Tits, Touch and Targets

There was a moment last night when I was staring at the corner of the Emirates pitch, where the North Bank meets the West Stand.

There sat a happy bunch of coal-tits, in a formation of sorts, perfectly still, quite happy to waggle their tails and to chirp contentedly to each other about the miraculously uniform grass they’d discovered.

I first noticed them during the City game, and passing off the omens that the ancients might derive from such an ornithological display of audacity, I considered them blog-fodder. For as the tits sat, happily ignoring the 22 potential death-bringers elsewhere on the grass, they showed about as much inspiration as The Arsenal did (chortle).

Happily, I recount that as a contrived and malformed comparison, as things turned out rather nicer. But we huffed only a bit, puffed very little and lacked any real tempo or rhythm. The concern was palpable, but the slow-start somewhat understandable.

Having tweaked the line-up to allow Francis Coquelin an appearance – yet still playing Santi and Jack – Diaby was back in again, allowing us a ‘double pivot’. This had Jack at the head of the midfield three, fulfilling the number 10 role his shirts suggests is his in the long-term.

But it didn’t really click. Unsurprising really. Coq, Jack and Diaby is an unfamiliar setup when you consider Santi and Mikel would usually start, but the three two youngsters kept working while Diaby found his feet a little more. At half time there was a feeling we needed a spark, and as Swansea seemed to lack their usual sparkle, it was the introduction of Michu that had those around me taking a short, sharp icy breath.

We needn’t have. Arsene must have had a few words at half time about positioning and the specificity of roles, as in a more disciplined second half we managed to work much of the drive and positive play through Jack. For his part, he looks every bit the potential world class player we’ve lacked since Cesc left, and seemed at home with that responsibility (picking up where he left off on Sunday).

At one point, with four Swansea players about him, he circled looking for a good out. Not panicking, keeping the ball close, he simply decided enough was enough: the best out was himself, he eased the hammer down and simply glided away from the pack with the grace and power only greats of the game can muster. A cute one two with Gibbs ended with us threatening in the Swansea third, and again and again he looked to push us on.

Much should be made of Jack’s goal, and the fact that it’ll probably be one of those in the montage pre-game next season. It was a great moment for him, the fans and everyone connected with the club. A genuinely heart-warming few seconds of Arsenal history, and nothing short. But let’s not forget the touch from Giroud was superb – I didn’t see it in real time, with my view blocked by a Swansea player – and Theo, as frustrating as he can still be – managed at least to work himself into two good positions he failed to convert from.

Giroud played well I thought. As I mentioned before he’s not a world-class striker, but I think he can be a world-class forward if he’s not quite at the level already. He scored 33 in 73 at Montpellier, and while it’d be nice for him (and us) if his goalscoring form was bumped, as long as he works well for a team (in which he can chip in with goals for) then I think talk of his being ‘average’ is harsh in the extreme.

In truth there’s a few positives to take from last night. There’s a few ifs and buts as well, but I think to dissect it too much would be a little unfair. We did the job with an altered, and promising setup, ended the game with 26 shots (that’s 19 in the second half), and came away with a well deserved victory topped with a lovely goal to remember.

We’ve sealed our place in the next round of the FA Cup, and the win will surely breed a bit of confidence.

Now let’s enjoy it and look forward to Chelsea.

…This is a knife

Arsenal should be like the single malt I’m currently drinking.

Pure, ready to burn the face off of any weaknesses in those attempting to consume it and, crucially, devilishly effective.

What I mean is, this whisky makes more sense to me than The Arsenal currently does. And though you may be reading this in the AM, it’s all a cunningly constructed ruse – I was secretly working on this hours ago…at a more reasonable whisky imbibing time. A clever trick then; exactly the sort of thing I hope happens with our transfer dealings.

Yes, on February 1st, I want Arsene to strut into his pre-Stoke presser in a full Arsenal tuxedo, flanked by Alex Song, Alvaro Negredo and with Frank Lampard hiding at the back (something old, new and something blue). The wedding march will be blaring out, signifying the marriage and unity of a secret plan, the vows of which remained silent and unbroken ’til the big day.

Then, with a wry smile, Arsene can sit down, wink down the camera, lean back and say.

Your move, media/bitches.

It’s not going to happen though is it? Arsene’s transfer-related comments become more painful and frustrating by the week and, while I appreciate the belief in his players (as a former Sunday league-er who suffered a chronic case of lackofbacking-itis), the reality is we need to add quality and/or options. And I don’t believe neither are out there.

