Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Univision and Brasil's Swagger


"Ok, I have another theory for why Venezuela is wearing red wine," explained the Univision announcer. This was the 10th time the booth mentioned the color choice on the Venezuelan national team and Pablo Ramirez, the leader of the crew, wasn't finished bouncing ideas off his colleagues. "If you mix the colors of the Venezuelan flag together, you get red wine." His partners were incredulous, and so was I, but for entirely different reasons.

Brasil is back; it's about time. With Argentina rebuilding, and Uruguay still one bad loss from their usual existential crisis, those yellow bastards look terrifying, again. Maybe it was the five, yes, that's correct, five consecutive give-and-go's between Neymar and Andre Santos. Or perhaps it was Pato's effortless settle in the box, from a ball kicked 50 yards away, over his shoulder, with a defender painted on him, while he was at full speed. Maybe it's that Robinho looks really comfortable. I don't want to alarm anyone, but he's being used in the correct role now as well.

"There's going to be a big problem if Venezuela try to match Brasil's pimperies," said Pablo's colleague. Learning how to successfully use "pimperies" in a sentence is something that Univision can't take away from me now, but moreover, he was right.

Brasil, especially in South America, compels teams to try and play like them. It's one of the intangibles of joga bonito; teams disastrously try to match it. This was not the case when Dunga had them playing a 4-5-1. A four-five-one people, and no, that's not four forwards and one sweeper. Now they seem to be playing a 4-3-3, and it's a good thing I have to use the word seem.

But there's still one problem. His name is Lucas Leiva. It's not his fault, I guess, it's more that Brasil has nobody else to play his role. That is to say, Lucas Leiva is the best pass-first defensive midfielder they've got. If Brasil had, I don't know, Xabi Alonso on one leg and no arms, they'd win every game by 8 goals.

They may not win the Copa America. They may not even beat Venezuela right now - it's still 0-0 in the 60th minute - but they're not playing for this tournament. The Copa America, unless you have $70 on Uruguay to win at 11-1, is a mostly useless tournament. Brasil is preparing for 2014, and by the look of things, they'll be fine.

OK, more than fine.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Charlie Good Update

It's about a two hour drive to Querétaro from Mexico City. Instead of renting a car, you could always spend a few more bucks and fly there directly. Querétaro is the perfect place to run away.

It's not as difficult as you might think, running away. And there's plenty to do once you get there. Once you stop thinking about what you're leaving behind, and instead start thinking about what's waiting for you, you're ready.

I know why I would go - the white roosters. Well, that's not entirely true, it's actually one man: Charles Nice. When Carlos Bueno scores, you can't help but smile. His dances make you feel like a kid again, and that's no coincidence. He celebrates the same way his 8-year-old son does, whenever his son scores a goal in little league. And when Carlos Cozy shows you his magic, he evokes a roar from the crowd that kids dream about.

If I had only seven and a half minutes to convince you that you'd love Mexican league soccer, I'd show you this video.

And if you watched it all, well, then, I'll see you there. I hope you like Corona.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Huh?

What's that you say? The season is over? Oh, well I thought it had only just begun. You see, I can only remember three Arsenal games all season.

Here's one. I happened to be there.


Here's the other.


And this is the last one.


As far as I'm concerned, nothing else happened. That's why I'm so confused by people who say that Arsene should blow up the team. The guys who played in these games looked great.

Apparently, there's a big game tomorrow. I'm sure that either Juan or I will be happy to fill you in on proceedings.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Ohhh Yes! This Guy Is Classy."

Exclaims Bill Leslie of Sky Sports 1.


Also, to the person with a Uruguay flag at Craven Cottage - well played sir. You've made Luis and me very happy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's Beautiful On the Other Side/A Disturbance in the Force























Two quick points:

1) Once you've successfully abandoned all expectation for your team, it's actually kind of nice to watch a game like yesterday's match between Arsenal and Spurs. Both teams played fantastic attacking football, defense optional, and all in all, it was probably a fair result. I think Arsenal were slightly better on the day (when will Tom Huddlestone, of all people, score a goal like that again? - the answer is surely never), but it's hard to begrudge Spurs the draw, especially when Kenny Chesney had to make a series of excellent saves to keep it 3-3.

Basically, I was expecting to surrender the 3-1 lead. (And frankly, I was expecting William Gallas to head in the winner once the game was tied.) I refused to get sucked in by Manchester United's draw against Newcastle. We should all know that the league is lost, the season is over. So I'm OK with the result, and I'm able to see the dark, absurd humor in supporting a team for which no lead is EVER safe. When one's team is up 3-1 and playing well, that supporter should entertain in the back of his mind that a draw or loss is possible. He should NOT, however, fear that outcome. And he definitely should not anticipate that outcome or, as in my case, perceive it as a foregone conclusion. But that's how it is with Arsenal these days. And once you've gone that far, it's weirdly beautiful on the other side. [Note: As I was writing this, I began listening to the Footballistically Arsenal podcast from Tuesday. From his remarks, you can tell that Tom Rosenthal reached the other side during the Liverpool match, and I'm happy to join him there. He notes in the podcast that Arsenal have become a parody of themselves. He's taking sick pleasure in the sheer absurdity of the team - it's almost a perfect summary of how I felt going into the Spurs match.]













2. Is this the beginning of the end for Barca's GOAT claims? Have the Patriots found a way to stop the Greatest Show on Turf? Honestly, I was stunned at the momentum shift I perceived after Madrid won. I was expecting Barca to look unhappy, but not perturbed. Instead, the TV captured Messi looking really upset, Guardiola looking concerned, and the rest of the team looking generally devastated. Madrid, of course, were going nuts. I'm not sure we can underestimate just how big a statement was made in this game. There has been a disturbance in the force. And if I could feel it here, I'm sure Juan heard cries of anguish for miles.

Other Thoughts: Ronaldo's header was fantastic, and for the first time ever, he definitely outplayed Messi. He was the most dangerous man on the field for all 120 minutes. I had flashbacks to watching him run at English defenders in the Premier League. It's still terrifying how fast he is and just how good he is in the air. It was also perversely satisfying to hear the commentators accusing Barca of all the things they say about Arsenal: "not enough height," "no Plan B," "not enough urgency," "wasteful in front of goal," etc. I would also like to note that Arsenal (even a more talented Arsenal from 2004-2006) always had a great deal of trouble with Mourinho's Chelsea teams. He is a master at exposing those kind of flaws. Very, very interesting times ahead.

Also, I can't believe Sergio Ramos dropped the Copa del Rey under a bus. That's really all there is to say about that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Seven Years of Famine



















"Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land." Genesis 41:29-30.


Arsenal Under Arsene Wenger

97/98-04/05: Three Premier League Titles, Four FA Cups (including two Doubles and an undefeated league season).

05/06-present: Famine, starvation, rivers of blood, Mikael Silvestre, locusts, death of firstborn children, etc.


Indeed, the plenty is long forgotten. Let's take a quick season recap, shall we?


18 September 2010: After a gritty, but by no means dominant performance, Arsenal lead 1-0 from a crazy Cesc Fabregas goal. But then Rosicky spurns a chance to make it 2-0 by blasting his penalty into outer space. And in the dying seconds of injury time, a Clichy/Koscielny mix-up allows Darren Bent to equalize and prevent Arsenal from moving top of the league.


7 November 2010: Free kick to Newcastle. Fabianski comes for it, flaps wildly. Andy Carroll heads into an empty net. Newcastle line for the game: two attempts, one goal. Arsenal lose.


