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 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?


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.


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


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.

Need I say more?

We here at Match Pricks are big fans of the Guardian, obviously, and in particular of their weekly gallery. When there's someone popping up on the headlines like Kinnear, or our beloved Lord Maradona, it's a reason to pay attention. Credit to artist John Barry in this instance,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let me get this right ... ?

Theo Walcott, a true bright spot for Arsenal this year as he continues to improve and become more and more integral to the proceedings at the Emirates in north London, has separated his shoulder while on duty for a crammed in and meaningless match for England. He is slated, at first review, to miss three months. For the record, that will see him out, from this date, until February 19, 2009. He will miss league and Champions League matches against Manchester City, Kiev, Chelsea, Wigan, Porto, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Portsmouth, an FA Cup tie, Bolton, Hull, another FA Cup tie should they make it through, Everton, West Ham, Tottenham, another FA Cup tie should they make it through, and potentially Sunderland.

Need we continue to retread the theme of the "meaningless international friendly?" I don't think so, not deeply at least. Everyone knows how many matches players are faced with these days. Everyone knows that England, like every other country is currently facing the deep dive of World Cup qualification matches. Everyone knows that England, much unlike many other leagues, does not take a winter break. Indeed they cram in even more matches over the holidays.

So Theo's out. Our bright spot dimmed. Our burgeoning attack from the flanks - transitioning our team back to one that plays the full width of the pitch - slowed. Our right side weakened. Desperately. Like really, really, really desperately. While we've been so focused throughout this campaign on an absence of leadership, how much we miss Flamini rampaging from box-to-box, and the sieve that our central defensive pairing has turned into, we've another problem to add right to the top of the list. And this one will take some creative work from the manager to address IMMEDIATELY if we're to avoid a massive dive in the table. Make no mistake, Arsenal are on the brink right now. Poor results early, injuries now, and we are left on a precipice. 

Look to the right ... Sagna is out. Eboue is out. Walcott is out.

Look at the weekend ... Cesc is out.

Just how the Arsenal will line-up against City this weekend is anyone's guess. I'd love to hear what you think. Let us know. Certainly we don't have enough players to push five in the middle as Arsene likes to do against difficult competition, or in Europe.

Back four? Clichy, Silvestre, Gallas, Toure, (Djourou)?

Middle? Nasri, Diaby (Ramsey), Denilson, (Song), (Toure)? There are problems all over the place with this one. Diaby hasn't been in the middle much of late, Toure can go wide, but then you've got to slot Djourou in the middle of the defense and put Silvestre out right. Can you really put Ramsey and Denilson in the same middle? I wouldn't.

Middle? Diaby, Nasri, Ramsey, Toure?

Whatever the case, it'll take some work from the manager.

Jintao and Castro: Need I say more?

Add a shot of Fergie chomping gum just over Jintao's right shoulder there and this would look like kickoff at Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fodder during the international break!

Did you hear about this? It was a veritable jackpot of headlines.

First, the other day Terry Butcher called out Lord Maradona, saying he'd never forgive him for the "Hand of God" goal (more true now than ever). Now, Diego himself has blessed us with his saccharine voice to claim that he couldn't be fussed with such matters. He goes on to explain that it's unfair to judge him when ... ready for it? ... England won the 1966 World Cup with a goal that didn't cross the line. Do not cross this man. He's the religious icon equivalent of a boomerang. Whatever that means. I'm sticking with it though. 

Next up ... Didier Drogba has been handed a three-match ban for tossing a coin into the crowd against Burnley. All class that Drogba. Look, no one's debating his ultimate class as a player, but in the end he'll be remembered the same way I look at noted poon-hound Ronaldo. Classless. A diver, a cheat, a whiner, and an embarrassment.  No more than he deserves, this suspension. And he'll be out for the match against the Arsenal. Which, in the end, might not be all that fantastic given the almost certainty of facing old boy Nico Anelka. And he certainly enjoys scoring against the Arsenal. 

The cream of the crop ... a little Jintao-defreude, dear readers! 