We bought Arteta on the final day of a summer transfer window and Arsene asks if we can find a player of his calibre in two weeks. No disrespect to the class and level of performance Mikel has brought us but, you know Arsene, we could try.  The fact that Arteta’s now out for three weeks and we’re worried about his potential replacements says something, no?

Who will replace him? Diaby, with his limited appearances and questionable long-term fitness? Rosicky, who (bizarrely) didn’t even make the bench against City this weekend? Coquelin, who gets occasional sniffs of first team action but is still raw. Or Rambo, who is in no way experienced enough to pull of the Arteta role in this team. Eisfeld? …Arshavin?

It might be that anyone of them will come in and do a decent job, but to partner who? Santi and Jack? If either of them play in both of our the next two matches it’s three games in one week. Santi is looking a little tired and Jack won’t look tired until he pulls up injured through overuse and is out for weeks himself.

Yes, perhaps any player should be able to come in and perform at this level of the game, but the simple matter is that if you don’t play with people then you don’t click with people.

By the way, Theo up front against against Kompany? I hoped against hope it might work. But reverting to an injured Giroud was at least a better option than an occasionally glorious, in development one. Are there no strikers who can genuinely add to our squad then currently, or does Arsene just refuse to see that the hole that van Persie’s quality left gets bigger with every goal he scores in Manchester red and every fixture we play but fail to offer much of a threat in?

I believe our players will give it their all. Yes, I believe in the system we play. But I also believe the players need help, and it seems we’re doing very little to give it to them.

You know, I’m not even sure where this post is going exactly. But I’m frustrated. I’m sure Arsene and the boys are as well. But when Kos makes a clear mistake that thousands immediately claim is the referee’s fault (even me), and when thousands rage at Dzeko for a lovely message home,  is it just mistakes we’re making as fans, or willful ignorance of the fact that our club is not the power it has been (could be?), all hidden behind an ‘everyone’s against us’ mentality?

It feels very unlike me to be so negative. But it hurts to see us frail and a suspension or injury away from fielding players who apparently aren’t good enough to feature regularly.

It hurts to see van Persie excelling at United while we have a ‘quite complete squad’ incapable of beating Southampton away and with us continually making mistakes or slipping up.

It hurts like a Crocodile Dundee size knife to the aspirations and the gut of a club we all love.

And you know, that is quite at odds with the smooth, sultry delivery of the whisky we should be.

That’s Not a Knife…

Losing two games isn’t a crises, and yet the boos that rang around the Emirates last night would suggest a club in trouble at boardroom level, in the dressing rooms and on the pitch. We’ve lost two games people, we’re not sliding out of control.

It’s not terrible. It’s not great by any means, but one loss came in the league and was more a buzz-kill than a knife in the heart. Last night’s came against a fine Schalke team off the back of a win against a good Dortmund outfit and in a competition we look on track to progress in.

There are issues of course. It seems, bizarrely, that we’ve struggled with our central midfield balance since Diaby was re-re-injured, but we’ve had other bright sparks snuffed out as well. Gibbs, as good a left back in the league for his performances was forming a fine partnership with Podolski and was in tune with our offside game.

Jenkinson, a blossoming talent and a stand out performer for sheer heart and determination last night, was linking well with the Ox. That both Gibbs and Ox are injured then undoes that work. Podolski’s English is improving apparently. Great for Gibbs, but how well he and Santos can communicate in Germ-tugese (or, indeed, Santos and the Vermesacker axis for the Schalke non-offside) is another question. And the linking work has to start again.

Ramsey on the right? The Welshman had a tough night. I don’t think he deserved the classless shout from behind me of:

Ramsey, you’re sh*t! F**k off back to Wales, you c**t!

But then, apparently there are fans who think self-combustion and player abuse is conducive to normal motivation (may Bergkamp help their kids). It soured my evening greatly. There was also a section of fans last night singing about how Arsenal were sh*t and  digging out other fans for remaining quiet and not singing non-stop. Unnecessary, antagonistic and equally classless.

On the pitch, confusing was Bould’s reluctance to revert to Giroud up top, and push Gervinho’s frustrating randomness to the right, with the Welshman persisting in fruitless endeavours.

Had Wenger been on the bench last night it might have played out differently, but what’s clear is that we’re a squad struggling for rhythm and perhaps struggling to play to a specific system when our first-choice players aren’t available.

That’s understandable to a point; as is why we can’t win a header from a goal-kick with Gervinho failing to rise for any challenge. Seriously, why on Earth Mannone kept pumping long balls up to him I’ll never know.