20 November 2010: Two excellent first-half goals by Arsenal see them lead their bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur at home. However, after the break, Tottenham score three times, including a penalty awarded when our captain foolishly raises his arm in the area to block a free kick. Spurs beat Arsenal in the league at home for the first time in, well, a really long time. Again, this loss prevents Arsenal from moving to the top of the table.


29 December 2010: After coming off the high of beating Chelsea 3-1 in the league, Arsenal respond well to an early setback against Wigan by taking the lead, 2-1. They even enjoy the benefit of a man-advantage after N’Zogbia is rightfully sent off for headbutting Wilshere. However, in the 80th minute of the game, Sebastian Squillaci heads the ball into his own net when trying to clear. The draw prevents Arsenal from going level on points with United at the top of the table. Sensing a theme here...


5 February 2011: Theo Walcott scores in the first minute of the game against Newcastle, and Arsenal romp to a 4-0 lead by halftime. But in the second half, Newcastle are awarded two penalties (one just, the other terribly unfair), and this sparks them to a 4-4 comeback, which culminates in an 87th minute wonderstrike by Tiote. Arsenal are the first team to go 4-0 up in a league game and not win it.


27 February 2011: Arsenal and Birmingham City are deadlocked at 1-1 in the Carling Cup Final. As the second half goes on and extra time beckons, it’s clear that Arsenal are in the ascendancy and that Birmingham are tiring. But in the 89th minute of regulation, an insane mix-up between Koscielny and Kenny Chesney allows Obefami Martins to tap in and win the cup for Birmingham.


8 March 2011: Arsenal go to the Camp Nou with a 2-1 lead from the first leg of their Champions League matchup against Barcelona. Barcelona are in fine form, but Arsenal defend extremely well until an uncharacteristic error by Fabregas gifts a chance to Messi right before halftime, and he takes it very well. However, Arsenal equalize from a fortunate own goal by Busquets in the second half. Soon after, though, Robin van Persie is ludicrously sent off with a second yellow for “timewasting” when he kicks a ball a split second after the referee’s whistle (in a loud, crowded stadium). Barca take advantage of the extra man and quickly score two more. Arsenal still have a chance to go through, but Bendtner fluffs his lines in front of goal. Arsenal go out of the Champions League, losing 4-3 on aggregate.


12 March 2011: Arsenal dominate possession and chances at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarterfinal against Manchester United. Fergie puts out a team with seven defenders, though, and Arsenal can’t make the breakthrough. Fabio and Rooney, on the other hand, make the most of their chances. Arsenal go out of the FA Cup, losing 2-0.


17 April 2011: After several lackluster draws, Arsenal have one last chance to put pressure on United at the top of the table. After dominating possession and chances all game (and benefiting from unfortunate injuries to key Liverpool players), they are still unable to make a breakthrough... until Fabregas wins a penalty in the 7th minute of stoppage time and van Persie coolly slots it home. The revitalized title challenge lasts exactly two minutes, however, as Arsenal surrender a free kick on the edge of the area, and then Eboue gives away an insanely sloppy (and rather dubious) penalty when Lucas dives under his body. Kuyt scores in the 102nd minute of regulation (!) with literally the last kick of the game, thus ending any Arsenal hope of winning the league.


Has there ever been a season quite like this? I know that Arsenal in spring has become a freak show that everyone else can enjoy over the past few seasons. But we are reaching new lows here, people. This entire season has been one gut punch after another. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, the football gods take a familiar, painful plotline, and give it just enough of a twist to make it hurt all over again. For instance, today’s match was reminiscent of the Champions League match against Liverpool from several years ago. That one really hurt - in fact, it might be the most crushing soccer loss I've experienced. But I thought I was over it. Well, this one reopened that wound and then twisted the knife for good measure. As another example, the 4-4 against Newcastle reminded me of the 4-4 against Spurs from three years ago (and to a lesser extent, the 4-4 against Liverpool, which was more bittersweet). But at least the goals were more back and forth in that one. This season, we rolled over and let in four straight without any resistance. (And at least we didn’t LOSE that 4-4 to Spurs... this year, they came back and beat us. I’m telling you, new lows.)


As Juan succinctly put it, “the kind of bad luck that happens to United over the course of twenty years gets consolidated into a season for us.” Why is that? My personal theory is that Arsene Wenger made a deal with Satan for the Invincibles. That team had too much swagger NOT to be aided by dark, supernatural forces. If only Arsene had known that this was how the devil would collect his due: six years without a trophy and some of the most freakish, gutting losses that any team has ever experienced... consolidated into the span of a few seasons (or even just one).


What more has to happen for this terrible saga to come to an end? What new levels of losing (to quote the irritating but often on-point Bill Simmons) will the football gods find for Arsenal in the remainder of this awful season? Right now, I’m envisioning a 5-4 loss to Tottenham midweek, in which we go up 4 nil and then manage to lose. William Gallas will score the winning goal. And then maybe Manchester United clinching the title (is that mathematically possible? Seems like it...) with a 5-0 beatdown at the Emirates, thus exacting revenge for 2002. Patrice Evra and Nani will score at least one each. Rooney will pick up the ball in his own penalty area, run the length of the field, nutmegging Fabregas, sidestepping Nasri, twirling beyond Djourou, and then lobbing Chesney with an inch-perfect chip. It will be the greatest goal ever scored in the Premier League, and people will talk about it for a century.


Frankly, if that’s what it takes to make this voodoo madness stop, then I can deal with it. But according to the Biblical prophecy (see above), we have at least one more season to go. For next year, I'm predicting a fourth place finish behind, wait for it... Spurs. After that, maybe there will be a return to normalcy. No more clumsy or freakish errors that come at the most inopportune moments. No more horrible refereeing decisions that go against us at crucial times (yes, yes, I know they're supposed to even out over the course of the season, but ask any Arsenal or Chelsea fan if they feel that the universe hasn't quite made up for some of the calls/no-calls of the past few years). And if Arsene is still around (and I pray that he is because for all his flaws, he's a fascinating, intelligent person and an amazing manager), I firmly believe I will see him lift another trophy with Arsenal. He and Captain Jack Wilshere.


In the meantime, Juan and I will be watching Boca Juniors and the Seattle Sounders. Because you just can't fight that Biblical ish. And because it’s easier when you just don’t give a damn.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Our 200th Post!

It's been a great ride. The car blew out three of its tires, Jim's arm is stuck in the door that accidentally slammed on him when he got in last, and I'm sitting in the back wondering who's driving because I'm pretty sure we're headed for that cliff up ahead, but the car keeps on moving.

Despite the recent form, this is a time to reminisce. These are our favorite posts from the past 200, as voted on by our readers! (That means Jim and I).

2008

  • Before TLOCA took La Liga seriously, and before La Liga took themselves seriously, Real Madrid led the table and faced lowly Getafe in what would be a meaningless rout. Well In Case You Missed It, they lost, in such a way that Arsene Wenger termed, "meh, just you wait 3 years". But in all seriousness I'd like to point out that Barcelona finished 3rd that year, Jim and I weren't the only ones that thought Puyol was overrated, and Guti was good at soccer.
    ** Even the youtube link still works!

  • There isn't anything special about Will They Make It, except that the day after it was written, Arsenal walked into the San Siro for their second leg of the Champions League quarter finals and did what no English team had done before. It also just so happens that Cesc Fabregas was the culprit of a 30-yard missile, 6 minutes from stoppage time to bury the defending Champions League Champions. It may have led to The Fab Face (see above, left) and it may have been because Fab reads this blog.
    ** Unfortunately the links don't work, but they were memorable Arsenal goals in the Champions League.
  • Jim tackles The Five Best Derbies and it's a timeless piece unaffected by emotion or bias; I know this because Arsenal vs Tottenham isn't the #1 derby. Just look at that picture of Rafa; I knew this would be fun!

  • Another Friendly, when watching the United States play soccer is like bad sex.

  • It wasn't all Clasicos and Arsenal-Chelsea victories for TLOCA correspondents, believe it or not we used to go to USA friendlies. A Report From the Front tells the story about when Jim sees the Messiah in "Football" territory.

  • Another Brilliant Ad is a testament to when El Niño was the hottest thing in the Premier League and was leaving an array of defenders behind his beautiful red jersey. For the record, TLOCA still loves Fernando and is really hoping he scores a hattrick against Man United in a week.

  • It Was Never About the Fans complains about the days when Arsenal kept winning 1-nil, and ends with some humor from Arsene Wenger. This is also marks the point when Juan went from funny to surly, light-hearted to generally bitter.

  • Jim finishes 2008 with an economist-esque examination of the difference between two north London rivals, aptly titled Tottenham Hotspur: the Anti-Arsenal.

2009

  • After the Arsenal campaign ended with a whimper, and T-minus 12 days before the next campaign, Juan compares supporting Arsenal to a regretful night in college. The parallels are fascinating, hilarious, and disturbing.

  • It was a moment that Ireland will never forget. In Poor Ireland, Poor Me, Jim puts his perspective on the legacy of his favorite player and the consequences of Thierry Henry's handball with an occasional french joke and one epic photograph.

2010
- Present
  • Dedicated to Aaron Ramsey is contained anger, and The Culture of English Football is the sarcastic yet eye-opening follow up to an incident TLOCA will never forget.

  • On the eve of the Arsenal vs. Barcelona CL clash, Juan had been listening to a little too much Notorious BIG: Barça Bleeds.

  • The World Cup 2010. Uruguay vs. Ghana. Life After Death.

  • In August Juan decided to leave the United States and pursue his love of soccer under the guise of "International Medicine". A Night In Barcelona is his first post from Sunny Spain.

  • A classic song deserves a classic post. In the Words of Ice Cube combines the two and serves as a snapshot of the soccer scene before the whole world went mad. Proof that there was normalcy before 4-4 draws and goals in 13 minutes of stoppage time.

  • Juan went to El Clasico, Jim went to the Emirates. Both are first hand accounts with original videos and photos.

  • And last but not least is my personal favorite, You're Welcome, Sincerely Barcelona FC. Diego Forlán comes to Barcelona to visit, while Quique Sanchez Flores runs interference; a gushing encounter of Uruguay's icon.
Here's to 200 more!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A March To Forget

For Jim and I, the month of March went alot like Richie Tenenbaum's last tennis match.

The "something" that happened was the combination of a few things. The Carling Cup final on February 27th left us confused and reacting in such a way that had psychologists scrambling for more notepads. Then there was the second leg of the Barcelona game, a 90 minute thesis on the 7 steps of grief; I promise we still haven't reached step 7. I'll throw in the FA cup too, you know, because I've never seen such an overt mockery of Wenger-ball. You realize Ferguson put out 7 defenders right, but I digress.

We ignored losing the first set 6-love, carried on to lose the second set 6-love, and at four-love in the third and final set, Jim and I looked up in the stands and saw Manchester United marrying the EPL trophy.

There we were, wandering around our respective lives without shoes on, and having lost one sock. The commentators could very well be Franny and Emily, not truly understanding what the hell went wrong.

Soon, cognitive dissonance will take over: We want to win trophies but we don't want to pay market-price for experienced players. So we tell ourselves the market is all screwed up, and rich russian and oil tycoons are ruining the sport. But before cognitive dissonance, and near the end of the season, we'll instead morph into Royal Tenenbaum, asking ourselves what the hell happened. Just like the season before that, and the season before that.

If it's possible to reach the last stage with only hope and not acceptance, then perhaps we have reached stage 7. I doubt it. Still, somewhere, in some pleasing dream world, I imagine Arsenal beating United, Chelsea exacting their revenge the next week, and then, on the final day of the Premier League, Ian Holloway will finally be rewarded for encouraging positive, attractive football, and force a relegation-saving-draw which just so happens to be a title-winning-one too.

I'm still allowed to dream right?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Surely This Cannot Be Possible

This.

And that's all I want to say for now. This could be huge, ladies and gentlemen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arsenal 2, The Greatest Team Ever 1


Oh it was a good one.

This was for the Barcelona fans who started ole'ing in the 30th minute, for the time Victor Valdez decided it would be cool to volley the ball out of his box instead of simply picking it up, for the time Sergio Busquets realized he lacked one decent offensive move and lost out to Cesc Fabregas.

This win was for Pep Guardiola, who took Villa off in the 65th minute, for Xavi, who still hasn't arrived in London, and for Iniesta, who's only contribution to the stat sheet today was getting substituted for someone I'm unfamiliar with.

It was for Van Persie, who went and hugged Arsene Wenger after his goal, knowing he was right; for Samir Nasri, who somehow managed 90 great minutes after a hamstring injury, and especially for putting Dani Alves in his place.

The win was for the fans at the Emirates, who ironically sang, "we've got Cesc Fabregas" after our 2nd goal, for Kenny Chesney, our keeper who is the only one on earth with more confidence than Nicklas Bendtner, and for our awfully under appreciated back-four. And for Eboue, who I expect to see shirtless for the next 7 days.

Most of all this win was for Andrei Arshavin, who tucked away the most important goal of his career with such smoothness and nonchalance that the replay seemed to lie. Had time truly stopped in his eyes? How could he possibly be so sure?
Welcome back - my light - Andrei Arshavin.

Regardless of what happens in the Camp Nou, thank you Arsenal. You showed the world that Barcelona Football Club isn't just fallible, but beatable at their own game.

Dear Gennaro Gattuso














Some questions after the brawl/match last night:

1) Are Milan that bad? Can someone who has actually been watching their games please inform me if last night was a total fluke or if they're really that blah (and it somehow works for them because the Serie A is just weak).

2) Who would win in a fight: Crouch or Gattuso?

3) Who would win in a fight: Joe Jordan or Gattuso?

4) Who would win in a fight: Gattuso or the ground?

5) Who would win in a fight: Flamini or Corluka's ankle?

6) Was last night's win over Milan the greatest achievement in the history of soccer? Are Tottenham now the best team in football? Does it matter that Arsenal went into the San Siro in 2008 and punk'd Pirlo, Kaka, and co. 2-0 when Milan had a substantially better squad and were the holders of the Champions League trophy? No, I'm not suggesting the press are overreacting. I'm just asking the questions.

And I look forward to getting some answers. Or at least some that aren't answered by the pictures in this article. Apparently, there's a really important match later today, but I can't remember what that is. Updates later.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Good Morning!

