Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, from a couple of Match Pricks

Today marks the first turn of the calendar since Match Pricks started its little bit of the world here on the Internet. Colin and I have had a blast with this thing, greeting visitors and reading all of your comments. It's been a great season to this point, and here's hoping 2009 delivers more fun.

We're fairly certain it will. Have a great time tonight and be safe. Happy 2009, everybody!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A (not so) way back machine treat


Just tuning in to America's lifeline to the football, the poorly named Fox Soccer Channel, and a nice treat from the vault turns the clock back to January 6, 2007 for an extended highlight package of the FA Cup Third Round match at Anfield between Arsenal and Liverpool. 

What a difference two years make. Dios mio, folks.

Arsenal scored first through Tomas Rosicky with a goal that came from stunning movement up the pitch, blinding in its fluidity and pace. This is Arsenal football. And do I ever miss it. 

The ball was turned over just outside of the Arsenal box and was collected by (The Much Missed) Gilberto ... even before the Brasilian collected the ball, Rosickydinho (As we used to call him round the Pub, mostly because it seemed to roll off the tongue. It was either that or ham sandwich, the boy's gaunt appearance making it clear that Arsene wasn't feeding him properly.) sprinted ahead into open space around midfield, starting out from the left flank. He took the pass and found Hleb who held the ball up toward the right edge of the Liverpool area. Hleb was good for one thing, in spite of all the grief I've given him over the last couple of years. He could move, dribble and man alive could he hold onto that ball. He did so, in this instance, long enough for Rosicky to pull himself back into the middle and lash a shot home. Stunning precision and startling pace. (see the photo, one of my favourites)


Next up, Rosickydinho hit yet another stunner. Incredible interchange between Clichy, Henry and Rosicky to climb up the right, Van Persie moving into the middle to provide space and then Tommy created a goal out of nothing but will. He just took the ball, moved into the middle and put it in for his second of the game. 

Moving along, Liverpool pulled one back in the 71st minute as Crouch easily beat Senderos to move the ball toward Kuyt who completed the goal. In typical Hard Working Dirk Kuyt fashion, he firmly grabbed the ball out of the net and trudged back to the middle of the park for the restart. It was Kuyt's eight of the season.

Liverpool, the holders after that incredible Cup Final against West Ham from the year before, were pushing Arsenal but the Gunners would hold on with a classic finish from Thierry Henry. He took the ball at the very center of the pitch and just hoofed it down the left side toward the corner. This was nothing more than a foot race against Jamie Carragher - and it's fairly obvious who's gonna win this one. Perhaps my favourite part of this goal is the look of absolute fire in Arsene Wenger's eyes when the camera cuts to him. It's almost lust for that high level of football. We're missing that. And I really want to see it again ... quite sure I'm not the only one too. Although I don't miss it quite as much as I do Henry flying down the left side of the pitch and just showing that simple glide back into the middle.

Stopping to smell the roses

This is the 175th Match Pricks post. I weigh 175 pounds (last time I checked). We're drawing to a close here on 2008, and it's ending in real style – Stevie's assault charge notwithstanding.

It's just a real nice, pleasant time to look around, take a breath and realize what wonderful world we all occupy right now. Of course, I'm over the moon here about Liverpool setting the pace after 20 matches. It's fun as hell, isn't it?

So before the January transfer window busts open, before we all drink a little champagne tomorrow night, before Plessis and Zhar start their warmups this weekend at Preston North End, let's admire the scenery folks. Lord love the working man – and Liverpool Football Club.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Apparently, Gerrard wears plain, white undershirts

There's an image for you, right? The English papers have Gerrard released from custody (Telegraph) and being charged with assault and affray (Guardian). I had to look up affray, which basically is public fighting that rises, according to one legal dictionary I consulted, "to the terror of the people."

Well then.

There's two other men (allegedly) involved and up on charges, so Gerrard isn't the only one on the hook in this Phil Collins-fueled fracas. I have to say, this is all being treated quite seriously for what sounds to me like a bunch of drunken rolling around. Sure, a DJ got his face busted up and tooth knocked out, but fer cryin' out loud, man, the boy was applauded off the pitch at Newcastle only a few hours previous. Show some respect when Captain Fantastic wants to hear Groovy Kind of Love.

Anyway, whatever. I can't help but find a lot of really dark humor in all this, but I don't have kids and am not worried about role models, the "proper" way to lead one's life, whathaveyou. Gerrard got smashed and punched up a DJ. I've seen worse – from my Mom.

Steven Gerrard: No Jacket Required

The Guardian is up with some fantastic details about the Gerrard arrest. It turns out the 34-year-old DJ that has suffered facial cuts, and possibly a lost tooth, might not have wanted to play some tracks Captain Fantastic really wanted to hear while out with his mates in the "bridal district." (True. Click the link for explanation.)

Anyway, the Guardian is just having fun with this little nugget it's culled from the day-after rumor mill:

"Gerrard is a big fan of Phil Collins and counts the singer's greatest hits as his favourite album. He is also partial to Coldplay."

OK, let me be frank. I love Stevie. He's fantastic when he's on form, the 2006 FA Cup final is one of the signature English football moments of the last few years, he's saved Liverpool's skin countless times.

BUT ...

There's always been something a little dull and dodgy about him outside of his play. His interviews are master classes in tedium as he appears to have very little of note or interest going on in his head. He sounds like a bore, honestly. But who cares, right? I don't want to be his buddy. I want the bastard to deliver a league title. But this Phil Collins revelation is just a gift from the heavens. Phil Collins' greatest hits album is Stevie G.'s "favourite." Let that soak in for a minute.

It's astonishing, isn't it? Get ready for away trips to include "Pseu-, Pseu-, Pseudio" chants, Stevie.

Silver lining?

The holiday period has mercifully drawn to a close. My sleeping habits will thank me, I'm quite sure.

Arsenal had a fantastic opportunity to collect a very lucky three points at Villa Park on Boxing Day. They were, as has happened too often this year, snatched away in the end by poor defending and a team that wanted it more. How we even grabbed the lead in the first place is still beyond me. Denilson's goal was just a shocker. On the second, my voice failed me. Just utter surprise that somehow or another we snuck out to a 2-nil lead. Until that point, Aston Villa smelled blood from the very start. They were dazzling and really had their foot on the Arsenal's collective throat. But hey, it was Boxing Day, and there were gobs of football on display. 

We were treated to match after match after match, and by the time Arsenal's kickoff rolled around, I was on pins and needles - in full recognition of our tenuous position and the points available against Aston Villa. Settling for a draw wasn't easy. Especially one we didn't even deserve.

Now, in spite of actually snagging all three points against Portsmouth two days later ... that match was even more difficult to make it through. Gallas saved the day with a late header on a corner kick, out leaping David James. If we can get more of the same out of Gallas in the last half of the season, we'll be in a good position to avoid a further fall. And that's a fall that feels inevitable at this point. Arsenal just looked awful on Sunday.

There was no passion to speak of at all. No will.  No force. No class. How they held on is completely beyond me. I do think, however, that we uncovered a bit of a silver lining - or rather, maybe Arsene has gotten a better look at things. I'm sitting here hoping deeply that Arsene Wenger, with the loss of new captain Cesc Fabregas, will FINALLY recognize the holes that are hampering this team and decide to do something about it. We've known all year that Cesc couldn't achieve anything alone in the middle, and now that he's out for what should be the rest of the year, the other holes in the midfield that we've been discussing all year are even more difficult to cover over.

And so it is that the rumour mill is cranking back up into full action. The transfer window comes flying open once again on Thursday and we can all assume at this point that Arsenal will have to pry open the wallet. We know the funds are there, let's go use them!

In the meantime, I'm sure we'll all be scouring the papers for the slightest hint at players we can look forward to welcoming.

'You shink yur better 'an me?' WHAM! POW! BANG!

So this happened last night with Captain Fantastic. Hmmm ... let's rush to judgment, shall we?

Well, it wouldn't be a rush to judgment unless I quickly scanned Wikipedia and a few pages returned from a Google search for "section 20 assault." That being said, it appears Gerrard is under arrest for suspicion of taking part in a common assault. Now over here, this sort of thing gets you a disorderly conduct ticket, a fine, and maybe a little bit of community service if it's particularly egregious. I don't think this is that big a deal.

And continuing my rush to judgment, all we know is there's six guys in the pokey right now, answering questions, one of them is Gerrard, and the victim is a 34-year-old DJ who has experienced some facial injuries. Sure it looks bad for Gerrard right now. The star of the weekend in England, the captain of Liverpool who was applauded off the pitch by the Geordies at St. James Park, is under arrest on suspicion of taking part in an assault.

BUT ...

... let's get right down to it. What does this mean for Liverpool's title chances? Honestly, I don't think it means anything, although as a fan I would prefer to see Liverpool's captain not end up in jail every Monday morning. Hey, it's a rush to judgment, right?