Equally bewildering was the apparent refusal to attempt direct and penetrating play, although when Gervinho plays where he feels like playing there’s simply no target man. This was characterised in the first half when Podolski sent a ball across the box to nobody. I don’t think Gervinho was anywhere near it. And yet he’s our top goalscorer.

However, for all our balance and rhythm issues and the undoing of partnerships, it took a little bit of ingenuity from a German teenager to get our first shot on target in the 92nd minute. That’s simply not good enough, and I’m sure (well, I hope) the Boss will be hammering that home in training.

Still, it’s not End Times and we will expect to take all three points from QPR on Saturday. If we don’t, and provide another abject display well…here’s hoping we don’t. Talk is that Jack will be back in the reckoning, and his return to the squad should lift the club a little even if we shouldn’t expect him to move footballing mountains.

Of course today is the club AGM, and with a healthy bank balance I’m sure many will ask why Arsenal FC is turning such a tidy profit without buying quality…etc etc that whole thing. I’ll let the AGM commentators comment on that.

But I can’t help but think that questions might carry a little more bite due to our last two results. It’s funny how two games can make heavy a mood. Let’s just hope the coming games against QPR and Reading will cut back through the cloud-cover and restore some hope and faith.

#COYG!

Fan or fanatic? – There’s more to football than the attitudes of players.

What follows is a long, but personally important post:

Yesterday football returned to the Premier League. And, as with every season, a sort of renewal took place: New supporters, some in new seats, supporting new players in new kits as part of new lineups. New managers on the sidelines supported by new backroom staff, and new club employees doing their jobs at new places of work. New match officials. New programme sellers…All of this for a sport many love.

In some ways, new seasons are refreshing. I attended the Emirates yesterday with two good gooner mates, and en route were joined by a true newcomer. A very amiable American gent, and huge Arsenal fan, in the country just six days and up at 4AM Nebraska time just to by a ticket. He introduced himself at King’s Cross, joined us for our pre-game drinks, bought a shirt, enjoyed his first experience of the Emirates and rejoined us for our after game dissection.

Now, lots has been made, post Olympic wonderment – and hopefully more to come – of the state of the game we love. Gary Neville has today written a fine piece on that particular topic, although reading it does mean visiting the Daily Mail. In it he writes:

I’m delighted that the Olympics were so successful and proud of the sportsmen and women who worked so hard to achieve their goals to win medals for Team GB. But it’s just lazy to use their success as a stick to beat football.

He does well to consider things; looking at the effect on players of media coverage, agents and hangers-on, but it’s not just football or footballers’ attitudes that should be questioned. There’s something a lot of people are missing here, and that’s the attitudes of the fans themselves.

After finishing our pints outside the ground, our posse of four made for London Bridge to watch the remainder of the Newcastle vs Spurs match. There’s a Belushi’s on Borough High St and – with a taste for good burgers and a screen-laden venue in mind – we headed there for the second half.

Upon entering it was obvious there were Spurs fans eager for their team to do well. Only me and our new American friend were in Arsenal shirts, but we got a few looks, and a bit of friendly, tongue-in-cheek chat from one guy standing at the bar. He was obviously out to enjoy the day, drinking but level-headed.

He offered his hand in respect and was nothing but playful in manner.

We ordered our food, got some drinks and sat in the corner. By the bar was a young Liverpool supporter, probably all of 17 and absolutely crestfallen at the 3-0 loss to WBA. Across from us were a couple in their 60s and either their son or daughter with boy or girlfriend.

We watched for a while and then Newcastle scored.

Three of us four, including myself and the American (in Arsenal shirts), gave no reaction except to compliment Ba on a fantastic goal. One of us cheered. Not at anyone, not even provocatively, but cheered. I don’t know exactly why. It was a great goal and goal against against Spurs is never bad – it was in the jokey manner the chap at the bar had welcomed us in.

The middle-aged couple looked over.

Our food arrived.

Spurs fans, of whom their were probably twelve in Belushi’s were urging their team on. We sat quietly, talking about football while taking in the game. Jermaine Defoe equalised and the sequence of events that followed are blurred somewhat both by yesterday’s heat (and possibly alcohol), but also by the intensity.

The bar celebrated, but the gent in his 60s, who up until this point seemed rather respectable, stood up and (aimed directly at the four of us) raised his arms, making offensive gestures and shouting something to the effect of:

Guy: YES! GET IN THERE! HAVE THAT YOU GODDAM F*CKING GOONER C*NTS!

