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Tampa Bay 1-2 (SO) Montreal: Habs edge an even contest

New York has its advantages, but one of the downsides is that I have been forced on occasion to willingly subject myself to New Jersey Devils hockey. Chilling, I know. Some clubs unfairly get a reputation that they can never shake, but the Devils deserve every disparaging word. They represent the game in its most unflattering light, and if trap-filled borefests were closer to the mean, hockey’s popularity would rank below water polo (Note: water polo is rad, but few agree with me). Thankfully, sometimes two clubs collectively decide to trade kamikaze sorties up and down the ice for 60 minutes, and the result is a pleasantly jarring reminder as to why many of us love this sport in the first place.

Tonight, the Habs and Bolts decided on the latter. Not only was the pace energetic throughout, but it was an even affair with a high level of skill on display. In particular, both goaltenders shone.

The Habs started brightly for the second straight night, but had nothing to show for it. Mike Smith immediately signaled his intentions, bailing out his team when they took a bad penalty early on.  Despite a silly o-zone penalty on Tanguay at the end of the PP, the early going was dominated by the Canadiens. I hope I’m not jinxing them, but they look completely rejuvenated after their recent spell in the doldrums.

The momentum changed though when Tom Kostopolous was massacred in a scrap against Evgeny Artyukhin. If it were a UFC bout, the referee would have stopped it after the second brutal punch.

That let Tampa ease into the game, and a few minutes later they were on the board thanks to yet another needless penalty from Roman Hamrlik. Vaclav Prospal was allowed to dance through all four penalty killers directly into the slot, and he tipped home Ryan Malone’s pass. Komisarek was most at fault, as he got caught cheating towards the corner and couldn’t recover in time to get a body on Prospal.

To their credit, the Habs didn’t panic. They kept their patience and drew two more penalties, but it seems like their recent improvement on the PP has been a false dawn. The third man-advantage was truly abject, though Smith’s zone clearances were impressive (Price had to cover one for a faceoff back in our end).

The second period wasn’t as adrenalized, and less rubber got through to the netminders. Montreal still edged it, but the Lightning blueliners fearlessly blocked many shots in Smith’s defense. Andrej Meszaros in particular was a nuisance.

Still, Kovalev managed to ring the iron with a wicked wrister. Soon after, he began the key sequence of the stanza. He stickhandled the length of the offensive zone and around the net. Smith repelled his sharp-angle shot, and the Lightning countered with speed. Meszaros collected a wonderful bank-pass off the sideboards and streaked into our zone on a 2-on-1 with Martin St. Louis. Markov was the lone defender, and conceded the shot by overplaying St. Louis. As a defenseman, Meszaros surely didn’t recognize that two strides would take him into the clear. Instead, he deferred  to St. Louis, and Markov was easily able to brush the pass away.

Tampa sensed an opening, but Pleks made a fantastic stick-check from behind to deny Vincent Lecavalier a wide-open one-timer…then, Carey Price stood firm when St. Louis had some daylight to shoot. Back the other way, Smith robbed AK46, and Lang whiffed on the wide-open rebound. D’Agostini then hit the post on our 4th PP, which soon turned to 0-5 as an entertaining period concluded.

Carbo better do something about the PP before I lose it. Really.

Anyway, the Energy Line has carried us of late, and they rode to the rescue again before the third period was a minute old. Meszaros blocked Kosto’s shot from the point, but it unluckily it bounced right to Lapierre in the slot. Smith made a quality save to deny him, but the rebound came out to Lats on the side of the net. Guillaume just did get the second attempt through Smith and in for the equalizer.

After our goal, the third period mainly consisted of an exchange of failed power plays and more glorious chances. Ryan Malone should have scored off a rebound on one of their PPs, but he skied his shot over the bar. Lang cruised in on a breakaway later on, but Smith made a Dominik Hasek-style WONDER SAVE, flinging his body like a soccer goalkeeper. Artyukhin also had a breakaway, and his shot did beat Price. But, it went through the legs and wide. To cap it off, AK46 hit the post in the dying embers of the period. Annnnnnnd, catch your breath…

Honestly, 1-1 after regulation was a fair result. Even in open and entertaining games like this, many teams would play out time in OT and take their chances in the shootout. To their eternal credit, the Habs and Lightning went balls-to-the-wall looking for the win. Lang danced into the slot and had room, but his weak shot was easily hoovered up. Artyukhin then clowned two Habs defenders and rounded Price, but then had nothing to shoot at. Finally, Smith capped off his evening with his best save yet. A shot went just wide, but he had to dive post-to-post. He was dead to rights, lying on his stomach as Lapierre shot from the other side of the net. He brought his glove up, and hey, look what he found! ARGH, that was frustation personified.