Carra needs to get down there, bail the dummy out, smack him on the back of the head and tell him he gets the weekend off against PNE in the Cup. Get your head straight, Stevie. The team needs to get three points at Stoke on Jan. 10.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

4-4-2 for two on the weekend

The Boxing Day, jammed-up fixture list couldn't have gone much better. Eight goals, one conceded, Keane looking alive again - just a fun couple of games and a refreshing, stress-free few hours of watching Liverpool take care of business.

The weekend's surprise, though, was Rafa - kidney stones and all - telling Sammy Lee to go 4-4-2 against Bolton and Newcastle. What's going on with the man? Have the kidney stones given him a new awareness of his own mortality, and in turn, made him realize top of the table after 20 matches means he really ought to go for it while the opportunity presents itself? Is he preparing the team to rock Torres and Keane up front, together, when Fernando's damn hamstring heals?

Such a new, vibrant Liverpool was on display. It's so exciting, especially because Keane waking up and proving himself useful is almost like getting a January buy - only without paying for anything. Likewise, Insua's emergence at left back with Aurelio injured and Dossena being a donkey has been a revelation. Again, it's as though Rafa is bringing in a new player during the window but at no cost.

Whatever it is, Liverpool this weekend looked like a side prepared to take advantage of their position in the league and absolutely go for it. To this point, I'd been cautiously optimistic. You don't want to get ahead of yourself, it's early in the year, blah, blah, blah. Now it's time to go. And Liverpool played like a team looking to seize the chance.

UPDATE: In retrospect, Liverpool definitely did not play 4-4-2 against Newcastle, as Gerrard was actually, now that I think about it, in the infamous "free" role behind Kuyt. It's debatable, I guess, because what exactly is the "free" role? The guy does just about anything he wants. However, I'll stand by my claim they went 4-4-2 against Bolton, as it went Babel, Alonso, Gerrard, Benayoun across the middle with Kuyt and Keane up front. Keane spent time in the hole, but I'm grasping at a theory here, dammit, and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Shirtless Putin's Boxing Day match extravaganza preferred pick of the week

Like many professional athletes, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has a raging, outsized ego. When not busy or otherwise preoccupied with pulling the strings on recreating Stalinism in the 21st century, Putin, seen here shirtless, fancies himself a connoisseur of Premier League football.

Because the ice-cold blood that pumps through Putin's black heart prevents the observance of warmth and merriment, there is no Christmas holiday for him. Rather, Putin is excited only about tomorrow's full Boxing Day fixture list. He is particularly eager for Chelsea's home match versus West Brom, as another failure to take the full points by Scolari and Co. would give him another reason to revoke certain privileges for Roman Abramovich, such as breathing.

Shirtless Putin's Boxing Day top pick – his beluga caviar of the day, if you will – is Aston Villa at home against Arsenal. Key players are injured for both sides, and a possible sea change in the natural order of the league is in the offing. Dissenters must be eliminated. Shirtless Putin can't wait.

Merry Christmas! Now, keep your hands to yourself, Wenger

It's a little slow in advance of the Boxing Day matches we're all excited to spend Friday morning watching. However, the Gunner-half of the Match Pricks readership will be excited at this blind item in the Telegraph about Wenger again saying he's in for Xabi Alonso as a January buy.

Look, Arsenal, Alonso is a player you could really use right now, and, yes, back in August, Wenger almost bought him. But at this point, any belief Liverpool is selling Alonso in January is delusional, wishful thinking. If you're inclined to believe this item, take a breath and conduct this smell test: Make the argument for why Rafa sells Alonso.

It's a really easy test. If the move is plausible, there's an easy argument even a casual fan can make for why any selling team would dump a player. What's the argument for Liverpool selling Alonso in January? Is Wenger prepared to offer £23 million for a cup-tied midfielder? Is Wenger prepared to offer £28 million? Basically, any hope depends upon a massively overinflated offer. Even then, why would Liverpool take it? They're in the running for the title because of what The Director has been doing all year. Is £28 million going to stand on the ball in the middle of Old Trafford in March and pick out runners along the wings to try and score an equalizer in the final 10 minutes?

OK, then. The article mentions Yaya Toure might also be a target. Go bug Pep Guardiola, will ya?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Update!

Welcome China and the wonderful city of Chengdu to the growing list of Match Pricks readers!

Apparently word has finally gotten out that we're not taking Jintao's guff anymore. No siree. Free people everywhere are standing up and saying, no more. Take note, Jintao. We're not gonna stop sticking it to you at every turn until free people everywhere will be able to enjoy their transient, existential and beautiful football without the burden of swine like you looking on.

Same goes for you Fergie.

Hell, even Putin realizes we're on your trail. And he ain't scared of shit.

Where to begin?

There's so much tumbling down on us in the world of football at the moment. I can't even begin to approach it all in a singular post, especially after being completely M.I.A. over the last week. Too much enjoyment of that Match Pricks derby on Sunday perhaps, the thrilling tilt between Top-of-the-Table Liverpool and Circling-the-Drain Arsenal.

For a little while there, about 45 minutes to be exact, it looked as if we had a true classic on our hands. A fantastic strike from Arsenal striker Robin van Persie (formerly referred to by Jim as the Rickie Weeks of north London) - loads of promise, not too much delivery quite yet - gave Arsenal an unexpected lead. Robin is notoriously strong on his favoured left leg, but alarmingly poor at switching to his right leg. Reports have said that he's getting more work in at training and he's growing in confidence. So much so that he's taken to calling it his - ready for this? - Chocolate Leg. Right. Whatever you say Robin. Whatever the case, it made for a good song at the pub after the strike. Sweet, sweet, sweet chocolate leg, folks.

Liverpool started to boss the game in the later stages of the first frame. If you saw any of the pre-match build-up on Match Pricks or the lineup displays in the pre-game this wasn't surprising. Even with their ace Javier Mascherano stricken down with the flu. Time was, and not that long ago, a good discussion could be had over who you'd transfer over from either side in the midfield. Not at the moment. That Liverpool midfield is 100 percent stronger than anything Arsenal can put forward at the moment ... and it was about to get worse.

Liverpool drew level on another fantastic goal. Djourou, the Arsenal center-back who has been playing with more confidence in Toure's absence, was caught on a long chip that sent Robbie Keane through to convert with a helluva strike that was quite a bit more befitting a player of his quality. Level at the half, on the scoreboard but certainly not on the pitch.

As the players left the pitch the cameras caught Arsenal captain (and only midfield player) Cesc Fabregas hobbling off with assistance. It looked like a knee at the time and after a scan, it is a knee. The player will be out for around four months. That is absolutely crippling for the rest of the season (and the future, but we'll get into that later).

Liverpool turned the screws in his absence and looked like running away with the game until Manu Adebayor was sent off for a second yellow, a rather daft challenge. Harsh as a second yellow but, in fairness, it was warranted. This turned out to be the best thing that happened to the Arsenal on Sunday. It had the traditionally galvanizing effect. The 10-men held on for the point and a 1-1 draw. Great match. Great party. Worrying slide in the table.

Arsenal sit three points behind Aston Villa with the Boxing Day schedule ahead on Friday and a MASSIVE trip to Villa Park. They discarded Arsenal with ease in a 2-nil win earlier. Arsenal, now without Cesc in the middle, will find it very hard going to win this match but win they must. I imagine Ramsey will be thrust into the midfield. We'll look forward to seeing what he's got to offer.

And this just in...for Liverpool v. Bolton, just before that headlining Arsenal v. Villa match ... Fernando Torres may well be passed fit. Good news for fans of the game, and Liverpool's title hopes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

See you for the matches on Boxing Day

I think I've just now recovered from Arsenal 1 – Liverpool 1, or as it was known here in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood, the first-ever Match Pricks derby.

What a morning – and what a strike from Keane! At first, the draw was acceptable, but it is tough thinking Liverpool had a great chance for the full points. More tough, though, is the Fabregas knee injury that has him out for a few months. That's just brutal for Arsenal to have to deal with.

Now, time to look ahead. This Friday morning is one of the great little fun traditions, the Boxing Day schedule. There's all sorts of reasons for why Canada, Australia, England and New Zealand celebrate Boxing Day, but the only one I need every Dec. 26 is that I get up early the day after Christmas and gorge myself on a full slate of football. Here's Friday's goods:

Stoke v. United
Chelsea v. West Brom
Pompey v. West Ham
Spurs v. Fulham
Liverpool v. Bolton
Man City v. Hull
Boro v. Everton
Sunderland v. Blackburn
Wigan v. Newcastle
Villa v. Arsenal

Obviously, the pick of the litter there is Villa home against Arsenal. City versus Hull at Eastlands could also offer some fireworks.