It's only a matter of time. All empires crumble when they fly too close to the sun. Watch those wings Fergie, they melt in a hurry.  His eminence was hit with a two-match touchline ban

A little hubris goes a long way. Love. it.

Mandatory Gerrard-for-England post

If you've come to Match Pricks, you clearly know about the club-versus-country debate with Gerrard in the middle of an MMA-cage battle between Rafa and Capello. No need to recap the particulars. This is just to point out, in my little corner of the Internet, that I could care less. Doesn't bother me in the least what happened. Does Stevie's not playing tomorrow in Berlin mean he won't pick up some kind of serious, long-term injury? Well, yes it does. Good.

Now, on to the Fulham match ...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Two supporters, two tales

You know, when we first started chewing on the idea of Match Pricks, one of the really interesting things that we thought we'd be able to offer was the assortment of yo-yo emotions that supporters of two different teams, in two different situations would face over the long term.

So that said, while Liverpool continue to set the pace, getting the results they need, when they need them, I'm sitting here singing the same song every week. Talk about a yo-yo ... we roll against United and just look like we're ready to turn corner when we lay another egg against Aston Villa. The performance has been well accounted in many places by now. No need to do it again. I was buried over the weekend trying to avoid the truth, trying to pretend it didn't happen, know what I mean? 

I said it on Friday, didn't I, that the next game is important after a big win. It's the next game when you again have to recapture your spirit. It's the next game when a quick start is vital. It's the next game that just happens to be played at home again. It's the next game, captain, where you need to exert your influence and spark those youngsters that you take the field with.

Same song, new week. Arsenal's flaws are so glaring to all who watch them. And now, the heat will only get greater on the manager. His decision not to buy over the course of the last couple of transfer windows is hurting the team. Nasri is in and that we've all but ignored his "six month window to adjust" is testament to his class, but we need more. Desperately. 

I mean, I even spent time talking the other morning at halftime as we caught the traditional breath of fresh air outside at halftime with noted Match Pricks commenter Carl that ol' Senderos would be a welcome return at the middle of our struggling defense. 


Granted he's a man that I've been backing for sometime to improve ... but he's still always lacking in quality. Yet, there I was, calling for his prompt return while personally lining up a run at a greasy breakfast we call the Cardiac Attack to, well let's be honest, to make myself feel better about things.

As I always say .... As the Arsenal go, I go. So, bring on the weekend please, and an exciting match against City. Oh wait, that's right, we've no one to get stuck in on high-flying Robinho, and we've no one to muscle Benjani. Gulp.

Keown's sniffing around, maybe he fancies a trot out?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Let's hear it for the Kuyt

You hate to get blasé about things at this point because it's been such a fun run toward winter here – and it's brought a recently unfamiliar amount of success. However, the win at Bolton – Rob Styles' questionable call against Bolton notwithstanding – was a comfortable afternoon and the type that's needed to continue clicking the points meter higher. It could have been, or perhaps should have been, something like 4-0, 5-0 or 5-1. These things need to become normal for this title challenge to continue. It's odd to view level with Chelsea on points at the top of the table as "normal," but this is the way it is now until they can get into the next big test with the Christmas fixture crunch.

The bigger thing I take away from Saturday's match was the continued excellent form of Dirk Kuyt. Other than perhaps Alonso, I don't believe there is any greater candidate for player of the season to this point at Anfield. The post-rattler in the first half was not an isolated incident in the league. He's come close numerous times, but he's still finishing more than a decent amount. The header back across goal for the first score was surgical – and exactly the type of touch and finishing display Kuyt's lacked in his Liverpool career.

Something has just clicked with the man, and it started with his shift out to the right last year when Rafa settled on the 4-2-3-1 that has given the side a more consistent league form. Before, Kuyt was just a hard worker who couldn't finish. Now, Kuyt's work ethic, somehow, appears even stronger. He is absolutely relentless and is even smarter in his choices. The opposition's left flank all season has had to match his energy level or wilt and fail. Throw in the goals, and he's indispensible to the side.