Even worse, Jussi Jokinen made Price look bad on the first shootout attempt. His deke was nice, but Price gave him far too much room on the glove side. Thankfully, sandwiched around Prospal’s dismal effort were two outstanding finishes by the Habs’ shooters. Kovalev’s backhander went off Smith’s trapper and in, and Lapierre – I (heart) Max – rocketed an unstoppable effort right underneath the crossbar. Lecavalier’s attempt was far better than Prospal’s, but Price held his nerve and waited for Lecavalier to blink first. He did, and two much-needed points went to the Canadiens.

While I’m happy we won, this game is a glaring example of why ties weren’t that bad. Just as legitimate 10-10 rounds exist in boxing and MMA (and the reticence from connoisseurs of both to award them is infinitely maddening), legitimate ties exist in hockey. We’re not giving back that second point, though!

TSBS Three Stars of the Game:

1. Mike Smith
2. Carey Price
3. Andrej Meszaros


December 30, 2008 Posted by | Montreal Canadiens | Leave a comment

Florida 2-5 Montreal: That’s what we want!

There’s a chant used at English soccer games for matches as uncompetitive as this that I think applies here:

“Can we play you every week?
Can we play you, can we play you,
Can we play you every week?”

Man oh man, was Florida dreadful tonight or what? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take it, but I wish we had actually turned the screw even more and beaten them even more comprehensively. This was a game that maybe could have been won 7-0 or 8-1, but perhaps it’s best that the boys conserved their energies for more taxing opponents. Honestly, the only reason it was even this close was that the Habs kind of let the Panthers back into it on several occasions.

Even when the Canadiens conceded the first goal, I wasn’t super-worried. The Habs started brightly, parking themselves in the Florida zone from the opening whistle. Kosto had the first good chance when he was parked on the back post, but Craig “Even my own family doesn’t know who I am” Anderson absolutely robbed him. Great pass from Lats to get it there, though (foreshadowing!). Not that much later, Lang found Tanguay on the back post, but this time the shooter couldn’t connect. Still, it was obvious already that Florida wasn’t closing down the passing lanes and were vulnerable to the back-door pass. It was only a matter of time.

That’s what made it more frustrating when the Panthers went up 1-0. Frolik came down the side of the ice, and he clearly decided “what the hell, no one is up in support, I’ll just throw it on net”. He did his part in propagating the corresponding cliche, as it caught Price napping and beat him five-hole. Awful, awful goal to concede, and I was admittedly afraid at the time how it would change the momentum of the game.

Our young keeper did fight the puck for a little bit after, but the Panthers were generous enough to give us a 5-on-3 PP in short order. Sure enough, Kovalev’s brilliant pass to Tanguay in the slot went in off a defender’s skate. Kovy ended up getting credit for the goal, which is just desserts after his horrendous luck during that 19-game scoreless streak.

After the goal, the defense did a wonderful job keeping Florida’s shots to no-hopers from the perimeter, and did so pretty much for the rest of the game. Price was good when he had to be, but he didn’t have a wonder save to make for the rest of the game afterward. All in all, it was a strong performance from our blueliners.

The second goal was coming, but not in the first period. Kovy did very well to spring Markov for a glorious chance, but he over-elaborated and the defender bravely dived at his feet. Early in the second period though, the Habs got the goal they deserved. Out of nothing (and short-handed to boot!), Pleks TORCHED Bryan McCabe down the side of the ice. He cut inside, and shot up high against the grain to the short side, beating Anderson over the blocker. What a fucking finish that was…just absolutely brilliant. Keep it going, Tomas! This blogger is rooting for you.