But no matter what your flavor, take time this Firday morning (if you're in the States), to celebrate the real reason for the season: more football.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

For free people everywhere: Fire up for Sunday's Match Pricks derby with some Purple Rain

The summer of "Doin' it for Eduardo" might be over, but that doesn't mean we can't all sway together as one to some Purple Rain. If you're in the Milwaukee area and are riding out this hellacious snowstorm, hunker down, crank up your speakers and enjoy. If you're elsewhere in the world, like many Match Pricks readers, listen in with the link below. Whether Eduardo plays or not (and it's not likely), we'll have our collective good times to celebrate come Sunday.

YouTube and Prince have some kind of agreement where his stuff isn't allowed on the site, so instead, please enjoy this "alternate take" on our favorite, Purple Rain. It's some guy doing it as a guitar instrumental and it is, in a word, fucking awesome:



UPDATE: Liverpool v. Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16; Arsenal v. Roma. I'm happy as a Liverpool fan with that draw. I'm sure Colin isn't disappointed as an Arsenal supporter with where the Gunners ended up. But the real peach of the deal is United and Inter, isn't it? Also, Chelsea v. Juve. I mean, c'mon. Those are the gems.
OK, now watch the video again. You'll love it even more the second (or third) time.

Back where it all begins: 'I would not sell Madrid a virus'

This might seem an odd sidebar, the Ronaldo-to-Real Madrid saga, during Match Pricks derby week, but it's important to remember that the hilariously batshit-insane Ronaldo transfer rumors this summer were one of the inspirations for Colin and me to take this thing to the Web.

Colin had brought up the idea for an Arsenal-Liverpool blog in the past, but we needed a tipping point, so to speak. That tipping point could be found in e-mails like the following. Yes, let's peer back into the pre-Match Pricks era and examine an e-mail I sent to Colin on June 23:

"However, I have to bring up a little "Ronaldo saga" detail that they include in every one of those stories that I always really enjoy: the fact that Fergie refuses to cut short his holiday in the south of France to address this issue with Ronaldo. I'm not even sure what the guy does in the south of France that is so restorative. Do you just hang out with super-rich friends who own a vineyard or villa or something? How do you not get recognized? You're Fergie, after all. Anyway, he's on holiday in the south of France, stubborn ol' cuss to the very end that he is, refusing to bend to the will of the Portuguese prima donna. "Eh, he'll still be there when I get back. Pour me another glass of cabernet, Jacques."

Greatest summer transfer drama of all time. And of course, Zizou after the Spain match yesterday comes out and says Madrid gets whoever they want and it'll be great for them when Ronaldo goes there. I seriously want to see some scribbler at one of those papers call and get comment from someone who really has absolutely nothing to do with it at all. Like Angela Merkel, during halftime of the Germany/Turkey match. Just stop her in the hall and see what she thinks about this Ronaldo mess. Or somebody should ask Derek Jeter or something. Let's just take it into true Looney-ville now."


Well, Looney-ville is back, dogg. After some Real prick somewhere blabbed about some kind of secret deal, Fergie felt it necessary after United defeated Gamba Osaka in the FIFA Club World Cup (HA!) to clear the air over Ronaldo. This is so awesome it's worth admiring:

"Do you think I would enter into a contract with that mob?" he said. "No chance. I would not sell them a virus. That is a 'no' by the way. There is no agreement whatsoever between the clubs."

I love it! Honestly, I hope this goes on for four years or something. I cannot get enough of the crybaby, bitch-ass Ronaldo and his desire to play for Real Madrid, and then Fergie cranking up the indignant poses for the media every time something gets leaked to a Spanish paper. It's just awesome and endlessly entertaining.

OK, we now rejoin Match Pricks derby week, already in progress.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Match Pricks ... Owwww!!! ... derby, dogg

The pain from that 2-2 draw with Hull on Saturday had some amazing after effects, gang, as I've just concluded the most ludicrous, painful 72-hour period of my life. But I'm back on the attack for Match Pricks derby week, abscessed tooth and all.

Yep, that's right, friends. I have a wicked bad abscessed tooth, and it's going to be coming out against its wishes next Tuesday. (SIDEBAR: Always go to the dentist, kids. Don't be like Uncle Jim) On Sunday at the bar, you're going to look at me and think, "Jim, there's something wrong with your face." You're damn right there is, and if you think I might want to talk about it, I'm going to lay all the facts I've learned through Web MD and Google about abscessed tooth problems. You'll find yourself wishing for a FC Twente v. Osasuna UEFA Cup replay on GOL TV to distract you from my babbling.

But now that the dentist has eased my fears, it's time to get back into derby week. This is going to be outstanding. I haven't checked any updates, but I know Eduardo played 45 minutes for Arsenal reserves last night. I will hold out hope for a spontaneous version of "Purple Rain" in the bar should he come on as a substitute this Sunday:


Also, on my end of things, there's no news (at least today) about Torres coming back to play Sunday, even as a substitute. That's not necessarily good news, as you'd think a possible appearance by the most popular Premier League player in the world might draw an online article or three. I'm also worried about Keane not getting a chance, as Kuyt leading the line Sunday would be a sure path to no more than one goal scored for Liverpool and an afternoon that probably ends in heartache.

But that's for the weekend. Have you seen that poll over to the right about who might win on Sunday? If you're not voting "Free people everywhere," I'm not sure you're totally in sync with what's going on here, dogg. This is the Match Pricks derby, one of two times every year where we get to come together in our collective coolness and stand unaffected by the jibes and jibber-jabber of the United people. And, also Jorginho.

OK, fire up, kids. Time to rock.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Let me show the way


I wonder why it is that Eduardo generates so much inspiration for Arsenal and their supporters. It must be something in his basic nature that seems to expose a man who truly wants to try his best for people. He seems to be genuinely happy with the path he's made for himself. He's not looking to his future, over the shoulder of those standing in front of him. He's just worried about doing his job, and doing it well. Because that's what counts.

The fact that he's actually able to do that goes a long way as well. He would be the perfect example of a player from a smaller league who breaks through and gets a shot at the big-time. His former teammate Luka Modric being another recent example (shame he ended up at Spurs).

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been saying for years that it takes players of that stock about four to six months to truly get up to speed and grow accustomed to playing in the English Premier League (or in the case of Jose Antonio Reyes ...). Eduardo was just starting to hit his stride in that opening window where we actually began to demand results when the rest of his season was stolen from him in that horrible incident at St. Andrew's last year. Perhaps it's that the break was so bad, the initial prognosis so dire and the immediate reaction from the team so terrifying. Perhaps it's the downward spiral we've seen ever since. Maybe it's the video that surfaced from Brasil of his training toward the end of summer, showing the striker playing a little one-touch on a trampoline far before anyone could have imagined he'd be ready. Maybe it's hype. Whatever the case, there's a higher level of demonstrable respect form all parties when it comes to the Crozilian (for those who don't know, he was born in Brasil and then naturalized as a Croatian ... Crozilian).

He played 45 minutes for the reserves against Pompey at Barnet's Underhill tonight. If you believe the propaganda from the home Web site, he oozed class with every touch. If you're more pragmatic, you're happy for him and can't wait for him to find his legs again so he can trot out sometime in a month or so, and then help the cause down the stretch. There's no mistake that his skill and eye for goal is needed in the side. At the same time, what Arsenal need at the moment is a bit more inspiration to find that fight they are missing to put them over the hump in these tougher clashes that call for more steel than panache.

Steven Gerrard certainly has it in spades. He showed it again on Saturday as Liverpool drew. A draw at home to Hull will always be disappointing, but for a team that was playing without their top striker (Torres) and with their masive investment (Keane) relegated to bench duty through a prolonged slump (two goals is it?), for the Reds to be able to look to the center of the park and Stevie G to "pick them up by the scruff of the neck" can only be a stunning inspiration for everyone else. The fact that Gerrard is buffered at the back by Javier Mascherano provides another advantage that, at the moment, Arsenal are missing.

Last term, the Gunners were so free to move forward and Cesc Fabregas was bombing them in left, middle and right. Quite the argument has been made that he was freed up, as it were, to perform as such because of Mathieu Flamini. And did he ever put in a season for the ages. Losing Ma-T-you has carried an impact so heavy into this season that it's almost strange the level of silence that comes with the thought of his presence in the side. There's a new grumble every weekend and every match with all of the missing pieces to the Arsenal, and in particular quite the roar to those pieces that just aren't fitting (Eboue, Gallas, Bendtner, even Rosicky with his prolonged injury). We all know how much we're missing Flamini, but there's a strange silence in his departure.

Ahead of the Derby, just consider that spine of each team ... like in baseball, the all important spine from the catch, to the pitcher, shortstop, centerfielder - the spine.

Liverpool has it. They have Torres, Gerrard, Mascherano and Carragher (in spite of his own-goal habit that is kicking into gear at the moment ... and I still profess his performance in the 2005 Champions League semi-final to be one of the finest defensive performances I've ever seen).

