does he name his kids then, especially if he marries someone named Higglestone or Wachingburgenstowe?), this 18 year old was the Man of the Match for Arsenal.  He injected speed and purpose to the Gunner's attack.  He caused the PK that Van Persie converted at one end, and was diving and crawling to stop a cross at the defensive end.  His performance on Tuesday was everything you could want from a footballer.

3.     PressureBill Parcells used to say that everyone reacts to pressure, it's just a matter of whether they get better or worse.  Robin Van Persie seemed to do a little of both.  Converting a high pressure penalty kick with a devastating shot to the upper right corner showed steeliness and resolve; but when he tried to baby a simple finish and it was saved, he seemed to show a fear of failure.  Worse was AC Milan, particularly in the second half when they tried to guide an easy cross into the back of the net only to nudge it right into Sczcesny.

4.     Playoffs.  The regular season in the EPL is very enjoyable, but games like the one on Tuesday night at Arsenal show how exciting a playoff structure could be.  In short, there would be no taking a point and moving on.  Too many of the top teams in the BPL play for draws when playing each other during the regular season.  Perhaps a playoff format for the top eight should be started.  I know, it’s never going to happen, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the top teams play each other with this kind of pressure on the line?

5.     Wojciech Sczcesny, et al.  I was just about to compliment Sczcesny (please buy a vowel, by the way) when he passed the ball lazily to Alex Song in the middle of the pitch and Zlatan Ibrahimovic stole it and nearly ended the game.  The Arsenal 'keeper remains somewhat unreliable, but other than that pass his performance in this game was superb.  Also with notable efforts were all of the defensemen on Arsenal (really!), and even Song who played as hard and as tough as anyone.

6.     Depth?  This game confirmed that Arsenal has absolutely no depth on their team.  When the Ox left the pitch they were forced to bring on Marouanne Chamahk, who is, let’s face it,  awful, and does very little other than drain the life out of his teammates when he comes into a game.  I also question the ability of Arsenal’s Park Chu-Young – the lack of confidence his teammates have in him was illustrated by their unwillingness to pass the ball to him.  Ultimately, when Walcott and O-C came out the game, the contest seemed as good as lost.  Clearly, Arsenal has a lot less money at their disposal than they used to and it shows: Is United far behind?

7.     Walcott.  How can a guy who is that athletic and fast be so darn mediocre?  He needs to get some Coerver tapes and train train train until he picks up some moves.  Then he needs to watch some film and work on his decision-making skills.  He has no excuse not to be better.

8.     EPL vs the World.  One thing this game gave me was some hope that the BPL was not as bad as I previously believed.  Sure, they’ve got only one team left – barely – in the Champions League.  But just as evident to me is how poorly top teams in the world would do in the BPL.  AC Milan, for example, featured two prominent EPL busts in Aquilani and Robinho.  Zonal Marking believes the BPL’s lack of European wins this campaign is due to their lack of defense, but  I think it may have more to do the lack of ambition the teams showed in their games.  With teams of roughly equal talent, the team that attacks the game will almost always win the game.  Plus, defense is largely about effort.  For various reasons, until this Arsenal game, no English team seemed to put it all on the line against the European competition. 

9.     Mayonegg.  This is a hard boiled egg and mayonnaise.  I didn’t think people really ate that, until I saw someone at farlieonfootie World Headquarters downing one in the break room.  I’m not going to mention who that was, but wow, if the bossman saw that he’d be all over it.  As in, we’d all be making runs to Costco for tubs of eggs and mayo to keep the boss happy.  Oh wait, we already do that. 

This is farlieonfootie for March 9.

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