Welcome to a special edition of The Legend of Carl Awesome. Through the miracle of the internet, your humble correspondents are able to present you with a rundown of the Manchester Derby (and the first half of Arsenal-Wolves) as viewed through our twisted and biased lens. Three points if you make it to the end:


Citeh's buildup is good, but every time they start to look a little threatening, the final ball is laughably bad.
06:54:19 Juan: im glad carlos and silva decided to do their best mls impression for these first 10 minutes
06:54:42 Jim: great passing and then a horrible final ball
06:56:02 Juan: did you catch up on my suarez take
06:56:16 Jim: i did indeed
06:56:25 Juan: it's not a bad ceiling, right?
06:56:27 Juan: arshavin?
06:56:32 Jim: not at all
06:56:45 Juan: i actually took a long time thinking who it could be
06:56:48 Jim: also, i love the podcast talking about how arshavin is unreasonably hated
06:58:54 Juan: the podcast was great
06:59:08 Jim: it's as good as the arsecast is terrible
06:59:12 Jim: well, maybe that's pushing it
06:59:34 Juan: yeah, only because by that logic the "footballistically arsenal" dudes would win a new nobel prize in spoken word

Lots of fouls, midfield getting congested.
07:05:24 Juan: this is getting a bit chippy
07:06:07 Jim: do you mean kompany's foul?
07:06:16 Juan: yes
07:06:18 Juan: then o'shea
07:06:19 Jim: yeah
07:09:09 Jim: anderson, please close your mouth
07:09:18 Juan: lol
07:09:34 Juan: he thinks it's closed jim
07:11:39 Jim: rooney is trying to get a yellow card with his "english determination"
07:12:00 Jim: wow, he almost succeeded, too
07:12:09 Juan: like a mule plowing a field
07:12:13 Jim: indeed
07:12:15 Jim: a donkey with a huge cart strapped to its back
07:12:15 Juan: the english players add so much to the game
07:12:25 Jim: running at full speed

Scholes sends a long, perfect cross-field ball to the wing.
07:14:14 Jim: i know scholes is an annoying old ginger, but he can still spread that ball around like buttah
07:15:12 Juan: like warm butter on a nice pancake
07:15:20 Jim: on that note, i think a good argument that xavi is overrated is to ask yourself: would it really make a difference if paul scholes replaced him in the barca midfield?
07:15:31 Jim: honestly, he'd probably do just fine
07:15:39 Juan: yeah, arsene wenger ruined scholes for me with his hilarious, "he's a great player with a shaky past" line, or something like that
07:17:09 Jim: definitely a lot of terrible fouls
07:17:18 Jim: he never actually learned how to tackle
07:17:40 Jim: and he's infamous for stupid, blatant handballs
07:18:03 Juan: yeah he did that against wolves
07:18:08 Juan: was he even carded for that?
07:18:18 Jim: yeah, yellow card
07:19:26 Jim: a classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kme2xaGi49A
07:19:41 Juan: stupid
07:19:51 Juan: it should have been the color of his crotch

Nani scores! 1 nil to United.
07:26:15 Jim: darn
07:26:25 Jim: how did they let that happen
07:26:47 Juan: cuz nani is nice
07:26:58 Juan: "nice" like how a dude would use it to describe a girl
07:26:59 Jim: yeah
07:27:08 Juan: quite a touch there
07:27:15 Jim: that crazy backflip he does is also pretty impressive
07:27:23 Jim: "we do what we waaaaant"
07:27:28 Jim: i kind of love that they sing that
07:27:49 Juan: what's the end of that?
07:28:08 Jim: and then "we're man united, and we do want we want"
07:28:17 Juan: ha
07:28:42 Juan: i need a piss test for ryan giggs, please
07:29:05 Juan: hes looking awfully frisky today
07:29:51 Jim: it's because sir alex switched him to a blend of chow for more mature pets
07:30:16 Juan: LOL
07:30:25 Juan: did you just make that up?
07:30:27 Juan: that is golden
07:30:29 Juan: i read it twice
07:30:34 Jim: haha i did
07:30:40 Juan: fantastic sir
07:30:41 Juan: well in
07:31:00 Jim: thank you

The speed of the match increases as Citeh realize they're in trouble and United try to put the match to bed with a quick follow-up before halftime.
07:31:08 Juan: dang
07:31:15 Juan: these players are really good when they open up
07:31:24 Juan: we need more soccer all star games
07:31:29 Jim: i agree
07:31:44 Juan: sometimes its not fun being so disciplined
07:34:57 Jim: i was reading the other day about soccer strategies
07:35:05 Jim: how it's not really a quest to find a perfect one
07:35:11 Jim: it's more like rock, paper, scissors
07:35:33 Jim: and how liverpool were playing an 80s style lineup with basically 3 center backs against chelsea
07:35:35 Jim: and it worked
07:35:35 Juan: rock paper scissors and barcelona
07:35:40 Jim: ah yes
07:35:46 Jim: i forgot that one
07:35:47 Juan: hahah that's what they'd say
07:35:48 Juan: anyway
07:35:48 Juan: go on
07:35:50 Jim: "gun" = barcelona
07:36:14 Juan: it's like rock paper glock


Hating on Soccernet...

07:36:36 Jim: http://espn.go.com/sports/soccer/news/_/id/6104189/liverpool-use-three-man-backline-unique-premier-league
07:36:53 Jim: one of the few times that soccernet has genuinely entertained and/or educated me about anything
07:36:56 Juan: yeah i read that
07:36:59 Juan: it's because hes freelance
07:37:03 Jim: must be
07:37:03 Juan: and doesn't actually work for them
07:37:49 Jim: yeah
07:38:03 Juan: which is probably better for espn
07:38:11 Juan: i find it hard to believe the higher ups don't realize they're mostly shit
07:38:25 Juan: they brought in [david] hirshey, they allow some more freelance stuff
07:38:32 Juan: espn now has a really big investment in soccer
07:38:36 Jim: hirshey cracks me up
07:39:03 Juan: yeah i like hirshey

Halftime Highlights and Some Internet Browsing.
07:40:23 Jim: here's a heartwarming story: http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/soccer/news/story?id=6105411
07:40:32 Jim: i like what he said to beckham, i think that's exactly what i would have said
07:41:25 Juan: i mean, we would have said it in a very inappropriate tone
07:41:30 Jim: it's true
07:41:31 Juan: but yes, on print it would look the same
07:41:41 Jim: i would have said it while slowly unbuttoning my shirt
07:41:57 Juan: and shielding your kids' eyes
07:42:10 Jim: "kids, go wait in the car"
07:42:28 Juan: "daddy is gonna show david how much he loves him"
07:42:35 Jim: AHAHAHA
07:42:46 Juan: hahaha im dying over here
07:42:48 Jim: if i don't stop laughing, my girlfriend is going to come in here
07:42:58 Jim: and ask what's so funny that made me wake her up
07:43:09 Jim: and i'll have to explain that i'm making jokes about being gay with david beckham
07:43:27 Juan: she'll probably nod and just turn and walk away
07:44:05 Juan: "kids, go tell mom to put on her david beckham jersey for when i get home"
07:44:34 Jim: LOL


Citeh substitution: Edin Dzeko comes on for James Milner.
08:04:11 Juan: um
08:04:13 Juan: jesus christ
08:04:17 Juan: how big is edin dzeko?
08:04:27 Jim: fairly large
08:04:30 Juan: dude looks like a monster
08:05:59 Jim: actually, according to wikipedia, dude is 6'4
08:06:04 Jim: that's pretty huge
08:06:12 Jim: not llorente huge, but close
08:06:56 Jim: like the bosnian paul bunyan

Good run and cross from Wright-Phillips. Dzeko's ensuing shot deflects off Silva and into the goal! All square again.
08:08:24 Juan: hey-o
08:08:29 Juan: this is the best result for us
08:08:39 Jim: oh snap
08:08:56 Jim: aw a-aww yeahh
08:09:30 Jim: that's the first useful thing i've seen shaun wright-phillips do in like four years
08:09:51 Juan: yeah, wenger was right about him

Ball played into Tevez, Van der Sar makes a fantastic save. Flag was up, however.

08:11:10 Juan: only van der saar saves that
08:11:13 Juan: what an asshole
08:11:23 Jim: point blank
08:11:44 Jim: how does a man that old have reflexes like a cat?
08:12:06 Juan: they're gonna hurt once he leaves...
08:12:12 Jim: reina?
08:12:19 Juan: ... for like, a game, then they'll buy another good goalie, since that's what serious teams do
08:12:52 Jim: good thing we have a good goalie now in woldcheck szczczc kenny chesney
08:13:00 Juan: HAHAHAH
08:13:05 Juan: kenny chesney
08:13:38 Jim: honestly, when his family was on ellis island, he was probably kenny sczeszny or whatever
08:13:45 Jim: and the immigration officials were like f that
08:14:08 Jim: your name is chesney and you're going to be a country singer

A lull in the action, then Berbatov shows off his skills.

08:16:13 Juan: jesus berba
08:16:14 Juan: just class
08:16:27 Jim: holy crap
08:17:02 Jim: lazy, languid moves
08:17:08 Jim: as he slicks back his hair
08:17:14 Jim: and allows the barest of smiles
08:17:18 Juan: and sprays himself with deodorant
08:17:27 Jim: yeah, covers himself with davidoff's cool water
08:17:30 Juan: he's the continental
08:17:30 Jim: that's what he bathes in

Wayne Rooney scores perhaps the finest goal I've ever seen.
08:21:38 Juan: wow
08:21:42 Jim: oh
08:21:45 Juan: wow
08:21:50 Jim: oh
08:21:54 Juan: um
08:21:55 Juan: wow
08:21:58 Juan: what
08:21:58 Juan: the
08:21:59 Jim: oh my
08:21:59 Juan: fuck
08:22:06 Jim: oh my goodness
08:22:13 Juan: thats a joke, right?
08:22:14 Juan: holy fuck
08:22:19 Juan: that replay is just, wow
08:22:21 Jim: jesus dude
08:22:23 Jim: that is perfect
08:22:28 Juan: even ferguson goes, FUCK
08:22:36 Jim: OH MY GOD
08:22:39 Jim: look at that thing
08:22:46 Jim: chicharito went crazy
08:23:10 Juan: hahahah my goodness
08:23:19 Jim: they do what they want, apparently
08:23:25 Juan: wait
08:23:28 Juan: there's more replays
08:23:37 Juan: ones where joe hart seems a little displeased
08:24:24 Jim: alright citeh, what do you have to say about that?

David Beckham is in attendance! Meanwhile, Citeh look shell-shocked.
08:25:28 Jim: love you david
08:25:58 Juan: how do you recover from that?
08:26:15 Juan: somewhere, noel gallagher just shot up heroin

Final whistle.
08:38:15 Juan: whatever, this is probably better for the world this way
08:38:22 Jim: yeah
08:38:29 Jim: also, that goal
08:38:48 Jim: just absurd
08:39:00 Jim: united will lose to liverpool
08:39:07 Jim: there's no doubt in my mind
08:39:41 Jim: and they could lose to us, too

On Rooney's Overhead Laser Beam, which will henceforth be abbreviated "RGAC" (Rooney's Goal Against Citeh)...
08:40:16 Jim: even good rooney has only a few of those goals in his locker
08:41:05 Juan: whatever
08:41:08 Juan: welcome to the club, citeh
08:41:14 Jim: yep
08:41:18 Juan: wondergoals always beat arsenal
08:41:22 Jim: it's true
08:41:26 Jim: even that last newcastle goal
08:41:32 Jim: i would say: borderline wonder
08:42:08 Juan: borderline?
08:42:12 Juan: jim, it was voted goal of the month
08:42:31 Jim: after rooney's goal...
08:42:35 Juan: well
08:42:39 Jim: i'm no longer impressed by anything.
08:42:48 Juan: we should do that...
08:42:51 Juan: just raise the bar after that
08:42:55 Juan: expecting all goals to look like that
08:43:16 Jim: be like "that was a nice goal. i rate it 1/10th Rooney's goal against Citeh
08:43:33 Jim: or "wow, what a strike: 0.25 Rooney's goal against citeh"
08:45:08 Juan: "i mean, it wasnt an overhead volley to the upper 90"
08:45:14 Juan: "but i guess it was a nice goal by you, too"
08:45:21 Jim: tiote's goal was like 70% RGAC
08:45:37 Jim: great technique
08:45:45 Jim: but he wasn't upside down when he did it
08:46:25 Juan: "Flaws - wasn't done upside down"
08:46:44 Jim: "also, was not flying through the air and contorting his body like an acrobat"
08:46:54 Jim: "-25 RGAC points"

Gearing Up for the Mighty Arsenal...
08:47:15 Juan: alrighty
08:47:20 Juan: 13 minutes till arsenal
08:47:22 Jim: yep
08:47:25 Juan: HOLLER
08:47:29 Jim: you staying on, or heading out?
08:47:36 Juan: i'm staying
08:47:38 Jim: because i think this conversation should continue
08:47:41 Jim: through the first half
08:47:45 Juan: i have a hangover that would kill me if i tried to get up
08:47:54 Jim: big night last night?
08:48:05 Juan: 5 exams in 5 days ended last night sir

ESPN shows highlights from last weekend's disaster.
08:56:36 Juan: thank you, espn
08:56:43 Juan: i had forgotten what happened against newcastle
08:58:05 Jim: i've honestly been trying to forget
08:58:20 Juan: last saturday should be called "Match Fixing Day"
08:58:35 Juan: league wide match-fixing day occurred just 7 days ago

Kickoff for Arsenal. Torrential rain and hail.

09:02:13 Jim: uh, look at this hail
09:02:29 Juan: hail?
09:02:36 Juan: jesus
09:03:06 Juan: hahah based on this winter i thought you were talking about stl
09:03:13 Jim: haha no
09:03:51 Juan: VP is looking fresh today...
09:03:51 Jim: wolves only play well against good teams
09:03:55 Jim: yeah, wilshere too
09:03:59 Juan: he'll probably tear his acl
09:04:19 Jim: dammit juan

Free kick outside the box to Arsenal.
09:04:21 Jim: come on rvp
09:04:27 Jim: do it
09:04:33 Juan: do it
09:04:34 Juan: do it
09:04:36 Jim: dooooo it
09:04:42 Jim: long run up
09:04:48 Juan: do not sail this over the goal
09:04:51 Juan: do not sail this over the goal
09:04:51 Jim: dang

Some slick moves from Adam Hamill. It comes to nothing, and shortly thereafter, RVP strikes and it's 1 nil to the Arsenal!

09:16:56 Jim: wowww
09:17:02 Juan: wow
09:17:04 Juan: just like that
09:17:10 Jim: rvp's goal is nice
09:17:16 Juan: he doesnt appear to be hurt either
09:17:17 Jim: 20% RGAC?
09:17:17 Juan: amazing
09:17:21 Jim: and not hurt
09:17:31 Juan: he had a little sideways going
09:17:33 Juan: i might go 30%
09:17:42 Juan: off foot
09:17:45 Juan: very nice
09:17:55 Jim: yeah

One of us is failing in his duties...
09:32:32 Juan: stop getting ready for brunch jim and watch the game
09:34:24 Jim: sorry dude
09:34:25 Jim: wha happened
09:34:30 Juan: hahaha
09:34:36 Juan: um, arshavin on a break
09:34:44 Juan: walcott with a gaping goal
09:34:46 Juan: saved
09:38:16 Juan: we're locking down though
09:39:04 Jim: djourou and sagna are so good
09:39:27 Juan: sagna especially
09:39:37 Juan: jury is still out for me on djourou
09:39:45 Juan: after that last play, i can see why people hype him