Arsena do not. Adebayor, Cesc, VACANT, CONFUSED (both Gallas and Toure have been out of form).

Monday, December 15, 2008

The First Match Pricks Derby

I'm just gonna cut to the chase.

Match Pricks is a blog written by two people who support two different teams. The teams are, for the moment, relatively similar in their overall standing. With several notable exceptions (yes, yes, five stars and a gazillion league titles, I know). We're both passionate about our teams, and we're both passionate about football in general - all the odds and ends that make up the game that makes the world go round.

From day one, we've looked forward to the first match between our two sides during the life of Match Pricks and it's finally here. We're in Match Pricks Derby Week, folks!

Each of the traditional big four drew at the weekend so there was no movement, save for onrushing Aston Villa, who won again to hurtle themselves into contention. But this Sunday brings us Liverpool, in a tenuous position at the top of the table, versus Arsenal, struggling to maintain their spot in fifth and looking primed for a further plummet. 

Let the hype begin. For those of you that join us in person for the matches, we can't wait for the derby. Support for these two sides has always been divided down the middle in our little hamlet, and it's led to a level of respect (or so I like to hope). Not sure how our other readers out there feel about it, but let's hear you. The Liverpool and Arsenal match always has a special place in our hearts. This time, a win either way could produce a big swing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Beaten, dejected, time to look ahead

Yet another woeful performance, this time away to Boro with a 1-1 draw. By commenting on the performance as I've been doing, I'm by no means slighting the competition and implying that the level is such that points are guaranteed. At this point, Arsenal look so poor and so disjointed that the team are ready to be scalped by anyone they play.

The same story as it's rolled out every week leaves me with zero expectations at this point. Diaby, while he's got the potential to provide good thrust from the midfield position, has no clinical ability inside the box. He's missed far too many chances by simply drilling them right at the keeper. Song and Denilson are not ready to play in a Premier League midfield every day. This couldn't be more clear at this point and the manager's decision to stick with them as long as he has is frighteningly frustrating. Robin van Persie is not becoming the player we expect. There are a lot of hopes for Robin but he's just not converting goals as a striker at this level should. 

The holes in our squad have been discussed in depth this campaign. Let's talk about that famous Arsenal football though ...

Overlapping, and inter-changing positions. Forward dashes from the fullbacks. Quick passing, quick movement, understanding of each other and what they need.

I saw none of it on display at the Riverside. Rather, I saw a ball being knocked around as if it was on a blacktop playground. The thing was bouncing everywhere it went. They could rarely summon the ability to keep the thing on the floor. Maybe it was down to conditions or the pressure from a Boro side that smelled blood, but I think the problem has been endemic lately.  And it comes to those pieces that we need. The midfield can't exist as Cesc Fabregas and whoever we can plug him around him. Cesc hasn't had the best season, especially after the growth he showed last year and during the European Championship when his form was irresistible and he needs to be supported. As much Maradona would implore us, football isn't one player +10 

They're kids. We know this. We hope they'll get results but they aren't. In the meantime, they're getting beaten down by the weight of their own and our expectations and an inability to deliver that has reached a standard that some would call normal.

The Club must address the situation before we fall further. Arsenal are truly in a desperate situation right now. I don't need to hear more platitudes about how they'll fight on for the title. I don't need to hear more vows about how they'll continue to go out to perform and play their football. There are truths that have finally asserted themselves with this batch of players.  There are teams below us, and now hurtling above us like Aston Villa, that will simply rob us in broad daylight if we continue down this course. 

With the holidays coming up there are a lot of points stake before the transfer window opens. The adjustments must ben made to get something out of it. Let's give Ramsey a go! Get Nasri healthy, get Theo ... er, wow, that injury is hurting us isn't it. Eduardo will be back soon and while it's unfair to count on him for too much, all eyes will be on him to deliver those magical and wonderful goals, goals, goals. (oooohhhh, nice, watching Chelsea host West Ham at the moment and Cashley just got booked for a two-footed lunge) Then we need to sell Gallas, apparently Juventus are interested, which is shocking in spite of Ranieri's connection as his former manager. Maybe we bring in this Hegeland from Fulham that we're linked with, although I admittedly haven't seen much of him.

The big splash needs to come in the midfield. Do will even consider one of the performers of the year so far in Xabi Alonso? His tag will have gone up mightily from the summer and Liverpool would be simply crazy to sell. We need a big, big, big player though to fill that gaping hole we've got in the middle of the park. Hopefully Arsene will see what's  right and get over the aversion to buying that he's constructed.

(Update: Thank goodness for the blogger auto-save! My Internet connection went out right as I was going to publish this puppy and I lost everything. Thankfully it was saved.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rafa Benitez in minor car accident leaving Melwood

Rafa was involved last night in a minor traffic accident as he left Melwood. Apparently, everything's OK, but I love the detail in that story about exchanging insurance information with a female driver of the car that hit him while he was at a traffic light.

I can just see Rafa getting out of his car, looking down calmly at his insurance papers, making a couple notes and then handing it over. Something really funny about it. Then, as they walk back to their cars, Rafa does that hand thing where he holds the left palm up and out, while doing that right-hand cupped and pulling back thing.

OK, on to the Hull match, boys ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What has two legs and ends at Anfield?

It's the round of 16 in the Champions League, and the draw is next Friday, Dec. 19. Before getting into what team Liverpool might end up drawing, let's pause and remember this:

OK, on with the show:

• Inter – Mourinho magic, baby. That's all there is to say. Liverpool took Inter out of the competition last year, and I would feel good about the Reds' chances again this season. But the hype and excitement from the pre- and post-match press conferences with Mourinho and Rafa jabbing at each other would be outstanding. I miss Mourinho. He's like the little dog that nips at your heels, thinking he's a big, imposing Great Dane: Kind of cute amid his own delusions.

• Atletíco – Would be worthwhile only to finally, hopefully get the Torres v. Aguero duel everybody hoped for in the group stages. Unfortunately, Atletíco scares me as a matchup for Liverpool because those games were tight. Could be rough.

• Sporting Lisbon – Don't know anything about these guys, except for that Lisbon is a city in Portugal. Does Sporting still have that Ronaldo character? I kid. I don't like it when Liverpool plays teams from Portugal.

• Villarreal – Away to Villarreal is one of the most imposing fixtures in Europe. Unless the first leg got really out of hand, I think Liverpool would end up OK in the end with this matchup. Dropping the first one 1-2, even, would probably be fine.

• Lyon – This could be loads of fun because Bayern Munich destroyed Lyon in the final group stage match before Lyon came back late to make the scoreline look respectable. Another great striker duel would be up here: Torres v. Benzema. The Frenchman is pure class, so, as I said with Inter, the pre- and post-match hype and reaction would make things fun.

• Real Madrid – Loads of senseless "Benitez for Madrid?" hype would come with this, but it's always juicy when two titans of European club football get together for a scrap. Honestly, Madrid worries me now that they've dumped Schuster and brought on Ramos. It seems like a previous decade when it was true, but Juande Ramos was not that long ago the shiniest star in European management. His Sevilla played the most attractive football in La Liga for a couple years. Of course, Dani Alves will bolster any manager's résumé, but Ramos could rally the troops at the Bernebeau.

In the end, give me Villarreal or Madrid, maybe even Lyon. Those are the ties I think would work best for Liverpool. Inter would be fun, but there's the revenge factor with last year being part of it. Atletíco presents loads of problems, and Sporting is such an unknown and wild card that I could see Liverpool slipping up there.

Oh, also, here's hoping Man U or Chelsea draws Barça. Throw 'em to the lions, I say.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Meet The Director, hang out, talk with other like-minded people

Before you scroll down to check out Colin's view on Arsenal in Europe as of today, please consider taking a moment and joining the Facebook group Xabi Alonso: "The Director". It's another place to join and celebrate the best player at Anfield so far this season.

OK, on to Colin with you ...

Ticket booked, an eye on Boro on Saturday

Arsenal have punched their ticket for the group stage of the Champions League (when it really gets fun).  Not that I'm breaking news here, but a draw away to Porto secures top spot. It doesn't really matter all that much for Arsenal right now. We're not at the level of quality where we can pick out our opponents and say, "Yes, please, I'd like one of those. Mm hmm, that'll do nicely, won't it?"

Given the form Arsenal have shown, a big hope still lies for us in the Champions League this spring. We get up for the big matches, no doubt about that, and these lads have shown a bit of spirit in the Champions League in the last couple years. Obviously there was the final in Paris, but we've just felt close - not five stars close, but, "Oooo, I like that, that's a big Cup, shiny too. I want it. Give it to us," close. We've been more comfortable than we were earlier this decade, that's for sure. That may be down to tactics more than anything else.