Unfortunately, after a few minutes of nothing-doing hockey, it turned out that Sergei Kostitsyn was in a generous mood. His brain-dead back-pass to no one in particular ended up on the stick of David Booth, and he beat Price before the poor guy knew what happened. Again, what an awful goal to give up.

Right after, Steve Begin fought big ol’ Anthony Stewart. It looked like the mighty mite had won a decision after he took him down, but the penalty-box shot showed a big mouse under his eye. Ugly stuff, but I think it was timely in that it kind of killed any momentum the Panthers had after the goal. Or, it would have if Komisarek hadn’t taken a dumb penalty to gift the Cats a 5-on-3. Luckily, Hammer has rejoined the land of the living, and made a key clearance to kill it off. Well done, Roman.

Remember how I said the goal was coming before? It was again, as the Habs kept threatening. Karlis Skrastins had to scramble to deflect away another open back-post chance on a Habs PP, but while that didn’t pan out, the energy line gave us the lead soon after. Max Lapierre couldn’t beat Anderson on the short side, but took his own rebound, went around the other side of the net, and roofed it over the prone goalie (who took ages to recover from the initial shot). Great goal, clever goal, and fucking hell was it ever an energy-line tally if I’ve ever seen one.

That’s the thing with 3rd or 4th-line goals…they can deflate the opposition entirely, and that was the case here. I don’t remember another serious Florida chance after we went up 3-2.

Actually, we were ALL OVER the Panthers after that. AK46 missed another glorious chance after Kovalev did yeoman work to create it, but Lapierre effectively ended the game early in the third. Lats (who also had a strong game) stole the puck from Nick Boynton at the blueline, and waddled up ice as fast as he could. He came up with a cheeky back-pass to Max, who cut in and beat Anderson over the glove. Awesome, AWESOME goal, and it actually sent old Anderson to the bench in favor of Tomas Vokoun. Stellar.

After that, we missed a few more chances to further humiliate these nimrods in front of what was practically a home crowd. Lats set up Lapierre again, but a defender barely broke it up at the last second. Kovy did great work down the right, but Pleks was robbed by Vokoun. Florida got a little frisky after that, but couldn’t create any chances of note.

Finally, Lapierre got the hat trick his effort deserved. With the net empty, he stole the puck off the stick of a Florida D-man and strolled in to slide it into the unguarded cage. 5-2 was about right, and hopefully the Habs can do just about the same to the fucking Lightning tomorrow night. Match report will be here as always sometime after.

TSBS Three Stars of the Game:

1. Maxim Lapierre
2. Tomas Plekanec
3. Guillaume Latendresse

December 30, 2008 Posted by | Montreal Canadiens | Leave a comment

Now that the hectic holidays are over…another “catching up” post.

I SWEAR that regular blogging service should resume now that we’re through the holiday madness. Actually, that should resume late tonight with a write-up on the Canadiens-Panthers game.

– First off, check the post below this one for Brendan’s thoughts on the Arsene Wenger quotes that came out today. I am officially reserving judgment until January (errm…thirty days have September, April, June and November)…31st. He has been known in the past to claim poverty and try and misdirect the press, and to be honest, I don’t blame him. We’ve lost out on enough transfer targets to deeper-pocketed clubs where he probably has to do that, even if he does actually intend on buying. The biggest rumor right now is Andrei Arshavin, which I’d put in the “nice to have” category rather than the “need to have”. Even if we do buy him, we’re barking up the wrong tree if he’s the only purchase. Anyway, this truly is silly season in world football, so as mentioned, I’m keeping my distance until something tangible happens (or doesn’t happen…at which point, cue Jules Winfield’s “greeeeeeat vengeance and fuuuuuuurious angah!” from Pulp Fiction).

– Anyway, back to the Canadiens, I missed most of their latest tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins. I did catch the highlights, and it was nice to steal a win in a game where we were largely overrun by the NHL’s teacher’s pet and friends. God, I fucking hate Sidney Crosby. HAAAAAAAATE. Why do I hate him so?

Well, here’s one cheap shot that the league didn’t discipline him for. He also is a world-class whiner to the refs, and that’s on top of the fact that he’s the only player the NHL sees fit to “market” (such as that is)…it’s sickening. Anyway, he lucked into a goal when the puck took a weird bounce off the boards, but Carey Price was sharp and Andrei Kostitsyn arose from the dead with a hat trick. That is definitely more towards the “28 Days Later” type of zombie as opposed to the Romero variety. The PK was strong, and all in all it was the type of game we need to start winning. So, well done to the guys there.