No Torres and they beat United and Chelsea. No Gerrard, and they beat United. Without Kuyt, though, I think clicking off these routine victories that keep the pace with Chelsea at the top would become exceedingly difficult.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Amped for tomorrow's match

I haven't been this excited for a match in a while. Perhaps all season. Not to be a broken record, but I've often discussed how being a football supporter is a grueling affair. A win, three points, comes off as more of a relief than anything else. When your team is, however, beginning to find its form ... then it's pure adrenaline.

Arsenal are bouncing right now, and if I'm one of the players, I'm dying to get out there and on the pitch. Nasri must be oozing with confidence. Diaby is looking, at 22, like he's becoming ever more important to the cause and he's finally found his fitness - fingers crossed. At the back, Clichy and Sagna continue to set the pace. So much so that Domenech, the man who is somehow still in charge of the French national side, is pegging the Arsenal Frenchies to lead his team. (Do really need an international friendly next week? Thought not.)

Two men I'm looking for in particular on Saturday against Aston Villa at the Emirates are Cesc Fabregas and Niko Bendtner. Cesc has been fantastic in the last couple of matches. His vision and pass to open up Samir Nasri for Arsenal's second against United last week was sublime. It's still amazing to me how young he is, and given that age, the level of composure he puts on display. Think of the parallel of Robin van Persie (the Rickie Weeks of North London as Jim once said) versus Cesc. How many times has RVP lost his cool and lashed out? Meanwhile, Cesc is getting quite the collection of players that he has slotted into his pocket. What I'd like to see from Cesc is a couple of those drivers on net from last year. A goal is a goal, they're great. But from Cesc right now, I'd like to see him turn that ball on net. Regardless of whether or not it makes it in.

Another is Bendtner. Here's a youngster who does have a lot of room to grow. He's brimming with confidence, shows remarkable skill in the air and every now and again has that important knack for good timing. At the moment, though, he's not getting the ball in the back of the net. With Nasri, Theo, Clichy and Sagna tearing up the wings as much as they're capable of, it's a big opportunity for Niko - especialy with RVP and Adebayor out (if the big man is indeed kept on the sidelines as we'd expect). So let's see some of that work rate to find the ball in the middle after it comes flying in from the wing.

Big one tomorrow morning. Get out there and watch it. Arsenal v. Aston Villa from the Emirates. Villa like to play football and this promises to be an action-packed match.

Bolton v. Liverpool start the morning off. Unless Rieira, Gerrard and Torres are able to work the routine they've been trotting out, I expect this one to be awfully dour. Hopefully Kevin Davies and Nolan will be striken down with overriding sadness and despair at the economy, deem the cause hopeless and stay home. Then we may have more of a match.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Keeps getting better in Diegotown


Now religious leader and former Argentina legend, Diego Maradona, says he may quite if he doesn't get his way in the naming of his assistant. A report in The Guardian says that AFA President Grondona dislikes Diego's number one choice, former teammate Oscar Ruggeri.

Here's the meat on this one...

"I don't like his face," said Grondona as he forced his way through a crowd of reporters to his car. "It's a personal thing."

These are powerful men in powerful positions that rule the governance of their national football associations who are saying these things. How brilliant. And hopefully it'll only get better.

Big weekend up ahead, check back for advance news.

So, that happened ...

Was it a psychological mind trick I played on myself? Or did I not really care about beating Spurs in the League Cup until it became fairly obvious Liverpool was going to lose that game just a few minutes before halftime? I was hoping for nothing more than no one important getting injured, but in the end, I feel a little down that they went out to Spurs. Anyway, on to the bullet points:

• Torres was quickly dispirited out there once it became apparent no one knew how to get him the ball. Zhar was a ghost on the right, Plessis and Lucas were trying to ... well, what exactly were they trying to do in the middle? And Babel on the left confused Spurs for the El Segundo, Calif., U-11 All-Stars, repeatedly carrying the ball in among three defenders. It was an embarrassing display.
• No words about the defense. As shocking as I can remember ever seeing a Liverpool unit perform.
• It was funny that when they toyed with a comeback down 4-2 with about 25 minutes left, Benitez brought on Alonso, and suddenly it didn't look like a Liverpool midfielder was violently crapping his shorts every time he got the ball. It's a shame Gomes was hurt, because I think Liverpool would have drawn one more back and had a go at it in the final 10 minutes.