Well over the top and aggressively meant. I was stunned to silence (plus my burger was pretty good). So, obviously, was the American and one of my friends. But the other wasn’t and retorted in a considerably lower volume:

F*ck off mate, what was that for?

No answer came and the situation stalled for a while. We chomped more food and looked at each other disbelieving. Newcastle were in the ascendancy, and I had a thought:

Guys, if Newcastle score again I’m not even going to react. I think we should all just do nothing.

Why did I say that? Partly because I’m not one for confrontations and provokingly stoking a fire, but also because I didn’t want the guy to think his ridiculous display worth reacting to. If Newcastle scored again the goal alone would be a blow enough for him.

To be a frank his was a small-minded reaction to my mate’s cheering of a Newcastle goal. But my mate wasn’t being offensive or over the top, and he wasn’t even wearing an Arsenal shirt.

Regardless, I think the football gods must have been looking down on us at that point, and so spurred Hatem Ben Arfa between the flailing feet of Aaron Lennon and Rafael Van der Vaart for a sure fire penalty. We couldn’t help but smile at the guy’s reaction to a rather obvious penalty. We stopped eating and watched the screen.

A great pen, coolly taken, but then:

Guy: YOU F*CKING CHEATING DIVING C*NT!

Shouted the shouter, and it was too much for my mate who’d earlier retorted. He collapsed laughing at the guy and we couldn’t help but laugh at our mate. Not at the guy but at our mate’s reaction. The shouter said something about “f*cking gooner c*nts” and his (I guess) wife – quite rightfully upset by her man’s self-combustion into an expletive mess – stormed over.

What are you doing in here?! You come in here wearing your Arsenal shirts just to make trouble and stir it up!

Stir what up? Jeez. We drew to Sunderland, this is the first game of the season, we’ve come from the game and we’re watching football (because we like to) with a guy just into the country. And we wanted good burgers! This wasn’t a Spurs pub, but a chain restaurant with helpful staff and a jokey Spurs fan at the bar.

My eyes meet those of the daughter (or son’s girlfriend) and I shake my head and shrug shoulders in disbelief. None of us ‘reacted’.

What are you even doing cheering Newcastle goals?!

She demanded. I replied.

Err *pointing to our dumbstruck American friend* me and him are only two in Arsenal shirts and we’ve not cheered anything.

Lady: *Pointing to Mate A* No, but he has!

Mate A: Yes, I cheered a great goal and I’ll cheer any goal I want. I could be a Newcastle fan – how on earth do you know?

At this point the guy comes over to pull his wife away, and hopefully appreciate the embarrassment he’s more than helped cause. The four leave and me and my two mates are bemused by what’s happened as we attempt to assure our new pal that in our experience this is a very rare occurrence. It wasn’t as if we’d walked in a pub at Seven Sisters and started mouthing off. We were in Southwark, being quiet and appreciating a game.

We weren’t looking for trouble, just food, drink and to watch some football. One irate and incomprehensibly wound-up Spurs ‘fan’ made a mockery of all of that.

And I don’t dislike spurs fans. I don’t really dislike any fans. I don’t generalise my dislikes, nor do I  do anything other than, occasionally, play up to chat about rivalries and such. What Spurs, or any other club do or do not do is of no consequence to me apart from when it affects either the club I support or the game I enjoy.

And yet here was a gent who was sure we were intent on causing trouble and, probably because he thinks it’s how he should act,  was highly offensive to passive supporters of his clubs local rivals. We didn’t really react (“we’re not those kinds of people”), but can you imagine if we did.

So people can say that in the shadow of  the Olympics footballers and football needs to cast relative gazes mirror-bound. But I think it’s safe to say some fans do as well.

Because at the start of a new season, a fresh beginning, one thing we shouldn’t renew is the ugly side of support, and any accompanying belief that blanket dislike of other teams’ supporters is anything but damaging to our game.

Na na na na – Giroud!

The season is almost upon us. A tour of Asia, has come and gone. Transfer sagas have, like a lingering parp, failed to dissipate quickly, and the worriers are readying their woe.

But while there’s been some bad news in regards to Jack Wilshere, and some trepidation in regards to the return of Abou Diaby (he’s 26…wow), let us not forget we’ve signed two very capable players.

And you know, every good player deserves a good chant or song. So while I ruminate on a Podolski-based version of Agadoo, there’s been some tuneful suggestions doing the rounds on twitter with regards to Olivier Giroud.