– On the other hand, the Giants lost a dead rubber (for them) decision to the Minnesota Vikings, 20-19. Ehhh…whatever. For one thing, the Vikings needed this one badly, and they apparently were never told that the Chicago Bears had made a dookie in their collective beds against the Houston Texans. If a guy is going to drain a 50-yard field goal with time expiring, well, fair play to him. Perhaps the only worrying thing though was John Carney pushing his 48-yard effort wide right a few minutes beforehand. He’s been virtually automatic all season, so hopefully this inspires him to redouble his efforts in practice rather than have it cause a dip in confidence. On the other hand, we played with our second string for virtually the entire second half, and still fared well against a decent opponent. Now, the onus is on the team to get everyone healthy and make absolute sure they’re prepared for the Atlanta-Arizona winner. So…Atlanta, then.


– I haven’t seen the main event yet, but UFC 92 was a pretty good show. Sadly, I went a stellar 0-3 in my predictions for the top three fights. I figured that Forrest Griffin could absorb any beating Rashad Evans gave him for 3 or 4 rounds, where Evans would then gas out and get caught. It didn’t happen that was, as apparently Evans withstood a beating for two rounds and then got him down in the third, and finished on the floor. I guess it goes to show that I’m not an MMA genius, eh? In what I thought was the biggest surprise from the other big fights, Frank Mir absolutely clocked Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to win by knockout in the second round. All throughout, Nog looked slow and unable to cope with Mir’s striking…and for whatever work Mir did on that in his training camp, he’s still a BJJ guy first and foremost. In this fight, he let Nog up every time he was dropped (and that was several times, actually), knowing that he could tag him with hard shots at will. I hate to say it, but Nog looks done. Speaking of done, Wanderlei Silva, ladies and gentlemen! I usually use this phrase to describe slapshot goals from the point, but Quinton Jackson unleashed a HAMMER OF GOD left hook to drop Silva in the first round. I don’t know what this fight tells us about Rampage, but I damn sure know what it tells us about Silva…  s-h-o-t  f-i-g-h-t-e-r.

Pretty sure that’s everything. Again, see you tonight for Habs-Cats.

December 29, 2008 Posted by | MMA, Montreal Canadiens, The Arsenal, The Giants | Leave a comment

Little to Change, Apparently

“”I want a creative midfielder,” he told Canal+. ”That is to say a second midfielder, because my team is right in terms of manpower and experience. [But] I can’t spend money I don’t have. The [global financial] crisis is upon us and we feel it at the club.

Arsene Wenger, apparently.

No mention of a defensive midfielder; and after really years of proclaiming that money was available, now when it’s clearly needed it’s apparently not there to be had, even though the team has been in profit in the transfer market of late and regularly near-fills such a huge stadium. What, exactly, is going on at this club right now? With all the turmoil and rapidly changing stories, it’s easy to come away with the impression that lots of people are playing their own private games at the moment, with the team on the field as more of a backdrop than a focus. Right now it seems like several pieces of various stories are missing, mostly the places where they link up- the financial situation, the board troubles, transfer help or its absence, what Wenger’s real intentions and capacities in the market are, etc.- and as a result it’s very hard to figure out which direction the club is heading at the moment.

I suspect in about 6 months to a year the real crisis will occur; these are just the warning tremors.

December 29, 2008 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Arsenal 1-0 Portsmouth: Minimum acceptable

Well, we just about did enough in this one, eh?

I missed the first 8 minutes or so of the first half in between rolling out of bed late and then ordering my first beer at Nevada’s. As it turns out, if I had missed the first 45 minutes and gotten a bit more sleep, I’d have missed about the same.

Pompey set out their stall to defend, and Arsenal were completely unable to break them down in the first half. Honestly, I think we’re lucky in that West Ham annihilated this lot 4-1 in their last game…Peter Crouch could very well have caused our back line all sorts of problems had the rest of the mob in blue shown the requisite ambition to actually get the ball to him. In fairness though, even when they did have the ball, the service to Crouch ranged between “shite” and “hahahahaha, you suck”.