The point is to win the game, no matter which one it is. I'm not too crushed by being out of the League Cup. In fact, I'm secretly satisfied there won't be at least one or possibly three more fixtures thrown into the December and January schedule that advancement Wednesday would have produced. But still, such an abject display from Liverpool disgraces the shirt. There's no satisfaction in losing 4-2 at Spurs but being able to say, "Well, Rafa played the reserves plus Torres." So what? They should expect better of themselves.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Forgive me Father for I have sinned: The incredible story of The Church of Maradona

The latest must-read on Maradona comes courtesy the Guardian’s foray into the baptism ritual for La Iglesia Maradoniana, or The Church of Maradona. I had to backtrack a couple times to make sure it wasn't a hoax, but I'm certain this is a serious exploration of an honest-to-Maradona real church. It just celebrated its 10th anniversary. You must take the time to read the article.

Some highlights:

• The baptism ceremony involves the applicant recreating the Hand of God goal.
• The church recently ushered in the year 48 AD (After Diego).
• Maradona's well-documented love affair with cocaine proves he is a god because a mere mortal would not have been able to survive the experience.

There's much, much more that is well worth your time to check out.

It is at this point I feel I should point out that in my introductory Spanish course in high school, the instructor gave me the name Diego for use in class. I must travel to Argentina, and I must be baptized in the name of the savior.

Arsene's been talking

Make no mistake, I owe an awful lot to Arsene Wenger. We all do.

He's pretty excited about the way his lads stood up to be accounted with the win against United on Saturday. He's recently claimed it was a turning point. Full article here in The Guardian.

I'd just like to stress the importance of the next game. It's all well and good that we were able to assert ourselves, play our beautiful game with class and hang on against a full assault in the closing minutes (again, six minutes of extra time was laughable). 

So while we've Wigan in the Carling Cup today (I love me some Carling Cup), the biggest match of the season is always the one right in front of you. And this one actually happens to be quite big for a couple of reasons. 

  1. It's next.
  2. It's coming on the heels of an assertive win over a massive rival and the defending champion.
  3. It's against a team that fancies themselves and is actually quite good.
Aston Villa at the weekend. It'll likely be much of the same from the squad. Likely five across the middle again, likely Bendtner alone up front again, likely Theo and Nasri on the wings. Villa is one of the most likely from the rest of the field to crack into the so-called Big Four.

Time to brush them aside.

Monday, November 10, 2008

LFC: West Brom roundup and the week ahead

Bullet points for this one. Let's get on with it:

• Gerrard's delivery was just out of this world. The setup for Keane's first was fantastic. Playing it into wide open space for Keane's week foot and seeing the cool, clinical finish was an all-too-rare moment of beauty for the recent days without Torres. Robbie adding the second before halftime killed the game. It has been recounted elsewhere, but I'll chime in, too, that it was good to see West Brom play the game instead of going into the aggressive shell like Stoke did at Anfield. Of course, Stoke took a point home while West Brom got nothing, so maybe it wasn't a wise choice.

• How about Arbeloa at the end there?! Left-footed to the far post was not something I expected out of him – ever. He's come under a lot of heat as being the weak link in Liverpool's possible title push, so I cheer for him harder in the end. I really hope he can stick in there and keep up good work. The goal was a nice reward, even though it was fairly meaningless beyond helping Liverpool scratch one tally back against Chelsea on the vast goal differential right now. I just like to remind everyone that Arbeloa (or "Barbacoa" as he's known around the bar) was a £1.5 million buy from Deportivo two years ago solely to help work over Ronaldinho at the Nou Camp. That was all Benitez got him for, and it worked. Now, the wisdom on continuing to ride him instead of upgrading at right back can be debated, but I'm still on his side.