Djourou gets away with a clumsy tackle inside the area. At the other end, Arshavin appears to be brought down.
09:42:19 Jim: great tackle
09:42:43 Jim: or not
09:42:48 Jim: but it looked like one
09:42:51 Jim: in real time
09:43:01 Jim: OK NOW THAT IS A PENALTY DAMMIT
09:43:48 Juan: how does he not give that?
09:43:55 Jim: replay shows that it’s pretty minimal contact
09:44:00 Juan: oh i see
09:44:02 Jim: but i thought it was a pen, i was fooled
09:44:07 Juan: me too
09:44:11 Jim: well honestly, i've seen that given
09:44:14 Juan: i dont know man
09:44:17 Juan: his jersey gets tugged
09:44:21 Juan: that should be an automatic
09:44:27 Jim: that's what i initially thought, too
09:44:29 Juan: apparently this ref has only given 4 pens all year
09:44:42 Juan: that is to say, double what phil bought in 1 game

09:53:11 Jim: bring us to victory
09:53:41 Juan: alright sir
09:53:43 Juan: I’ll send some emails
09:54:05 Juan: enjoy your hollandaise sauce

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Your Fans Just Know What You Need, But I Know What You Want" - Luis Suarez

To think, Luis Suarez's career at Liverpool, for a moment, was at the feet of Andy Wilkinson. No, no, it wasn't the way you might think. It was a little more subtle than a two footed challenge from behind.

It was Wilkinson, a member of the Disturbed Donkey Football Club, also called Stoke City, who failed to clear Suarez's dramatic debut goal off the line. You shouldn't be surprised I guess, Wilkinson has spent his whole career one step behind the game. This time though, a studs up challenge to the ball wouldn't reduce it's will to go in.

Might this be destiny?

It sure seems that way. Let's consider the circumstances of his move. The transfer comes months after The Hand of God remix (feat. Double Fist Pump Celebration). Luis is also not the first highly rated Uruguayan striker to come to England. The one before Suarez, uh, didn't really pan out. And we all know the media is about as friendly as the sun is shining in England.

Add to that how Liverpool was in drop zone this year a stunning 9 (!) games into their campaign. That is not a typo. So yeah, Liverpool is capable of struggling as of late. It's not just Arsenal in the midst of an extremely weird EPL this season, wondering how they're so far up the table.
Oh, and I almost forgot, Luis is "replacing" Fernando Torres.

Did I leave anything out? Africa killer, Forlán's legacy, reactionary media, struggling team with a usually delusional fan-base, replacing El Niño... yeah I think that covers it. Out of those 6 potentially suffocating factors, 4 of them come into play if Wilkinson is a half-step faster.

My heart, of course, would love it if Suarez is hugely successful at Liverpool, but my head says it won't happen. The Luis I know would have to change a few things to be a star in England. For starters he would have to lose the knack he, and other Uruguayan players have for missing the easy goal. 81 goals in 110 appearances for Ajax is something special, considering that it could have been 162. His biggest strength is creating chances, or at least receiving the chances, damnt you know what I mean. I can look past "easy" misses; it's the opportunities to score that matter. Luis is great at that since he's basically an onside Pipo Inzaghi when it comes scoring opportunities. He just has a tendency to squander chances.

It's simple really, the EPL is much less understanding when it comes to misses. Luis will have to survive that, because it's going to happen. Consider it a TLOCA guarantee.

He'll also have to adapt to the England. That is to say, he'll have to grow stronger leg bones so that they don't get broken so easily, develop a dislike for the sun, shed the hatred from a largely xenophobic population, and brush off a media that killed princess Diana. You may have noticed, but these are all the things that Forlán didn't do. Diego, I must mention, also took 26 games to get his first goal for United, a statistic I still can't believe.

The good news, and never remind me that I wrote this, is that Andy Carroll is a good striking partner. He's physical, capable of finishing all of Luis' crosses, and likely to get into more trouble off the field. Andy also cost more too, so in theory he should get more flak if Liverpool burn out.

So my final answer is this - Suarez can be as successful as Andrei Arshavin, or as unsuccessful as Giovani Dos Santos. Let's hope it's the first guy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You're Welcome. Sincerely, Barcelona FC

Why there was confetti I'm not sure, but with my arms out I looked to the sky as the over-head camera slowly spun higher and higher into the air. The crowd clapped and barefoot children that had rushed the field lovingly brushed the confetti off of my shoulder. Moments ago, in the 93rd minute, I had given Diego Forlán a lovely through-ball that he finished emphatically in the top corner. His goal was the third that beat Barcelona, 3 to 2.

I was enjoying my dream as the train arrived and when I stepped on I was greeted by an ominous sign; someone had thrown up all over ground. Suddenly the empty train made sense to me now. So did all the horrified faces that expected me to step in the vomit. (Ding ding ding) Before I could run out of the doors closed behind me. I held my nose and turned away. Yep, an ominous sign indeed.

I arrive at the stadium and sit in my seat the exact moment Atlético Madrid comes out to warm up. Booooo, the crowd says, but they don't really mean it. I scan the players on the field frantically until I find you-know-who and remember to breathe again. You see, I had read a rumor on the interwebs that Quique Sanchez Flores, the Atlético manager, would not be starting the World Cup's best player. Phew. He's in the building everyone, no need to panic!

Oh. Oh wait. He's wearing warm-ups. Well not just warm-ups, he's wearing the full warm-up outfit that 10 other players and 1 goalie are not wearing. I count the passing-lines again. Shit! Ten. Hold-up, I think I got 9. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Diego doesn't warm up with the rest of the proletariat. ...8, 9, ten. Shit!! Diego is not starting. Damn you Quique, damn you to hell. To make matters worse, Javier Mascherano walks over to Doug and starts chatting him up. I may be a thousand meters away, but I can tell Diego's not really in to the convo.

So I watch them converse for longer than I would have liked and Mascherano finally walks away. An errant ball flies at Diego and he back-heels it back to where it came. That moment of class is quickly ruined because Gabby Milito jogs over and starts conversing with Forlán. Is this some kind of sick joke?

Once the game starts and I finally have clear, incontrovertible proof that Diego Forlán is in fact, not starting, a wave of bitterness overwhelms me.

Really? Really everyone? Barcelona is so unbeatable that Q. Florez Sanchez , having lost 3 out of the previous 3 games, thinks it's best to try a defensive formation against The Barcelona Futbol Club, aka, Barça F. Baby, the greatest team alive. The same squad that put a 5-hand on Real Madrid. The same squad that causes managers to rest 8 of their 11 starters? The squad that made one manager say, "If it were up to me we'd give them 6 points every year and play 36 games."

Alright that last one wasn't true, but still, can't we even try to compete against them, guys? The answer that Atlético gave was, no (!), and the same is true for 16 other teams in La Liga that mention Leonel Messi in their press-conferences just to get some air-time. It's starting to get annoying.

Oh look, Messi scored. Oh look, Messi scored again. No doubt he's getting a hat-trick tonight... yawn (yawn). The half-time whistle blows and I'm given 15 minutes to try and regain my composure. The Pakistani ooh'ing and aw'ing over simple passes and yelling Bar-sha, instead of Bar-sa, definitely got to me. Let's be frank, I was having a meltdown.

Of course, Doug E. Fresh snaps me back to reality. He has come out to warm up - just him and the trainer - and it's clear he's coming on to begin the second half. I crack a smile and dopamine washes over me. "Time to get the camera out!!" I say to myself, in Barefoot Contessa's voice. (I had already taken, um, 10 pictures of him standing on the field an hour ago.)

The players take the field for the second half and the 4th referee finally holds up the neon lights everyone came here to watch. 7. Yes. Atlético comes out of the gates with some giddy-up, naturally, and for a brief moment they look threatening. My bias knows no end, so I'll let Jimbo tell the story: "Scoreline was maybe a little misleading at the end, especially because Atletico were like 3x better with Forlan on the field". I concur.

Messi, of course, bags his hat-trick. Before I let you know how sour these grapes are, I would like to point out that two of his three goals that night were very fortuitous. Deflections that could have gone anywhere settled at his feet warmly, while goalies and defenders flailed around like pigeons scattering from a running child. He's getting all the breaks, the whole team is, there's no point in denying it. I'm not trying to say they didn't earn it, you know, the same way Dimitar Berbatov deserves all his near-post goals.

The full-time whistle sounded, and immediately the anthem blasted from the speakers. Diego played well. It was in a 3-nil loss in which he played only 45 minutes and his manager conceded before the team bus arrived, but he played well nonetheless. There was a moment around the 60th minute when he seemed to pull the earth out of orbit. He received the ball near the corner flag and dribbled at Pique. Gerard Pique everyone. The like, greatest defender on this earth. Gerard assumed his crouch and strafed, ready for yet another shot defended or pass deflected to fill up his stat sheet. Diego, maintaining his stride, looked down, feinted a cross, made a cut and effortlessly skipped around Pique. My heart stopped. It was still 2-nil at this point and Doug just made Gerard Pique look like a Serie A defender. The cross lead to nothing, Kun flubed the shot, but it did lead to my epiphany.

Yes, you are witnessing a team that only comes around every fifty years. You are all privileged to know someone, who knows someone, who has season tickets to the Camp Nou. But that doesn't mean this squad is unbeatable. The respect given to this team hours and even days before their "competition" steps on the field is too much. And not every pass they make is inch perfect. I was there, I watched every pass. It's gotten to the point where Xavi or Iniesta get away with mistakes and bad touches simply because they've been given too much respect.

There are only three instances when the opposition played Barcelona FC straight up, as equals. The first was Hercules, they won, the second was Real Madrid, they lost by I forget how many (no I don't, it was five), and the third was Espanyol, who lost 5-1. The remaining 16 teams in La Liga should be ashamed. The rest of La Liga comes out on the pitch and metaphorically empties their pockets and hands over their car keys. "Thanks for beating us so easily!", they whisper face down with their arms behind their backs.

You're welcome.

Sincerely, Barcelona FC

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Leather and Glass

As Juan mentioned earlier, we passed TLOCA's three-year anniversary last month (January 15th, to be exact). According to this website, the traditional anniversary gift for the third year is leather, and the modern gift is crystal/glass. So if anyone would like to send us a pair of the pants that David Bentley undoubtedly wears around his house and any part of Robin van Persie's body, that should satisfy both the traditional and the modern gift requirements.

To business. First, regarding Liverpool's two new strikers: (1) I'm excited to see this play out, and (2) how on earth is Andy Carroll worth 12.5 million pounds more than Luis Suarez? I mean, I understand the whole "he's English and he's really tall" argument, but so is Peter Crouch. I also recognize that they have extremely different playing styles, but I would take Suarez over Carroll any day. Eighty-one goals in 110 appearances for Ajax? Sure, it's the Dutch league, but throw a fine World Cup performance on top of that, and he's worth twice as much as Carroll in my view. It's just too bad that Arsenal would never spend that. Or maybe it's for the best because it would have caused Juan to immediately buy that jersey and have a heart attack from excitement after putting it on.

Rio Ferdinand is definitely growing on me. Don't get me wrong, I still desperately need to see United lose a game, and if he were the one to score a shocking own goal to make it so, I would laugh loud and uncontrollably. But I enjoy him telling it like it is. Opining that Lord Samir of Nasri has been the player of the season thus far (get well soon, Samir of). Calling out Andy Gray and Richard Keys as "dinosaurs." Well done, England captain.

A quick jaunt around Europe: Barca greatest team ever, etc. Even Jose may want out because he's run up against a juggernaut - we'll see him at United in two seasons max. Maybe even next year, if, gulp, United continue on like this. Don't look now, but Roma are fifth in the Serie A with two games in hand on Milan. After starting the season looking like relegation fodder, they're once again proving that their masters of the creep. Slowly, quietly creeping up the table. Sunday's clash with Inter should be good viewing.

Speaking of Sunday, what are the odds on Torres scoring? Let's take a little video recap, shall we?


First Liverpool goal.


Or this.


Yep.


Remember these?

And I know there are a couple more out there. In fact, I'm a little surprised that Chelsea didn't spend all that money just to break his legs out of bitterness and spite. But I guess they were just as curious as the rest of us to see what would happen if they put the best two strikers of the past few seasons (apologies to David Villa, he's up there, too) on the same front line. Of course, they waited until after one got malaria and the other effed his hamstring. But hey, you can't have everything.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Dispatch from the Emirates

"There's only one team in Russia." This was the chant we were greeted with as we exited the tube at the appropriately named "Arsenal" stop. From the other end of the platform came a surprisingly loud response: "Five years, and you've won f*ckall." Hello there, Chelsea supporters. I guess it wasn't a huge surprise - after all, our train had originated in blue territory.

The walk inside the tube station seems to last forever. It's a crush of people, and you walk up a long incline to reach the actual exit. Frequently, an Arsenal or Chelsea shout rises above the throng, and depending on the song and the receptiveness of the crowd, either immediately dies out or ignites like flame to newspaper. I want to join in, especially with the more obscene chants - my time with the gooners at Nevada Smith's taught me well - but I'm with my dad and my younger brother. Propriety wins out for the time being.

Once outside the tube station, it's still several blocks to the stadium. It's a chilly, damp evening with a very light drizzle that occasionally looks and feels as though snow is falling. The weather has been like this for two days, and it will persist until we leave. England is nothing if not predictable in this way. Like the most important and enormous U.S. sporting events, almost all the roads around the area have been closed for pedestrian-use only. Shops and carts hawking knockoff jerseys, scarves, and grub line the streets. I see some amazing t-shirts that would either cost $40+ after shipping to the U.S. or that would be simply unavailable. But the throng is moving too fast, and I insist on being inside the stadium to see the players warm up. Next time.


The first few minutes of this video give a good idea of that walk.

The Emirates is large, and it is impressive. I doubt it has the same grandeur as Milan's San Siro, Barca's Nou Camp (Juan, I'll have to come over and find out soon), or Madrid's Bernabeu. Heck, Old Trafford is supposed to be pretty impressive. But I'm sufficiently awed. I'm not sure if they're planning on adding more, but the murals are pretty awesome, and appear at random intervals around the stadium. These murals depict the backs of Arsenal legends, arm in arm, transcending their individual eras, teammates forever. It's fair to say that I'm getting pretty amped at this point.

When we get inside, I can't believe where we're sitting. Without going into too much detail, the seats that I thought were upper-deckers turned out to be just the opposite. The numbers I thought referred to a section actually referred to a luxury box almost directly above the corner flag. I was surprised when we initially got tickets, because the game was an obvious sell-out. But this is crazy. We're in the front row of the section. The view of the field is sublime. I grab my free match program and lineup card. The only drawback: directly below us, a high-spirited group of blue-clad individuals produces a tremendous amount of noise and directs a few choice hand gestures at the surrounding sections. Hello again, Chelsea supporters.

During warmups, my brother and I spend a few minutes just identifying the key players for our father. Kickoff approaches rapidly. Elvis Presley's "The Wonder of You" floats through the misty night air and lingers above the rapidly growing crowd. We're getting close. The music from Requiem for a Dream (the English really love that soundtrack) blasts as the jumbotron shows highlights from past Arsenal-Chelsea clashes and great Arsenal goals. I think about one of the last emails I received before I left the hotel. My fellow TLOCA correspondent sent me instructions to take pictures and video and concluded with a prediction: "3-1 Arsenal. Write it down." Given the recent history between the sides, my hopes are more modest. A 1-1 draw. And maybe, just maybe, a 2-1 victory. Kickoff.