That said, Crouch did have the best chance of the first half, but the woodwork saved us once again. Clearly, we are using up all our karma points from the days where we’d outshoot some bunch of no-hopers 20-2 and lose 1-0.

As for the good guys, the midfield was as abject as you’d imagine. Passes misplaced, runs not made, etc etc etc. Abou Diaby was one of the worst offenders, and up top, Nicky Bendtner was his usual lazy, ambling self. One thing I noticed is this lot refuse to put anything on their passes. Watch the DVD of the Invincibles, and those guys were firing the ball at each other at 100 mph…with the current squad, my 2-year old niece could roll it with more oomph than these guys are moving it with. Disgraceful. Of course, that makes it far easier for the opposition to intercept it, and it also slows down our play to the point where defenders can get back in numbers.

Speaking of which, man oh man did Pompey ever defend with numbers. There were a couple of chances where Adebayor looked to have a wide-open shot, but it was nowhere near as easy as it looked with 5 or 6 blue shirts strung out along the goal line. Besides that, Nasri at least tried to take on defenders, but didn’t have enough support and often lose the ball 1-on-4 or 1-on-3.

To give credit where it’s due, Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin had excellent games for Pompey, and those two didn’t deserve to concede. As porous as Pompey looked against West Ham, they clearly redoubled their efforts against us, and our over-elaboration and lack of penetration didn’t help matters, either.

As the second half wore on, Wenger finally made some much-needed substitutions, as Eboue and Diaby went off for Vela (YAY!) and Ramsey. While we at the bar were chanting for van Persie, he oddly remained rooted to the bench. However, the goal did end up coming anyway. Off a free kick, Gallas beat his defender and headed into the net left vacated by the flapping David James. 1-0 to the Arsenal, and it was never in danger of changing after that.

So, I don’t think you can read too much into this game other than we did OK to break down a resolute opponent who was determined not to concede. They didn’t offer much on the counter, so this was a match we should have won and did. Job done. Still, it’s apparent that this midfield is not good enough to beat any upper-ecehelon side with any regularity, and buys still need to be made in January.

Over to you, Arsene.

December 28, 2008 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

More Villa-Arsenal Thoughts

I’m typing this on a borrowed computer with a bad hand a day after the fact, so I’ll be brief.

– The big blog topic today as per Arseblog & Gunnerblog has been Arsenal’s shambolic defense. They are, of course, correct. The interesting thing to me is that what they’ve written could have been said any time in the last 2 years really, following the Paris run which was heavily reported to have coincided with Martin Keown’s coaching of the defense. The awfulness on that side of things was occluded a bit last year by a very good midfield and it’s certainly true that this year’s defenders would look better behind that group; but most of the basic issues with the defense aren’t a product of that directly or indirectly. A better midfield won’t save them from constant personnel changes due to injury, or from the awful habit of the defenders of being beaten one-on-one at headers from set pieces, or from the lack of communication which sees many of them beaten one-on-one during play because they don’t trust each other enough to play as a unit and maintain position, or from their inability to handle direct runs with pace a la Robbie Keane.

The fact of the matter is, without help in the coaching ranks and a different philosophy about how defenders are selected in regards to height and injury resistance, this is just going to be the sort of defense you get from an Arsene Wenger team at this point. It isn’t really good enough, but it’s also not bad enough that it can’t be covered for a bit as it was last year. But that cover has to be exceptional, because as soon as it lapses what’s behind it gets exposed. Over the course of a season the effect is a bit like a fat man sucking in his gut to run a marathon.

The other interesting thing is, I think most Arsenal fans know this. Wenger’s comments for years and years have indicated that he simply does not respect defense, or at least not the ways it’s traditionally been played in England. His characteristic complaints about “kicking” even in the most mild-mannered game, his tendency to identify dominating possession with “deserving” a win which implicitly suggests that solid defending and counterattacking is an illegitimate strategy, the signing of Mikael Silvestre- you can add to the list yourself, I’m sure. So why criticize him now? Some of it, as noted, is that the cover has been blown away and the team’s flabby gut is now flapping in the wind for all to see, which makes it a rather larger concern than it was last year. But, and let’s be honest, a lot of it is that fans, even the biggest supporters of Arsene, are walking up to the line of thinking it may be time for Arsene to go. Criticizing him for what’s essentially an integral part of the way he sees football is criticizing him as a manager, not just for a decision here and there. It leaves a legitimate window for him to fix things by, say, bringing a defensive coach like Keown back aboard; but it makes it clear that, absent real changes, Wenger’s philosophy is open to question. That, I suspect, is why an issue that’s been going on for years is suddenly a hot topic. None of the big blogs (and few if any of the little, myself included!) are ready to say Wenger should go. But for the first time in many years, people are mulling over Arsenal without Arsene, and seeing more than just a couple of extra letters.

– Sagna. A wonderful performance.

– I will echo what Sean said yesterday about Almunia. I’m not as large a fan as he is, but Munia had a wonderful day, obviously could have done nothing at all about the goals, and generally turned in another of those performances that make it clear that he’s just not the biggest problem this team has. No, he’s not Petr Cech or even Shay Given or Insert World-Class Keeper Here, but there are plenty worse out there and Arsenal have bigger issues to fix in defense and midfield than they do in goal.

– I will be alone in this, and it’s petty, but Denilson’s goal celebration drove me nuts. He caught a lucky bounce and flailed it in and decides he needs to point to the back of his shirt like he’s Thierry fucking Henry and “Denilson” were associated with anything other than expensive transfer flops and/or not making the senior selecao. Compare and contrast to Diaby throwing himself into the travelling support after scoring a remarkably skilled goal that demonstrated real ability. This is very much my version of other peoples’ obsession with boot color, but as far as I’m concered it says something.

– And speaking of Diaby (and Eboue), what a goal. God knows if or when they’ll ever repeat it, but they have every right to be proud of that one. It was one of those moments where you can actually see what Wenger sees, why he continues to persist with players long since given up on by most of the fanbase. The potential is there, enough to make you wonder what could be if they were in a situation where they could learn from experienced professionals, and where they weren’t being asked to carry the club on their backs.

– So where are we now? Once again, this is another result which is not awful in and of itself- an away draw against one of the 5 best teams in the country isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, devastating. The worry is that Arsenal were simply outplayed for huge stretches of the match, caught lucky with Denilson’s goal and all of Villa’s efforts which found wood, and yet still managed to throw away points at the death. You’d hope that after Pool and Villa back t back, the next several fixtures would give the team a chance to get healthy and pile up some points; the trouble is, it’s been against exactly these sorts of theoretically easier sides that Arsenal have been most disappointing this season. Here’s what ‘s upcoming in the next 3 league games:

12/28- Portsmouth home.

1/10- Bolton home.

1/17 Hull away.

That’s one win, one loss, and one not played yet against that lot so far this year. On the heels of 3 straight draws and yet another weekend of lost ground against the other big 4 + Villa, that’s just not going to be good enough. 7 points are probably essential here to avoid crushing pressure for something to happen in the window, if that’s even avoidable at this point. Here’s for hoping.

December 27, 2008 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Aston Villa 2-2 Arsenal

I am so upset, I don’t think I can come up with a coherent blog post, traditionally speaking. So, bullet points it is:

– Bacary Sagna was MOM. If any of my 5-a-side defenders came up with a clearance like that when I was beaten all ends up, they’d have their beers paid for, probably for the rest of eternity. He was definitely the best player out on the field.

– Aston Villa haven’t learned how to be a big club yet, which is the only reason at this point why I think we could still nick 4th place with some signings in January. A better side would have absolutely mauled us in the first half, as they had chance after chance after chance without scoring.

– Manuel Almunia is fucking good enough for Arsenal. If you don’t believe it after his 15th-minute save on the shot that deflected off of Silvestre’s noggin, you a) are biased against him for whatever reason or b) know nothing about goalkeeping.

– William Gallas SUCKS SUCKS FUCKING SUCKS. That was a nailed-on penalty, and it was one he didn’t have to take. Way to give the momentum back to Villa, idiot.

– Who was marking Knight on the second goal? Answers on a postcard, show your work.

– You would expect us to win a game in which Denilson and Diaby BOTH scored.

– