Vermaelen reacts to accidentally keeping RVP’s header out against Man City yesterday.
Fun bonus for Monday: Sp*rs lose at home to Norwich.
Arsenal lost to Manchester United yesterday 1-2 in front of a frustrated and angry home crowd. The majority of supporters blamed the manager, Arsene Wenger, for the loss. He made the decision to substitute the 18 year-old forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with 30 year-old veteran Andrey Arshavin in the last twenty minutes of the game.
On paper, this seemed like a sensible decision. It was late in the game, and putting on an experienced veteran in place of a youngster should have been a prescient tactical move. The objective was to secure a 1-1 draw against the team that thrashed Arsenal 8-2 back in August and who are reigning league champions. You should be able to trust your veteran to not only maintain possession of the ball, but also, just maybe, he might make a stunning score and pull out a victory. Fans fondly recall Arshavin’s blistering goal against Barcelona last year.
But this tactical move backfired. Arshavin allowed Antonio Valencia too much space on the left side of the Arsenal goal. Valencia passed Arshavin easily into the center of the box where a pinball machine seemed to operate: Valencia dished the ball quickly to Ji-Sung Park to his left, who popped it forward to a surging Valencia, who once again centered it in front of goal for Danny Welbeck who finished strongly.
But Arsenal fans thought the calculating tactics of the French manager’s brilliant mind payed no attention to the heart of the game: the teenager Oxlade-Chamberlain had been Arsenal’s most inspiring player. He had relentlessly pushed at the Manchester United defense and set up Robin van Persie’s amazing strike that tied the game. Boos rang out when “The Ox” was substituted for Arshavin. Television cameras caught van Persie saying “no” as the youngster went off. Arshavin has been in disappointing form for several months, and most had already given up hope for the diminutive Russian.
Moments later the goal was scored and Arshavin, caught off guard in a defensive role, was immediately seen as the goat. Wenger, who has led Arsenal to three league titles since 1996, was the villain.
So many supporters are conducting post-mortems on the substitution decision, that I am probably just adding to a cacophony of voices on the subject. I really like Gunnerblog’s take on the match. He saw the game at the Emirates and was appalled at the fans who turned on the team. I’m sure Arshavin’s confidence took a blow before he had even stepped on the pitch.
Ironically, for the first time this season, Wenger showed earlier in the game that he could listen to his gut rather than his rational mind. By starting Oxlade-Chamberlain at left wing instead of Arshavin in the first place, the Manager gave the nod to a raw talent that fans had only seen a glimpse of against lesser opponents. To trust 1/3 of your strikeforce to an 18 year old against the best club in English football was a daring move. And it worked brilliantly.
He also showed he was listening to instincts rather than rational calculations when he replaced the more experienced Djourou with Nico Yennaris at right back after halftime. Throwing the untested Yennaris up against the onslaught of Nani on the right side could have been a disaster. Instead, he rose to the challenge. Djourou had been completely outlclassed by Nani and Evra in the first half. Placing Yennaris on the pitch against these two could have been like throwing raw meat to the wolves. But Yennaris rose to the challenge.
It is cruel misfortune that the rational decision to place Arshavin on the playing surface late ran afoul of the heart and guts of the game.
Of course, if Arsenal pulled out a draw or Arshavin magically returned to his form and danced around Chris Smalling for a victory goal, this debate would never occur. We’d all be talking about what a genius Wenger is. Sadly, we’re not.
Here are some other thoughts for you to ponder as I leave you on a wintery Monday morning…
1. Scholes played a brilliant ball from mid-field across to Valencia on the left side of the Arsenal goal which caught Arshavin too far forward. This was a masterful ball, really, and The Ox could have just as easily been caught too far forward.
2. Where was Vermaelen? The Arsenal left-back (only just returning from injury and playing out from his usual role of central defender) was just as slow to react to Valencia’s move towards goal. There were flashes of the usual Verminator, but the truth was that he probably returned from injury too soon.
3. Why was Welbeck unmarked in the box? Mertesacker gave the Man United forward far too much space.
4. The Valencia-Park-Valencia-Welbeck exchange was rapid-fire, outstanding football. Few defenses would stop that attack.
5. Aaron Ramsey blew another close shot over the bar. Aside from his game winner against Olympique Marseilles, the Welshman has lacked finishing quality. I won’t mention the missed opportunity by RvP/Rosicky after Smalling’s defensive error. (Oh, I just did).
6. Manchester United should have easily been ahead by two goals were it not for a miraculous Metesacker slide at an open goal from a Welbeck run that caught The Szcz out of place.
So many variables, yet only one goal matters. The manager started the match trusting the emotions of the game, he should have finished it that way.
Happy Boxing Day! Lots of good matches on the fixture list today. Arsenal were supposed to play Wolverhampton at 9am Central on Fox Soccer Plus. But due to a transport worker strike, the game has been moved to tomorrow. Perhaps it’s a game that RvP will get a rest and we’ll see the Ox instead.
As this is my second post, I decided that I better get a series of topics going lest I drill a dry patch some day. So I came up with some ideas for potential blog posts. Here they are:
1. How to convert a 1950’s era apartment complex from central heating and cooling systems to individual HVAC units without killing all your brain cells, losing all your hair, and not going broke.
2. Why do some soccer players shave their legs? While Arsenal striker Robin van Persie opts for a more hirsute appearance above the socks, guys like Samir Nasri (the traitorous mercenary Frenchman that Arsenal sold for £25 million to Man City this past summer) must keep a bottle of Nair in his locker. Is it a French thing? I noticed all the players for Olympique Marseille opt to pull their socks up to their shorts as if they are wearing leggings. Thierry Henry used to pull his socks above his knees, which looked cool, but these guys are in serious Flashdance mode.
4. Why I had to buy a new Arsenal jersey with #19 Jack Wilshere on the back and only wear my Nasri #8 jersey for trips to the gym where it will get stinky. I could cross out Nasri and write Arteta on it the way someone else did, but I can’t deface the red shirt.
5. Why Nouriel Roubini is one gloomy economic sonovabitch, but he’s usually right.
6. There’s a site called Cafe Hayek that I forgot to mention on my list of favorite sites. They generally pee on Keynesian theory and espouse free markets. I’ve got no axe to grind with Keynes myself, but it is refreshing to be reminded that sometimes the best thing that government should do is nothing at all when it comes to the economy. I’m not sure what the story is here, but I know something about Keynes vs. Hayek will get the juices flowing the way Grave Digger and Bigfoot used to battle it out in arenas across the country.
7. Will Mutual of Omaha perpetually subsidize rents for commercial businesses at Midtown Crossing or will they eventually give up on their Potemkin Village? If I bought a shirt at Republic of Couture, would I have to leave it untucked? Discuss.
8. Could I develop an apartment complex and name it Potemkin Village?
9. If the European common currency disintegrates it could be financial Armageddon, but it just might be the best damn Armageddon since Grave Digger vs. Bigfoot. Just think of yourself sitting on a beach on Mykonos wearing Gucci loafers and sipping a nice Port or Rioja for just a few greenbacks.
10. If I drove Grave Digger, would I be able to get a decent parking space at the strip mall at 72nd and Dodge where Chipotle customers brandish crowbars at the parade of latte drinkers in the Starbucks drive through lane?
James Altucher recommends that you continually come up with new ideas. I am following his advice.