So, with the result not carrying all that much weight, it's nice to see a lightened squad making the trip. Many are staying home to nurse little niggles with the packed holiday fixtures coming up. We'll look for Bendtner for some work up front, and hopefully Vela will show himself outside of the Carling Cup.  I wouldn't mind seeing Vela out on the left wing with Bendtner alone up front. Perhaps a midfield supporting him, then, of Vela, Diaby, Ramsey, Eboue and Song providing a buffer in front of the defense. Diaby gets another run out. Fingers crossed (all we can do with some of these kids) for his health. He can truly be an important player for us. It'd be nice to see Ramsey get a start in Cesc's absence. I think it's rightly time for him to get a look in the side.

And then it's our headcase, Eboue. Emmanuel has taken quite a bit of stick in the last couple of days and rightly so. Richard Williams wrote a piece in The Guardian that had me feeling pretty awful for Eboue but the fact remains that he's been woeful and has carried a markedly poor attitude from week to week. I'm sure he's wonderful and all that. I wish no ill will toward him, and I have thought since his first splash in the side that he had something to bring to the table. Somewhere, though, he's lost that impetus. And I'm not talking merely about Saturday. So it's with caution that I offer my support for him to start trying to get things right today.

Europe 2009: A pre-preview of the knockout stages

Liverpool are through at the top of their group, and despite matches yet to come today, it's fairly clear who the Reds have a chance of facing in the knockout stages. Here's who is out there as a potential matchup before the group stages finish later today:

• Inter
• Atletíco
• Sporting Lisbon
• Porto
• Villarreal
• Lyon
• Bayern Munich
• Juventus
• Real Madrid

1. Inter, Atletíco and Sporting are locked into second position in their groups.
2. Porto is not favored to pass Arsenal in their group, so they'll likely remain a possibility.
3. Lyon/Bayern and Juve/Real Madrid could go either way today, so it's difficult to think too much about them as possible Liverpool opponents.
4. Country protection prevents Liverpool from facing Chelsea, Arsenal or Man U. The last two are longshots to somehow end up in second position in their groups; Chelsea, of course, is already there.

OK, now the fun stuff. For pure ease of advancement, there is no clear preferred choice. Mourinho at Inter would love to face Liverpool, I'm sure. That would be a riot. The Special One and Rafa getting it back on with the war of words and outfront enmity for each other. I also, personally, would get a huge kick out of a matchup with Juventus. I still remember before the second leg in 2005 during the round of eight, soccernet.com's lead story in the hours before the match bore the headline: "Turin waits in fear." All sorts of history and importance comes with a Liverpool/Juve pairing.

I would prefer not to face Villarreal, Sporting or Porto. Liverpool would enter those matchups clear favorites, but they are extremely tricky sides to tussle with over two legs. The Portuguese clubs, in particular, give Liverpool fits all over the pitch. Something about their unknown quantities, perhaps, lull the supporters and perhaps the players, too, into false senses of confidence.

Lyon possibly could be a bit of a break for Liverpool, but Bayern Munich, if completely healthy, would prevent significant challenges. The local Germans down at the bar, though, would be up for it and it'd be a lot of fun here where we drink and get caught up in things.

It'll all shake out later, of course. I believe the draw is early Friday morning, local time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eduardo and his link to Purple Rain














Quick story for our readers...

Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva, born in Brasil, naturalized as a Croatian and an Arsenal player as of the '07-'08 season is the man. We'd just begun pegging him as a look alike, in his facial hair style if nothing else, of Prince circa his height of power in the 1980s. This was just about the time that everyone you knew had a Prince pin on their jean jackets on the playground.

Eduardo was just beginning to assert himself as a crack goal scorer when a horrible tackle from Birmingham's Martin Tayler gave him one of the most severely broken legs you'll ever see. This was essentially the death knell on Arsenal's season, but that's another story all together. What matters here is that Eduardo looks like Prince. And Prince's best song, in the opinion of many is "Purple Rain." So with Eduardo out, the rallying cry for Arsenal in their continued, yet failing push to end the season as Champions was simple ...
That cry ran through the summer as his international mates from Croatia took the field under The Man with All the Answers, Slavan Bilic. Win it for Eduardo! Do it for Eduardo! For Eduardo! Everything was done in his name. What a likable guy, what an amazing striker, wow does he ever look like Prince! Purple Rain became the soundtrack to some incredible afternoons of football ... perhaps most notably Russia v. Spain during the European Champions in the Summer of '08. Torrential downpour outside, full house inside, a Purple Rain waking the neighbors five blocks away, the beautiful game reaching its apex (who needs the middling detail of scoring a goal, football is existential!). All in the name of Eduardo. 

And now he's almost back. Arsene says he'll get his first reserve match on December 16 against Portsmouth. It's miraculous how he's been able to get back and recover so quickly. Hopefully he'll make it through his paces. We'll all be pulling for him.


Thank you for your patronage: Welcome, Israel!

A quick note of thanks to all Match Pricks readers for continuing to stop by our site. Also, a welcome to our new visitor from Israel. Thank you for making us the chosen blog in the Holy Land.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A 2008 treat

A rare quick back-to-back post from me tonight. Since one of the main thrusts of Match Pricks is to check in on the yo-yoing emotions of a Liverpool supporter and an Arsenal supporter (while touching on the rest of the football as well, Lord Maradona, I'm looking in your direction), I felt, with citations for fellow Gooner Jamie who found the link, that this was worth sharing.



What a tie this was in the Champions League! Of course, I'm unhappy with the result, but wow was this a cracker or what!? Some incredible goals, particularly from Torres. An incredible run from Walcott, a dodgy penalty and some impassioned commentary. Spend two and a half minutes with it. I love how our commentators here are poking and prodding each other, much in the same way as we'll line each other up on December 21st for our big Match Pricks derby. I. Can't. Wait.

Enjoy.

More points in the bag, still unimpressive

Arsenal completed the prototypical tough win on Saturday - albeit at home. As leaders Liverpool, and close followers Chelsea and Manchester United also got wins, we gained no ground. But, and this is something not to take for granted this season, we didn't slip. Should we be happy with that?

The fact is that once again Arsenal stumbled through a match, and were - frankly - lucky to hang on for all all three points. The goal came off of a corner and a goal mouth scramble. Alex Song, who has struggled to assert himself this season played the ball through nicely (or rather, alertly) to Manu Adebayor who converted for the lead. Alex has been victim to Arsene's noted thoughts that a quality footballer can and should be able to play anywhere on the pitch. As a result, he's not really ever found a home, has he?

Notably, Djourou played the full 90 minutes and while he and Kolo had a few moments back there, the bottom line is that we didn't concede and that's an improvement. Especially when Wigan really looked like scoring. Wigan had the full tilt of the pitch, making the second half was a nightmare. There was no Arsenal presence to speak of in the midfield. It becomes fully apparent when you step back and consider the number of long balls that were being played. The overriding problem all season has been that well noted lack of depth in the midfield. When a player like Samir Nasri goes down with an injury (on a terrible tackle I might add), it goes a long way to exposing that biggest fault. Denilson and Song have not been good enough all season. And they are the two who are consistently plugged in with the absence of Theo Walcott, Abu Diaby, Samir Nasri and of course, Tommy Rosicky who has now been ruled out a further four months. (you'll note a certain name I've left out here, more later...) 

Interestingly, I do believe that Song's game has risen slightly and that it's capable of improving yet this season as he gets more comfortable in the team. On the flip side however is Neves Denilson. He showed so much vision and deft passing touch when he first started making forays into the team. I honestly rooted for him to get out on the pitch because he showed those fantastically incisive passes that I value so much when watching football - something that, say, a Xabi Alonso would show (if I might...). But now he looks more and more like nothing more than a young man. He's been slow to react, he's been bossed and he's seemingly been fearful of charging forward in the way expected of an Arsenal midfielder. Perhaps he's been tactically held back by Arsene. I'll have to keep a keener eye on his progression. For the time being, though, he's been frustrating.

So because of our lightweight midfield and their reliance on the long ball (as unimaginative as any tactic), Wigan pushed the ball up front for most of the second half, and caused our nerves to fray as the Gunners hit the post on a few occasions and then just failed to muster any spirit at all.

The main culprit?

A man whom I've been coming around on, but now I question that even more. Emmanuel Eboue had a howler of a match. He came on for Nasri and in the second half and completely lost his mind, concentration, confidence, awareness, energy ... lust for football. You name it, he did it wrong. I'm never a fan of booing your own players off the pitch, but in this instance, my word, something needs to send him a message. He has rarely proven himself to be an Arsenal player in the last two or three seasons and this is one of those horrific performances that makes you wonder how much longer he'll be around. It's quite clear where our problems lie, but it's remarkably unclear whether or not anyone will do anything about it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Meet Liverpool's player of the season: No. 14, Xabi Alonso, a.k.a. The Director

About three weeks ago, I tried making the argument that there were only two serious candidates for Player of the Season at Anfield, and one of them was Dirk Kuyt. As you can see in the link, I kind of half-heartedly mentioned Xabi Alonso as the other contender to that point. Now three weeks later, the only man left in the debate is No. 14, a.k.a. The Director.

I've taken in recent weeks to dubbing Alonso "The Director" because he has recaptured his 2005 form, particularly the performances Liverpool fans saw in Europe during that unforgettable year. Again Saturday versus Blackburn (despite the woeful first half for all involved), Alonso was as calm as ever on the ball, patiently picking out runners left and right and directing the action. His goal was of a similar nature amid Liverpool's frenzied flailing to start the second half. He just ducked in, clipped the ball beneath two defenders and watched it slowly pass Paul Robinson. Combined with Hyypia in defense, the side had a consistently cool-headed response to the scrambling Blackburn.

Rovers were really up for it, pressuring Liverpool throughout and creating several mistakes. Babel did his best to hand Blackburn every possible advantage, but when the match needed a more measured, studied approach, Alonso and Mascherano rose to the level their reputations call for. Xabi ... excuse me, The Director, linked well with Gerrard and got things moving in the second half. Mascherano covered the team's ass when Hyypia or Carragher couldn't. When Blackburn were forced to chase, Alonso kept things under control. Just an outstanding performance again, although Hyypia was equally as good if not better on this particular night.

But if Alonso wasn't necessarily Man of the Match at Blackburn, he's certainly been Player of the Season at Anfield. Every week now I find myself saying aloud to no one in particular, "It's unbelievable Rafa was going to sell Alonso to buy Gareth Barry" or something like, "Where would they be if Rafa sold The Director?". When they hold these votes at the end of the season, Gerrard usually ends up winning the fans' tally, or in the case of last season, Torres deservedly takes the honor. But here in early December, the team's most valuable performer has been Xabi Alonso. The victories against United and Chelsea can be attributed to his marshaling the forces (and the only goal, of course, at Stamford Bridge), and the rest of the league performances have been taken to a higher level that more consistently produces points - and a slot at the top of the table - because of The Director.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Arsenal get the points against Chelsea or: The Cold War of Booze

Sunday was a wonderful footballing moment, as they say. You know the type. A simple turn and incisive pass that unzips the opposing midfield. A darting run to the corner flag. A looping cross to the middle that is then artfully touched down to an onrushing striker who lashes a violent shot - destined for the side netting - only to be pushed away at the very last by goaltender, stretched as he is.

I wonder, though, how often you consider the interconnectivity of the football moment?

Sunday morning, those moments spilled out into our football pub, The Highbury, in our little corner of the football world. And it included every last one of us. Arsenal supporters, Chelsea supporters (for what they're worth), Liverpool supporters, Bayern Munich supporters, Manchester City supporters (no, really), people who have no clue but wanted a drink, people who asked for clarification of the 'hand ball rule,' people who asked for clarification of 'extra time,' hip-hop girls who lost bits of their clothing at a show that we all were sorry to have missed (by the sound of it) from the night before, Kaiserslautern supporters, Celtic supporters, neighbor's sisters, swanky club owners, drunks, has beens, never will bes, three year olds, people who act like three year olds, people who just wanted to gamble, Sconnie girls, scoundrels, copywriters, football executives, club bartenders and a security detail the size of Gibraltar who deserve their own post someday.

Those of us there for the actual football brought it, and we brought it big time. It is, after all, an Arsenal pub, isn't it? So, while some of us (namely yours truly) were on the mat for a couple of weeks, letting the despair get the best of us, we (I) finally stood up again to be counted as an Arsenal supporter. In full voice from the start we let it be known to this entire assortment of people where we stood. They didn't, likely, realize just what was happening but they were, doubtless, going to come away with an experience. And it's what makes football, and what we have to offer those moments as they arise or as they are created, so special for all of us. It's what takes that fantastic footballing moment on the pitch and spills it out into a city at nine in the morning, some 3,000 miles away.

Doesn't hurt that this all happened in (and big thanks to regular Match Prick commentator Carl for this one) what turned out to be The Cold War of Booze. An escalation, bought on by a few, to carry an affect on the many. It started with one round for a few Arsenal supporters as they let their voice be heard. It turned into a statement of intent with a round for anyone and everyone. And it turned into a full-blooded cold war with alternating and escalating rounds of shots. Why? Hell, why not? Might as well pour fuel on the fire while it's raging, see what happens.

Fortunately for everyone involved, this happened to hit right around the time Arsenal decided that they were done looking like fools. They were all too close to getting run right off the pitch as Chelsea took early control. I thought we were in for another loss and we were contemplating the worst (it's times like those that the financial worries truly rear their head, when you think of lost European revenue, and even more reliance on teenagers to fill the roster in the coming seasons). It was then that Robin van Persie slid waaaay offside to slot home the equalizer. It was then that Adebayor, who has not been in his best form, had a simply beautiful layoff for van Persie who turned sharply to drive the winner past Petr Cech. Another loss at Stamford Beach for Chelsea, another two goals against (you're welcome Jim and our other Liverpool Match Pricks) and another ever-so-slight positive glimmer of hope to the edge that we've been standing on. Seven points back three weeks before the holiday fixtures is hardly an emergency. 

That it could have been disaster with a loss, however, means we're far from comfortable.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A neutral corner: Chelsea v. Arsenal from the perspective of a Liverpool supporter

While Colin assembles his treatise on the inspiring Gunners victory yesterday, I'd like to jump ahead in line to get a little more in depth about my obvious reaction to yesterday's result at Stamford Bridge. In short, it can be summed up thusly: WHOOOOOOO!!!

As we get closer to marking off the first third of this terrific (to this point) season for Liverpool supporters, every single positive sign is so encouraging. I'm getting tired of playing the "Not gonna jinx 'em" game with Liverpool. Look, dammit, it's time to crank this title challenge into hammer-slam levels of intensity. That's why it was a refreshing couple hours of fun to wade into the bar yesterday and watch things without being all that attached to the result. I could sit back, openly cheer for Arsenal to take Chelsea down and then wait for today's match against West Ham.

Plus, it's just so easy to hate Chelsea – especially when their biggest local supporter here in Milwaukee is standing by himself in the bar with a fleece, team logo blanket draped over his shoulders, reaching like a bizarro, John Terry-Dracula cape to the floor. In the first half, Chelsea were the better side. Sorry, Colin, Jamie, Carl, et al. But the match was fast-paced and enjoyable.

But back to the hammer-slam levels of insanity. What van Persie's goals showed me was a Chelsea unwilling to summon the Mourinho-era reservoirs of indignity. In that, I mean Chelsea used to take it as an affront that anyone would ever dare take a lead against them. I remember a match a couple years back at the Bridge where Bolton went 1-nil up. Chelsea's answer was to score something like three goals in six or seven minutes, then tidy up the slaughter with five total in the second half. It took my breath away. As much as I despised them, I watched segments of that second half on DVR multiple times over the course of a week. It was, as I'm fond of saying, a statement of intent.

Chelsea is just different now. Scolari appears to be polishing up his excuses and explanations during the final half hour of matches. Lampard looks ... old. Drogba looks ... disinterested – whether he's playing or in the stands with earbuds in place. They miss Essien more than I think anyone thought would be true. In the past, I would bend the ear of anyone close to me with confident declarations that Essien was Chelsea's best player. It seemed somewhat far-fetched on a team with Drogba and then-at-their-peak Lampard and Terry. But Essien makes that machine move like a 19-year-old girl five Smirnoff Ices into Saturday night at the Girl Talk show. Should he return this season – and I believe the projections are for him to come back sometime around March or April – he could make the difference for them.

For now, though, I'll gladly and with a wide smile take Arsenal reviving their campaign (again) with a win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. C'mon Liverpool! The points against West Ham are there for the taking today. Go clear at the top boys.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Balon D'Or my ass: Remember this when they give Ronaldo the hardware for last year’s effort

"... Messi is joint top scorer in the Champions League, level with Steven Gerrard on five goals, and his nine in the league have helped Barcelona make it to 40 goals in just 13 games. They have also hit the woodwork 17 times."

Ronaldo is going to get the award this week, but the class of the world is a healthy Messi. Barça is unstoppable at present, and they will remain so as long as he is on the pitch.

Also: Colin will return soon with a roundup of the Cold War of Booze (thanks, Carl) and Arsenal's thrilling effort at Stamford Bridge to knock Chelsea down another peg.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rare snapshot of the physios for the Spanish national team preparing for training

Revised diagnosis of Torres' hamstring injury has him out now for three weeks, hopefully targeting the Dec. 21 away trip to the Emirates for a comeback against Arsenal.

I imagine the duo pictured above is in charge of the training regimen for the Spanish national team where Torres picks up these ridiculous, nagging hamstring problems.

Pardon my French, but FUCK!

Quick thoughts on Marseille

It is Thanksgiving Day here in America, so this will be brief:

• Gerrard's goal looked almost like it came from an impossible angle. There was a surprising amount of speed on the ball off his head, and initially, the corner passed a closer man (Torres? Would have to see a replay) and I thought the chance was lost. Really thought it'd be an easy night out after Gerrard scored.

• Marseille were fantastic in the second half. Normally I'd attribute winning despite being poor to Liverpool's toughness and resolve, but Marseille deserved at least a point. That's a discouraging reflection upon Liverpool's form on the eve of December and all the fixture craziness that month entails.

• Ben Afra, Valbuena, Diang ... all of them superb for Marseille. Ligue 1 has an awful repuation, and perhaps this was a one-off moment for them, but Marseille played a pleasing brand of football on Wednesday. I only wish I could have enjoyed that performance while watching it against someone in Europe other than Liverpool.

• Torres supposedly complained of a tight hamstring and might miss Monday's match against West Ham. I quote "Caddyshack" in my frustration when I say: Rat farts!

More during the weekend ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Liverpool roundup Or: How Jim didn't see a minute of the Fulham match because of a boozing road trip but still feels like saying something about stuff

Bullet points as we give thanks here in the States for our quality of life and Jim says thank you for the excellent start to the 2008-09 season:

• Spent Saturday in Madison for the annual Boys Badgers Weekend. It was the second time this event has coincided with Liverpool v. Fulham. A few years back, the Cottagers took all three points in a 2-0 victory, and, of course, Saturday can be viewed as a real missed opportunity to get back up on top of the table by thier lonesome selves. Note to self: Never again agree to schedule Boys Badgers Weekend for the same weekend as the Fulham fixture.

• All sorts of European goodness tonight with Rafa syncing up with Shankly and Paisley on European appearances and victories (provided they defeat Marseille at Anfield this evening). Obviously, the changes to the European Cup/Champions League in recent years have Liverpool simply playing more matches in the tournament as a matter of course. Still, it is a nice moment, and any excuse I can get to link to this incredible, goose-flesh inducing video is always a plus.

• On a fiscal note that relates to me personally, the other day I checked the conversion rates, and the Pound had dropped to something like $1.47 versus the Dollar. This is excellent news for poor schlubs like myself, as that hacked off nearly $40 from the price of a long-sleeve, Mascherano home kit direct from the Liverpool team store. That's huge. Next up, figuring out that plane ticket for the Anfield visit I shamefully have not yet made.

• More after the match. Happy Holidays. C'mon Liverpool!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good work should be appreciated

An extraordinary effort at Gunnerblog today. Cheers to the work. Check it out, I know I'm going to spend some time with this one.

Life and its moments


Honestly....and some of you may be surprised, or mired in disbelief....one of the best moments of my life (really) was Jens Lehmann stopping Riquelme's penalty for Villareal in the Champions League Semi-Final to propel Arsenal through to the Final in Paris. It was, dare I say, orgasmic. I leapt. I shuddered. I shrieked. I cried.

And I'm quite certain I'm not the only one.

So now, in the face of so much uncertainty, I'm ready to welcome what is next to face the Arsenal in the Champions League (a competition that has been well documented at this point as a personal favourite).

And it's with that thought that I stumble upon this quote ...

The whole cast of this period in Arsenal's history, too, could have been different if Jens Lehmann had not been sent off after 18 minutes of a 2006 Champions League final in which they still led until Barcelona brought on the inspirational Henrik Larsson.


I quite enjoy Kevin McCarra. Really, I do. The writer for the Guardian provides quite a bit of quality reading, and their sportswriters do tend to harken back to the quality days of yesteryear that we so miss ... a little prose never hurt anyone ... but, Kevin, really, did you have to remind me of that?

Honestly.

You took me, in the span of less than a second, from one of my favourite memories, to one of my most desperate moments. A time when all I could do was turn my hands up and say, "what now?" You realize, don't you, that this is the situation, already, that most Arsenal supporters are faced with? All we can do is turn our palms up and plead to anyone we hope will answer, "please, don't you have a thought to spare?" Wow, am I struggling through desperate times or what? But truly, it's honest. As much as I've hyped Nasri, Clichy, Fabregas, Van Persie ... and soon Eduardo ... I still sit here wondering if we've got what it takes.

And all I can do is look back to the teams of just a few short years ago. The teams that made fans of Liverpool and United alike record and then save our matches because of the sheer beauty, only to watch them again and again and again. The teams that featured Bergkamp and Pires, Ljungberg and Keown, even Parlour and Edu. And now we walk slowly into each week with hesitancy, with the subtle pangs of regret, with the hope, or wish rather, that the manager will do something.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Feeling Cescy



I couldn't bring myself to say anything on this over the weekend. I sent an email to my esteemed co-author on Friday morning, after Gallas had really turned the screws to the Arsenal and even more comments came to light. It said, in short, that the manager needs to strip his captaincy, drop him from the team and sell him Rennes. We're most of the way there, and after this morning, there's a higher level of pride in the team than there was even three days ago. Not that anyone's love of the Club would be questioned, but in times of crisis and hand-wringing, you wonder who will grab the wheel to right the ship. When there are so many glaring problems, who will be there when it's most needed?

Arsenal are not in smooth waters yet, in fact they are still in quite a bit of trouble. The most trouble since I grew into the Club. We still have our toes on the edge and there's much work that needs doing. But finally, we've at least realized that we save ourselves instead of merely hurling ourselves over the edge.

As that wise man once said, that line - the edge - is always pushed further. Most push and stretch to reach it, and most straighten up and pull back when it begins to come into focus, before we go crashing over. And for those that have? Well, we don't quite know what's on the other side do we? And a club at Arsenal's level doesn't have the convenience of seeing how sturdy that ground is.

So, welcome to the captaincy Cesc Fabregas. We've been waiting for you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

'Have A Double On George': Sports Illustrated covers the 1971 FA Cup final

The flux capacitor is up and running for this time machine trip that follows. Below is the full article as it appeared in the May, 17, 1971, Sports Illustrated on pages 22-25. This was SI in all its glory, perhaps never more influential as a piece of good writing, nor ever more varied in the breadth of topics contained within its pages. It's a long one, but there's no better way for you to kill 15 minutes at work right now. The period is captured perfectly, and the descriptions of Arsenal's ascent in the '71 season will cheer up the Gunners out there cursing Gallas' name this week.

Headlines are as appeared in the magazine. Photos also included.


BUT THE SOUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN (AND AGAIN!)

Scorned by Northerners as too soft and sophisticated, along came London Arsenal to grab soccer’s extremely rare double

By HUGH McILVANNEY

One of the most durable traditions of the North of England – more persistently endemic than cloth caps and chips with everything – is a vigorous contempt for the footballers of the South. In the raw, uncompromising cities of Lancashire and Yorkshire and Northumberland the soccer teams of London have long been regarded as pathologically effete. Even the Northern players who migrate to the rich clubs of the capital are generally assumed to have been corrupted by its soft living and diminished by its implied acceptance of the mad heresy that soccer is only a game.
In the large, steeply banked stadiums of Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle no such delusion can survive. There, players and crowd come together each Saturday afternoon and on many weeknights through nine months of the year to enact a mutually sustaining rite. An important football match in that part of the country is one of the last intense communal experiences remaining in English society, just as the football star is still the truest folk hero, cutting across boundaries of age and cultural background as no pop singer or film actor every could. He is a magical being without the accompanying disadvantage of remoteness. The tribe can reach out and take its share of him every Saturday.
London is not entirely exempt from this mythology: It has thousands of fans who are as violently partisan as any in Britain. But there is no doubt that the metropolitan environment tends to produce a sophisticated blurring of attitudes, sometimes replacing the values of a religion with those of show business. This sort of thing helps to harden the Northern conviction that Southerners do not feel football where it should be felt, in the guts and the marrow of the bones.
Northerners are not shy about telling anyone who will listen that life is real where they come from and it has made men of them. Their favorite demonstration of this manliness has been provided on the football field. “The South is too soft to stand a chance with our teams” is a boast that has come regularly from club managers as well as from the beery voices on the terraces, and in season after season recently it has been validated by the record books.
The First Division championship, most exciting and accurate test of quality in English football, was virtually monopolized by the North during the ‘60s. There are 22 clubs in the top division of the Football League, and each plays the others home and away on the basis that a win earns two points and a draw gains one. Those 42 matches, in conditions that vary from snow and ice or mud up to the shin guards, all the way to the baked and jarring surfaces of early and late summer, amount to a marathon that drains the substance from all but the most determined and resilient teams.
Between 1962 and this year, if it was not Manchester United or Manchester City that finished with the most points, if was Liverpool or their Merseyside rivals, Everton, or the formidably combative side built at Leeds by Don Revie. In the other principal competition, the Football Association Cup, the story was slightly less dismal for the South, partly because the straight knock-out system employed in cup football gives more scope for fortuitous results and unlikely winners. Nevertheless, in the 20 years from 1950, the Cup went to London only five times.
If there was anything to temper the North’s smugness, it could only be what happened right in the middle of those 20 years, in the 1962 and 1962 seasons. Tottenham Hotspur, which competes with Arsenal for the affections of north London, won the Cup in both years, and in the earlier one they did something much more remarkable. They became the first club this century to accomplish the seemingly unattainable double of Cup and First Division championship. The feat had been managed twice before, by Preston North End and Aston Villa, but their successes came in 1889 and 1897, in an era of curly mustaches, long pants and infinitely milder competition. The Spurs’ achievement was incomparably more impressive and many good judges suspected that, as soccer’s financial rewards and therefore its stresses increased, the double would move permanently out of reach.


Arsenal is, by traditional right, the Establishment club in England, a symbol of solidity and discreet affluence.

The idea that London club might emulate the Spurs in the foreseeable future was dismissed as utterly fanciful. Any suggestion that Arsenal might be the club to do the double had to be received as a sick joke. Arsenal is, by traditional right, the Establishment club in England, a symbol of solidity and discreet affluence. In the 1930s it enjoyed success befitting its station, taking the league championship three seasons in a row. And even when things began to go wrong in the middle ‘50s Arsenal continued to put on a brave face. Seventeen barren years had persuaded some that honors were for other people when, in 1970, Arsenal beat Anderlecht of Belgium to win the Fairs Cup, the third in order of significance among European club competitions.
What was relevant about that victory was that it was neither a fluke nor the result of an isolated surge. By now Arsenal was being run by a partnership that was sending out the most confident and best organized team in two decades. Headline writers on the London papers happily dug out their old puns about the Gunners (the club’s origins were at Woolwich Arsenal) shooting for the top prizes again. The senior member of the partnership is Bertie Mee, a short, brisk man with a hooked nose and rather clerky mien. Mee proved to be an outstanding organizer, and, perhaps, most vital of all, a man who knows how to pick a supporting cast and the best use of it.


Mee’s chief assistant, and the man whose coaching is mainly responsible for the present Arsenal team’s prodigious efficiency, is Don Howe. He made the team hard to beat, then gave it the knack of winning consistently. Arsenal’s football has often been about as stirring as a plowing contest but the points kept accumulating in the second half of the league program, and a crisis in the semifinal of the Cup was weathered after a replay. Then Leeds United, which had set up a commanding lead in the First Division only to be crucially weakened by injuries to its best players, was afflicted with the wobbles that so frequently strike at the end of the season. Suddenly Arsenal was even with Leeds and the double was a possibility.
But neither leg was going to be easy. In the championship Arsenal went into its last match on Monday of last week – just five days before the Cup final – against a mass of mathematical possibilities: The Gunners were one point behind Leeds (which had completed its series) and if they played to a draw and neutralized that deficit, the title would be settled by a comparison of the goals records over the season. The fractions involved were as small as one-hundredth of a goal. But despite playing on the home ground of its fiercest rival, Tottenham, Arsenal scored the only goal and won the championship cleanly – pulling it off before a frenzied crowd of 60,000 inside the arena, with another angry 50,000 locked outside an hour before the game began.
Arsenal also played more thrillingly than it had for months, attacking with a drive and exhilarating insistence that nearly made the crowd forget that the team had scrambled through five of its last six home games by snatching single goals when it should have been capable of getting three or four. Frank McLintock, the Scottish captain of the Gunners, promised that they would show their true worth when they met Liverpool in the Cup final at Wembley.
Another figure in the gathering drama was Bill Shankly, the Liverpool manager. Shankly is an extraordinary figure in British football, so obsessed with the Liverpool Club that if he is asked a question on any issue, he will find a way of answering it in terms of soccer. He cannot talk for more than 10 seconds without mentioning one of the “two best teams in Britain – Liverpool and the Liverpool reserves.”
By three o’clock last Saturday afternoon all the talking was over. Wembley’s turf was as green and inviting as it has ever been (though it can be a treacherous invitation, for that rich grass saps and cramps limbs already made vulnerable by tension), and a dazzling sun coaxed a few of the 100,000 crowd into shirtsleeves. It was a setting that asked great players to declare themselves. Perhaps it was the day for Liverpool’s Steve Heighway, a graduate in politics and economics and until recently an obscure amateur, to excite the stadium and a television audience of around 400 million with his graceful and murderously direct running. Heighway, who made a huge reputation in his first season as a professional, was ideally equipped to violate Arsenal’s well-rehearsed calm.
The figures in Liverpool’s goals-against column reflected an even more disciplined resistance than their opponents could offer, but Arsenal had two men in particular with the ingenuity and variety of technique to offset them – George Graham, a tall, upright Scot with the dark good looks of a virile male model who controls and passes the ball with a beautiful touch and deep perception, and Charlie George. At 20, George is the archetype of the uninhibited, well-paid and socially confident footballer of the ‘70s. His lank fair hair falls to his shoulders or streams from behind him when he runs, which he does with perfect balance and great purpose, taking the ball with him as if it were an extension of his limbs. He has the ability to absorb the fluctuating patterns of play, the moment-to-moment deployment of players at a glance, and his right foot kicks the ball with shattering power.

But despite playing on the home ground of its fiercest rival, Tottenham, Arsenal scored the only goal and won the championship cleanly – pulling it off before a frenzied crowd of 60,000 inside the arena, with another angry 50,000 locked outside an hour before the game began.
Heighway, Graham and, above all, George were to make themselves felt before the afternoon was out but, as the game went on, they suffered in the overall dreariness. Even then, if Ray Kennedy, a strong attacker who had scored the lone goal on Monday against Tottenham, had taken more chances, Arsenal would have had the Cup beyond Liverpool’s reach. But the chances were missed and the game was still a scoreless, dreary deadlock when Shankly drafted in Peter Thompson as a substitute, dazzlingly skillful but an erratic player, suddenly transformed the match, using his lithe, consuming stride to carry the ball where Arsenal least wanted it and aiming passes with unfamiliar thoughtfulness. He brought Heighway to life and restored the pride of the Liverpool crowd, usually the most articulate in the land but this afternoon reduced to numbed silence.
Thompson could not quite turn the match in the regular 90 minutes, but as the teams launched into the first of two extra quarter-hour periods, he immediately set Heighway on a characteristic run along the left. The surge ended in a low, angled shot – and Arsenal was behind. Bill Shankly rose to give a victory salute to his followers, but 10 minutes later Arsenal forced in an untidy but not undeserved equalizer, and everything was riding on the last quarter. It was then – with nine minutes of the two hours left – that Charlie George reasserted himself after a prolonged spell of vagueness. Teammate John Radford contrived an opening for him a few yards outside the Liverpool penalty area. A couple of swift, measured steps and that explosive right foot did the rest.
“Have A Double On George,” the London papers advised archly the next day. Charlie was the one pure, 24-karat Londoner on the Arsenal team. The North can make what it likes out of that.

Spain, hello

The Match Pricks audience continues to grow, as we can welcome a visitor from Spain checking things out for the first time. Ireland, Algeria, Minnesota, Colorado and Michigan, we also thank you for your support, too. Wisconsin, Illinois, India, you're always on our radar. As always, wherever you are, we appreciate your taking the time to read our stuff.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SI covers the 1971 FA Cup final: The photos

For an explanation of this, click this link right here. Full article to come soon.



America's sports Bible covers the 1971 FA Cup final

This is why I don't hide my extreme devotion to following football. Acquaintance at work yesterday, older guy about 50, brought in the May 17, 1971, Sports Illustrated for me to check out. We had been chatting earlier this week how he was going to send it to his brother-in-law in England, who is a big Arsenal supporter. My guy at work mentioned how there was "something with Liverpool" in it. I had asked him to bring it in before he ships it overseas so I could check it out.

Well, I get into work yesterday to see on my desk that Sports Illustrated, in its early 1970s pomp, decided to go full out and immerse itself in Arsenal doing the double over Liverpool in a thrilling final. In the near future, I'll get the article typed up and posted, and I'll also figure out why the incredible pictures from it are not uploading properly to the site. Despite the '71 final being a down moment for the Reds, it's a glorious moment in Arsenal's history, and Match Pricks is nothing if not a collaborative effort celebrating football. When you see the pictures, you'll realize the scanner didn't do the old magazine copy justice. In your hands, the photos leap off the page. Just stunning.

Anyway, just wait until I get the article up. Classic 20th century American sports writing takes on the FA Cup, the North-South divide in English football, Shankly, the whole bit. Great stuff.