The game starts at a frantic pace. I'm struggling to take it all in. Stream of consciousness time. Good chances for both teams. RVP should do better with an incredibly good chipped pass from Song. Song has obviously been hanging out with Cesc and Wilshere a lot. Cesc and Nasri have fantastic close control. If they want it to be, the ball is dead the instant it touches their feet. Drogba may have been sick, but he's still a physical presence that causes problems. Fail to deal with him at your peril. He sends a torpedo just wide of the post. Theo is FAST. Like, unbelievably fast. Like Mike Vick fast. He gives Ashley a hell of a time, and we eat it up.

BOOOOO. We hate Ashley Cole. Oh yes, indeed. We also consistently express our dislike for the classy, and not at all terrible person known as John Terry. (Drogba also gets booed, but it's a respectful boo. It's the kind of boo that non-Cardinals fans give Albert Pujols.) But we really save it for Ca$hley. Over the course of warm-ups, he was booed. During the game, he was booed literally every time he came near the ball, let alone touched it. When he so much as appeared to move his mouth or talk to the referee or an Arsenal player, he was booed mercilessly. The crowd never got tired of it. Other than the goals and the final whistle, the biggest cheer of the night came when Theo cleverly got himself fouled by A. Cole. Yellow card. Humongous din.

Meanwhile, another battle is taking place. The song wars began before kickoff, and they persist throughout the first half. I do my part. But for the majority of the first half, the Chelsea supporters give a very good account of themselves. For one, Arsenal isn't known for being the loudest venue (after all, Highbury was nicknamed "the library" by opposing fans), and because of the self-selection involved, these Chelsea fans are the craziest die-hards. They're loud, fearless, and inebriated. But now and then, they get riled up when "Sh*t Club, No History" rings out across the remainder of the stadium. It's fun to see them collectively bristle.



"Super Frankie Lampard" Wasn't So Super That Night

Arsenal's ticky-tacky and insistence on walking it into the net is even more frustrating in person. And when you're surrounded by 55,000 other people that are screaming for someone to shoot, it's even more magnified. Even my father, a self-proclaimed neutral (mostly for the benefit of my brother, a Chelsea fan), begins yelling out that familiar blend of encouragement and frustration. Nasri finally obliges with a beautiful and skillful shot. Top corner... until Cech answers with a poster-worthy save. Crap. Back to ticky-tacky. How many times, in how many pubs, have we felt this? You get worked up into a frenzy that has no signs of being released. Of course, that is, until the ticky-tacky actually works, and in the span of maybe 1.5 seconds your brain has to process: oh great pass by Wilshere, is that a penalty on Cesc, and OH IT DOESN'T MATTER ALEX SONG JUST SCORED RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Oh my God. Cue insanity on all sides except directly below. The self-restraint I was exercising on behalf of my father and brother vanishes in an instant.

"One Nil to the Arsenal." "Ashley, what's the score? Ashley, Ashley, what's the score?" "Who Are Ya?" "There's only one team in London." "You can stick your Russian rubles up your Arse!" "We've only got one Song!" The Chelsea fans have no response. They're shell-shocked. The referee blows for halftime. More cheering. I investigate what the good people of Goldman Sachs (yeah...) have provided in the way of food and drink. Roast beef and beer. Yes, please. I also leave the box and go into the hallway that leads to the bathroom. I walk past a young man who looks strong and athletic and who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jude Law. He's wearing well tailored jeans that probably cost upwards of $1,000. I do my best to keep my jaw from actually dropping. It's Thomas Vermaelen. I nod at him and smile. He nods back. When I return to my seat, the guy behind me shows me a picture on his camera. It's him and Vermaelen. Why the hell didn't I think to do that? Err... next time?

Second half. Just hold on, baby. My brother insists that Chelsea will score. He repeatedly insists that it will be Ivanovic with a header. He (rightfully) points out that Arsenal can't defend players like that during set pieces. I laugh him off and tell him that, if anything, it'll be Drogba and he'll score two. The Chelsea fans have found their voices again. They're feeling good. But suddenly, the ball breaks lose from a tackle. Chelsea are caught playing a line that's way too high. Theo is on the ball - he's faster than everyone else on the pitch. He squares it - of course he squares it - for El Capitan. Holy crap. It's two. What next?

I barely have time to process this information. I turn to my dad, and just as I'm telling him "this is not what I expected," Malouda dallies on the ball for a split second too long and Theo picks his pocket. Cesc and Theo are running free again how on earth oh my god what a pass please just shoot Theo he actually shot AND WOW WHAT A GOAL THAT IS. From our angle, you could see the ball leave his foot and travel along its perfectly straight trajectory into the corner. I knew immediately that Cech had absolutely no chance at saving it. Amazing. The cheering didn't stop for about five minutes.



We tell Ancelotti he's being sacked in the morning. We remind Chelsea that we have Cesc Fabregas. We shamelessly declare our love for Arsenal. We announce that this is, in fact, by far the greatest team the world has ever seen. It's an overpowering feeling. My brother is a good sport. Especially after Ivanovic scores what turns out to be a consolation header. I immediately regret not placing a bet on his prediction during half time. Especially because in the luxury boxes, pretty girls circulate around both before the match and during halftime to take your bets. I'm not even joking. (The lesson, as always, is to listen when Juan and Sam give you predictions.) The Chelsea fans are briefly invigorated by Ivanovic's goal, but their team simply cannot get ahold of the ball. We are Ole-ing like there's no tomorrow. There's one move that probably had nearly 40 passes in it. We should score at least three or four more. My father is screaming at Nasri and Diaby when they fail to take their chances. I think he may be on board the Gunner Express at this point. And in an atmosphere like this, how could you not be?



Indeed, we find ourselves on our feet, screaming encouragement with thousands of others as Song and Rosicky break towards the Chelsea goal right at the end. Final whistle. A mighty roar. Huge applause for the gunners. To their credit, the Chelsea players are gracious in defeat. Lampard, Terry, Drogba and Essien apologetically applaud the ten masochistic Chelsea fans that stayed to the end. "Movin' On Up" on the speakers. To quote the great Jack Buck, "I don't believe what I just saw."

We stop outside the stadium to take a few pictures. As you can see, it's dark and drizzly and the shots aren't great, but all I need is confirmation. I was here. This happened. "Please don't climb on the cannons." With this crowd, feeling the way it does, that's a joke. The walk back to the Tube takes a long time, but once we're at the station, the London Tube is efficient. Along the way, we pass pubs full of red and white. Everyone ecstatic. Some of my favorite songs from the evening were heard during this walk: "We beat the scum 3-1!" "La la la let's get f*ckin' wasted." And so on. Straight to the point.

When we get back to Victoria, I sleep for ten hours. The next morning, I'm still on a high. I get dressed and go down to the lobby. The hotel always has copies of the Guardian ("Ruthless Arsenal Come of Age to Turn Chelsea's Slump into a Crisis") and the Daily Telegraph ("The Real Deal: Arsenal Show Title Class with 3-1 Win Over Chelsea"). I grab one of each and walk down the street to a little Lebanese cafe/restaurant. It's Lebanese, but the cook fries up a mean English breakfast. I'm the only person in the place, and he sees what I'm reading. "Ah, Arsenal," he says. "Good result yesterday." "Yes it was," I say. Yes it was.