• Back to White Hart Lane on Wednesday in the Carling Cup. I'm not exactly proud to say it, but I'm fairly indifferent about the result. Getting out of that competition unscathed by injury would not be a negative. Just my opinion. Let Spurs roll, I say, and play Lucas, Plessis, Zhar ... I don't care. Take the Wenger approach and let the kids run. If they win, they win. Doesn't seem to matter much. They need to keep bodies healthy and get ready for winter. The win at Chelsea seems like ages ago, and now it's time to ramp up for the next series of tests. Muddling the fixture list with Carling Cup matches isn't going to ease that longing in the hearts of Liverpool fans right now.

• Away to Bolton this weekend. More work to do boys. Get to it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

This just in

Just caught Match Pricks favourite Joe Kinnear showing restraint. 

Newcastle lost today after conceding a late penalty. It seemed fair, at first viewing as Andy Johnson went down between two oncoming challenges. Upon second and third reviews through instant replay, sure there was no contact, but the space was taken thus causing the striker to go done. Harsh? Maybe, but fair. At any rate, Kinnear is famous around Match Pricks for his blow-up last month.

And here he is on a nice Sunday evening, berating the officials, but saying at the same time that he could get himself in trouble. Then an amazing thing happens. He shows restraint. Atta baby, Joey. What I love the most about this is the headline, "Kinnear fumes at penalty." Yeah, maybe. But you sure can tell when a grown man is holding back, can't you?

Elsewhere, Sir Alex Jintao, that red-nosed bastard who is hell bent on world domination and having it all his way spoke to reporters at a UNICEF dinner. He just never knows when to shut it ... Interestingly, I actually said to myself after the match yesterday how nice it would be that we won the match straight away. There weren't any penalty shouts. No terribly dubious calls, except for an overall horrific officiating job, but that's almost to be expected. Bottom line, nothing for Fergie to worry about. Just a loss. Well, hold the phone there ... 

He says that Manchester United had the best of the chances in the match. That they could have had 6, 7, even 8 goals. He says that Clichy had a clear handball for a penalty that wasn't called. And he is even complaining about the fixtures, that they've had to play at Chelski and at Arsenal in the weekend after Champions League matches. Honestly, this man does not know when to stop. Clearly, you can't expect your players to show grace (Rooney, Ronaldo, Nani) when you yourself don't, Sir Alex Jintao. A loss is a loss is a loss. Will he ever just shut it and accept it?

Whatever the case, I still want to shake this man's hand. It's just a same that he missed and hit his shin.

It's about damn time!

That headline is a direct quote from my mother, who knew fully well the importance of an Arsenal win this weekend. To say nothing of the importance of getting one over the despicable Manchester United.

Apologies for my invisibility in the last week.  A heavy bug kept me from doing much but wallowing in my own self-pity. That and the fact that I've just been downright in dismay and driven by anger toward the Arsenal at the moment.

Nothing fixes that like a win over a top rival though, does it?

Arsenal finally produced a committed performance against Sir Alex Jintao's team of divers, cheaters, whiners and drugs-test missers. One of the many reasons my bile toward United is as strong as it is is the blind herd mentality that it takes to be a United supporter in the States. I was recently told that a major department store carries their shirts on its racks. This is not a department store known for sporting apparel - much less football shirts. And they certainly don't represent anyone else. No, just the massive global marketing machine of the Glazers and Sir Alex Jintao. Same goes for those louts at ESPN. Week after week after week, they'll have United up for show in the Champions League and highlight packages, not a whiff of anyone else. (Author's note: I'm trying to keep this clean.) So yeah, way to go to the kids of America. Ra ra ra, United! Yarbles to that, I say.

So when I see a parade of United shirts pouring into my football pub at 6:00 a.m. on a cold fall morning, I shake my head with pity. Yet only for a second. It's when they starting running their mouths with the damnedest of songs that the blood really starts to boil. And I'll really get going when I hear complaints about a goalkeeper being down too long when he's just been kicked in the face by a (ahem, no expletive here!) midfielder, ex of Spurs, ex of Hammers who should have already been sent off for a challenge from behind that spoiled perfectly flowing football.

I'll cut that here. Not the point. The point to sit on at the moment is that Arsenal finally turned up and held themselves accountable. 