So I thought I’d share a Frankenstein’s monster of a version of that ditty with you. After all, what better way to carry on into the new season than with a spring in our collective Gooner steps and a song in our hearts?

Ladies and gentlemen then, here are two verses and the chorus of a much-improved* McCartney classic (also serving to soothe the pain of never being able to give life to my Wings-inspired JET chant).

Kudos to Briggsy (@AFCHymnSheet) for the first verse, and @KeithTheGooner for constant tweet-based renditions. Let’s hear it! Sing, tweet and RT. You know you like it.

Giroud, don’t be afraid. We take a good player and make ’em better. Remember to let uns into your heart, and then we can start to get better!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!
Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Giroud, don’t pass the ball. Have a shot and score a cracker. Remember, if you get into the box, you can outfox, ’cause you’re an attacker.

tacker, tacker, tacker, tacker…

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

COYG!

P.S: For those you of you following me on @alltheskill, thank you. This account will be made defunct in the new season though, and this the last post to tweeted there. To keep following me, you’ll need to head over to @KevinPocock

(*Arsenalising things makes them better).

Following: The Revolution

This week, what with the new MLS season gearing up for kick-off (it’s called “First Kick”, for the uninitiated), I decided to start following a team.

This was in part due to the fact that a friend of mine lives in Charlotte, USA and works on the YouTube Channel Kick, and also because I’m a sucker for a bit of sporting bia…support. No team will ever match The Arsenal obviously, but it makes things interesting, and affiliation is a wonderful thing – when I was at university I attended more Aberystwyth Town matches than I submitted assignments.

In any case, picking a new team is a task riddled with questions, but I normally follow my standard formula:

  1. Am I draw to a team by something obvious other than glory?
  2. Any friends/family already supporting?
  3. Do I have any geographical or cultural affiliation, no matter how tenuous?
  4. Do I get a clear sense of a club ethos I can relate to?
  5. Do I like the kit?

After asking these questions I opted for a team in the Eastern Conference, but was torn between NY Red Bulls (they of Emirates Cup and Thierry Henry fame), and New England Revolution.

Long story short, and largely influenced by my very loose loyalty toward the NE Patriots NFL team – and the Red Bulls overt relationship with a terrible drink – I opted for the NE Revolution.

Now, what’s the first thing you do when you decide upon a new team? Or even before you decide? You visit the site, familiarise yourselves with the stars, the stats, the history and culture. So I did. But look at what I found upon visiting the New England Revolution player page:

That is a list of players with official twitter accounts noted right there on the page, right there on the official club website.

Now, you don’t even have to know the first think about the MLS, but we all know how annoying it is to follow @TheRealOfficialTOMASROSICKYlol account to then find out that it’s a fake.

We invest our time in twitter, we invest our opinions in contact – however little – with the professional sportspeople we follow and support. So, wouldn’t it be a good idea if, say, Premier League or indeed all professional clubs had a list of official player accounts like above?

Not for the club to keep tabs on the output, or to censor it in anyway. But just so we know we’re not being misled. All it takes is for @AnOfficialClubAccount to tweet that Player X has joined twitter and add the link to the squad list.

We current supporters will all be in a more informed position, and newcomers won’t have to scrabble around and waste time on an already overcrowded medium, where following fake accounts is at least incredibly frustrating.

What I’m saying is this: I’m now following the Revolution, and I suggest clubs start to follow their example.

Crazies On The North Bank

Well, wow. It’s taken me this long to get my sense of perspective back, but you know what? Sod it. I don’t want any perspective.

Yesterday, on my personal twitter account (i.e, not my AllTheSkill one), I posted the following tweet:

Beautiful day for sport, today. A day for beautiful sport, too.

I accept that beauty is subjective, but for the red half of North London, and all those neutrals partial to the occasional goalfest, what a truly epic day at the Emirates. I’d lost my head before leaving the house. Convinced that the KO was 13:00, I forewent the agreed few pints at the Tolington, hotfooting it to a strangely subdued Emirates to find food and reacquaint myself with my seat.

I couldn’t believe how quiet it was, until it was revealed I’d got the ground a full, 90 minutes before the game was due to start. Rather early than late, I sat brooding over the recent results. It wasn’t good, it really wasn’t. With the lads about me arriving in ones and twos we greeted each other with a knowing look. This was a big day.

A habitual look over my left shoulder revealed the North Bank Boomer was absent. Dear, dear, where would the chants spark from? And a stand-in Emirates announcer? Oh my word, do I not like change. Not on days like this. Le Boss went with Rosícky and Yossi from the start, and although I’m a huge fan of both I dreaded a turn of luck that would see them befall a calamitous OG. Each. In both halves.

By five past two, I was crumpled, bitter and cursing in an upper tier awash with anger. We were wallowing in self-pity, painted a pale shade of dismay. We looked decent going forward but were all at sea at the back. At one point Gareth Bale had enough room to stand 100 clones of himself on the flank, and still manage a free run at Wojciech. Groans seemed to eek from the very seats as we all shuffled uneasily.

A shot deflected wide from RVP, Super Tom was close with a glanced header from a corner and RVP hit the post. It was just then that despite the great sound the Emirates faithful continued to produce in the Boomer’s absence (on days like that, it seems many to take up song), I was readying myself for resignation. And it was at that moment Mr Consistent, Bacary Sagna, caught a left-footed cross plum on his head and fizzed it past Friedel.

Pumped fists, and shouts of “COME ON LADS” abound. Sagna, seeminlgly similarly encouraged grabbed the ball, allowed himself an outpouring and ran back down the pitch. A flash of football and between the bobbing heads of half-standers in the row in front of me RVP had the ball on the edge of the box. Twisting and turning, I waited to see the net ripple and then went absolutely barmy!

The Bear, sat next to me rather than but one as usual, grabbed me in joint celebration. We butted heads in the madness, but spoke nothing of it. This was sheer, unadulterated joy and we, The Arsenal, had pulled ourselves back from the brink. We were back in it and chants rang out.

Some had already left their seats for half-time sustenance, but they needn’t have feared they’d missed the best action (just the best goal). Still, the perceived wisdom was that Theo was having a shocker. AOC might be preferred for the second half.

Three more goals to come, and three more completely crazy sets of scenes. Rosicky, having an absolute stormer for me picked the ball up and proceeded to run at the Spurs defence. Sagna overlapped, the ball came back, and I had to double check the goalscorer. But before I had the chance all around was jumping men, women and children.

The Bear slapped me on the back, but he and his guest celebrated so hard they both fell into the aisle at the exact time I launched a jumping fist pump. Magic unfolding before us, except it wasn’t. It was very real, and the very Arsenal team was turning Spurs over. SuperTom, I was told, had scored it, and as one of my favourite Arsenal players, I thought to myself, “You deserved that, sir. You bloody deserved it.

The celebrations for Theo’s first I can’t recall, but for after a breathless, jigging bliss, I said rather louder than I meant to:

“Wenger! Get Chamberlain on!” and the few about me that weren’t deaf with joy laughed.

When the fifth went in I’d jumped to my feet, but stood dumb at what had come before us. We were in party mode and the the blues had well and truly vanished to the clear sky above. A beautiful day for those who enjoyed it, and five goals without reply…

Just. Wow.

 

Still For a far better visualisation of the days events than my humble words can muster, check out this vid. A special day, and deserving on a slot in the long-term memeory banks methinks!

OOH TO, OOH TO BE!

Q: When Is A Penalty Not A Penalty? (Or, ‘How To Judge A Ref And The Role Of The Flops’)

Q: When is a penalty not a penalty? A: When it doesn’t look like one.

In these crazy, mixed-up times, even Joey Barton is calling for video technology to be introduced into the English top flight. I agree {shudder}, I’m all for it. But in its absence officials still need to make decisions based upon what they see.

Used to be that what was a freekick outside the box was a penalty inside it. But a combination of the heightened importance of such a decision in providing an unchallenged attempt on goal, changing a game and/or reducing the number of players on a team has completely altered that. These days officials seem unwilling to give penalties unless there is little doubt in their minds. But even when they do, and even with the backing of second, third, fourth (and perhaps not) fifth or sixth match officials they still get things wrong.

Human error has a part to play, but there’s another thing going on here. A cold, hard, case of The Flops. That is attempting to make and official give a penalty by overacting, going down too lightly or just absolutely cheating.

Now I don’t wish to call into question the integrity of many of the football players I watch and some of whom I dearly support, but it’s hardly a revelation to suggest that sometimes some players go down a bit easy. Afterall, if the Lehmann vs Drogba pantomime spectacular told us anything, it was that our professional players have more than an inkling of how to make the most of a bit of contact. They’re not alone either. A couple of years ago, when I still actively played Saturday League, some players actively practised (albeit in jest) dives in training. Equally, type “Gerrard/Rooney/Walcott/Lampard dive” into YouTube and see what you get.

It might be suggested that The Flops goes on quite a lot. And it might be equally refuted. Sitting at home, and even in the stands, it can be hard to have a full appreciation of the sheer speed, and therefore, colliding forces, impact, centres of balance and  – even – the intentions to fall to the ground of our top, top players. Be that as it may, our officials still need to make decisions. Even when not in the best position, and at times further from the incident in question than some fans.

After the defeat against Fulham on Monday, Arsene Wenger responded to whether he agreed if the claim by Gervinho of being fouled by Phillipe Senderos was a penalty:

200%…anyway, we know we don’t get penalties. We had one against…err, at home in the last game against QPR, we had one today and [they’re] never given anyway.

But we (Arsenal) do get penalties. Walcott earned and van Persie converted one against Aston Villa on 21st December. But it was obvious Theo was fouled. Tugged back plain as day, and he didn’t need to hit the deck to make his point. Gervinho was clipped by Senderos, yes. And van Persie was bundled by Senderos…yes. But while in the second situation it’s feasible the referee Lee Probert was unsighted, in the first he may have been “turned off” by Gervinho’s fall.

And can we blame him, his officials or colleagues if that’s ever the case? Surely it’s far easier to forgive them for such missed decisions if  they’re not 100% certain a player is impeded or an indiscretion occurred. Even if a foul is committed, overacting it might achieve the reverse of what was hoped for. And even when decisions are given it’s not always clean cut.

Just last night, Man City won 3-0 against Liverpool and were awarded a penalty. Have a look. Can you tell me with 100% certainty that it is or isn’t one? You could argue that a 6’2″ man of about 14st (I’m estimating here, as City’s player page omits Toure’s weight) shouldn’t go down that easy. This might also be called “The Drogba Offence”. You may even speculate that having sprinted the length of the half to get there, Yaya felt it better to go down under any contact and get a penalty to potentially kill off Liverpool.

The alternative is to stay up and shoot from an awkward angle under pressure. With 17 minutes left to play, and his team just down to 10 men. You might equally argue that there was enough – even untintentional – contact from Skrtel at the speed Yaya Toure was travelling to send him tumbling. But you’d have to have a higher grasp of the physics behind such collisions than I.

What you can’t possibly argue is that the referee (who is nowhere near as quick as Yaya Toure, and so further down the pitch), or even the nearest assistant referee, can say with absolute certainty that it was or wasn’t the correct decision. But at full speed, and from a bit of a distance it looks like one. Doesn’t it?

And this is the point. For I think the tide should be changing in Premier League football: In the absence of absolute certainty, or even the degrees of certainty to which video technology would allow us to reach (and which I hope very quickly makes my following comment irrelevant) penalty decisions are all down to whether they appear to be one. In the past players could play to this a little with The Flops: ‘making the best of it’, exaggerating and ‘simulation’. But these days it might be best to try something slightly different. You know, players may actually benefit – like Theo did – from attempting to stay on their feet. And as a result we may lose the terror of The Flops, while maintaining a modicum of sanity.

Mother Hen

Quick blog as the day’s got a bit away from me. Still, as long as it’s longer than a tweet I can justify writing this here, I suppose. So:

But for some resolute defending and an international-worthy display by Wayne Hen(nessey) refusing to let us count goal(den egg)s pinched from his much guarded ne(s)t, we’d have taken the three points yesterday. Frustrating as it is we didn’t. But hay.

What we did do was pretty much dominate possession, but fail to get any reward from plenty of shots and fistfuls of corn(ers). Okay I’ll stop.

In all seriousness though it’s hard to be too critical. Against eleven men we created chances and against ten we just couldn’t find the second. I can’t say too much about Fletcher’s equaliser. It was lucky. From a deflected assist, he was onside and he put it in the only place Szczesny couldn’t have got to it.  I feel a bit silly because before the goal I was about to bemoan the Nervous Ned in front of me who was cursing every mistake (and player making one) like he’d a made a pact to piss me off. But it turns out he was right. That time.

Still, him calling Mertesacker a “pussy” was hard to swallow.

The positives are that Yossi did well in Theo’s position (and was probably knackered when he came off), while Rosicky, The Little Mozart, conducted himself well and hardly played a bum note.

It was his driving run, cut back and pass to Benayoun which enabled Gervinho to look the most assured he did all afternoon and put us one up. It was also Rosicky who – a couple of times – used his trademark feint turn (keep an eye out for that one) to get away form markers in the midfield before driving forward. And he also played some midfield and defence splitting passes before almost, almost, setting up the big German for a headed goal with a beautiful out side of the right boot flicked cross.

Super Tom could be on his way back, and I think Rambo’s got a fight on.

Having said that, the Welsh captain did well when he came on, and added that enthusiasm from the bench that I’ve mentioned we certainly need. More starting with effective, older and more experienced players would be a good thing I think. Let’s make the younger guns work to impress.

Random thoughts on a couple of other players:

Chamakh – I think that was Mauro’s eighth appearance of the season. Scoring one in every four, he now owes us a goal…

Arshavin – Was a pass, pass, passer when he appeared lacking the edge and guile we needed…although his little backlift, snap-shot was a reminder of the ability in those feet. Oh, how I wish it had gone in.

Anyway, what with all the teams around us (bar Spurs) dropping two points, we’ve missed a chance to sneak up the table. But it’s done. Onto QPR, and here’s hoping Paddock Kenny is unable to keep our ball game off of his grass.

COYG!

 
 

The Benefit Of Older Heads

The glorious thing about last night’s 2-1 win over Villa is that Benayoun proved what some of us have thought for some time. Experience can deliver. After the Man City game, Yossi tweeted:

Very disappointing result today and also not to play at all but I’m sure better days will come soon..have a nice evening everyone

Now the thing about Yossi, the thing I’ve always admired about him (even in the Chelsea kit), and the thing I looked forward to when he joined us is his genuine desire to play well and help his team. He’s one of the most experienced players in this Arsenal squad, he’s a national captain, and he’s a bit of a player.

But he genuinely works, and keeps on working. He replaced a disappointing Aaron Ramsey, scored to grab the three points, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be giving Wenger something to think about in terms of team selection. “Should Benayoun start?” was the question on the lips of a few. Perhaps, Ramsey’s off days have been rare considering the amount of games he’s played this season, and after all he is still 21. He won’t play a blinder every game, his consistency is improving, and he’d surely be the first to admit his game last night was below par. But there might be a case.

Frimpong too played indifferently. As much as I love the young Ghanaian, he looked slow on the ball an somewhat indecisive. But again he’s 19. We shouldn’t expect too much of him, and while some people might think that the quality of Jack Wilshere at such a young age is something we should be getting used to from Arsenal’s youngsters, they’d be very wrong. Wilshere’s a standout talent – we’re talking “top, top quality” at a young age. Not quite world class just yet, but if he stays on course then he might just be.

Frimpong was replaced by Tomas Rosicky, who had an immediate impact in playing direct passes forward and between Villa players. The Czech captain looked alert and full of energy, at one point losing the ball and then sprinting back after his man and performing a quality sliding tackle to regain possession.

It had me thinking that it’s players like this we need to bring off the bench, but usually it would be the young upstarts replacing the experience, and eager to impress. Perhaps we’ve got it a bit back to front at Arsenal, but if that’s the case last night should have Arsene wondering if he needs to reverse the trend.

Of course if everyone is fit and firing it’s a tough question of who starts. Song would have played against Villa were it not for suspension, and we can think on  Wilshere challenging Ramsey, Rosicky and Benayoun in the near future, but at the moment Jack’s not available and the question of either Rosicky or Benayoun getting a run over the Welshman is something I think needs consideration.

Rather haphazardly, this talk of experience brings me to AA23, Shava, Sharky, Mr Arshavin. A player I rate very highly but a player who doesn’t look the £15m Russian dynamo it seemed we’d acquired. He actually won the corner from which Benayoun scored the winner, but he wasn’t brought to Arsenal to win corners. Although if he only did that and we always scored from them then I’d crown him a football wizard and have nothing to say.

Alas, I do. Perhaps it’s unfair of us to expect Arshavin to track back 40 yards and to win tackles, but he’s surely in the squad to provide drive and guile going forward. Composure on the ball, a bit of creativity, some assured play (he is, after all, another national captain). But he’s doing very little of that currently.

I’m right behind him like I am with any Arsenal player every time he takes to the field, but when his first touch is a mis-control and he then plays a blind pass straight to an opposition player it’s hard to be encouraged. When he does that regularly, even more so.

There’s talk that he might be off in January, but I can’t see it. What I can see is that he needs some of whatever is in Benayoun and Rosicky’s pre-game meals, and perhaps a little bit of support and encouragement from thefans as much as his teammates. I can also see that we’ve a decent amount of competition in midfield. Last night proved that, and Arshavin should be a bigger part of it. Well, hopefully Rosicky and – perhaps, particularly – Benayoun should inspire him to be just that.