Samir Nasri, as I've always said, was a delight. He showed, yet again, that rare commodity - balance on the ball. It is so valuable. And if ever there was a reason to find a small shred of this young man that actually did resemble Zidane, it's his balance. Little else beyond upbringing, to be fair.

Top marks for Gael Clichy again. That youngster, firmly rooted in the side for sometime now, had "The Great Ronaldo" in his pocket all day, as a friend from Liverpool commented via email not 30 minutes after the match. Ronaldo is such a poor excuse for class. I could say it all day long, he's got bags of quality yet absolutely no class. To see him continue to go to ground, and in such an important match, is laughable. It's utterly transparent.

Words for Rooney ... I won't even waste my time. He's a punk. Has he ever walked off the pitch at halftime without berating the official? Oh, and how much was he in Jintao's backpocket for this one? Shameful, absolutely shameful performance by the official. (Six Minutes!?!?!?)

Bendtner needs to show himself with better effort and finishing if he's to be considered in that position as a singular striker. We've lots of hurt men at the moment. Now is a big opportunity for the Dane. We've all seen his flashes but he'll need to be better on the big stage than he was yesterday morning.

I was happy to see Fabianski come in with as much confidence as he did after Almunia succumbed to injury. His distribution turned us up field quickly and again, that width and pass we've now got with Theo and Nasri is awfully promising. Gallas didn't screw it up, for that we can be thankful.

It's hard, after matches like that to discuss it without breaking down every unique performance or simple twist through the midfield. For the moment, I'm just pleased that Arsenal could be bothered enough to show some actual passion and try to get this thing moving again. 

And I'm pleased that those herd mentality United supporters got a kick in the teeth.

Finally, cheers to fellow Gooners Jamie and Carl for a great performance down the pub while I had to keep the mouth (relatively) shut to keep the cough down.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Maradona madness continues

They're not taking any prisoners down there in Argentina. Maradona, perhaps understandably, has taken on as the hammer of authority his 1986 national team coach Carlos Bilardo as a manager with the 2008 version of Argentina. Bilardo is more than ready to lay down the law, Argentina-style, in the pursuit of success and glory for Maradona and the nation. From Friday’s Independent:

“... Bilardo, 69, said he wanted the media to criticise the team, hoping for a repeat of 1986 when his squad arrived in Mexico under a hail of criticism and went on to win the World Cup. ‘They have to hit [criticise] us more, when people start hitting you have to defend yourselves and that makes us tougher,’ said Bilardo, who warned his family not to expect him home early. "The national team comes first and it comes before my family," said Bilardo with a deadpan expression. "My wife isn't going to complain, she knows me."

The added emphasis is mine. OK, let's say it again because it never gets old, how incredibly fucking awesome is this Maradona-in-charge-of-Argentina stuff going to be? I'll you how awesome: mind-meltingly so, dogg.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Celtic Park singing "Fields of Anfield Road" as it's Celtic 1 – United 0 in the 23rd minute. I love this. I love it, I tell you!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Soft penalty

I'll take it. Whatever.

The luck continues, in some respects ...

Come back, Fernando! Come back!

I'm still alive, though stuck in recovery mode after the Spurs match. This Atlético match isn't doing me any favors, either.

0-1 down in the 84th minute. Oof. Now they show Torres in the stands with his girlfriend. He needs to hook up again with his mistress: on the ball on the edge of the box.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I'm lost in the early season football wildness.

Arsenal have LOST - lost, people - to Fulham, Hull and Stoke.

I'd say "let that soak in," but hell, that's about all I've been doing the last several days. It's soaking. It's like the Pickled Egg in the corner bar I will never walk into. I don't even know where to begin anymore when it comes to taking a look at the team. Everything I've thought over the course of the season is coming true. Those thoughts don't need to be rehashed. 

So I sit, I scratch my head and wonder when the hell the team will be sorted out. The rumblings are out there ... it's only a matter of time until we start to hold the manager even more culpable, and take a good hard look at what's he's been up to this year. 

And I'm trembling with shame at questioning the man, Arsene Wenger. He's been nothing sort of an icon. At the moment, though, there are a lot of questions that need answering.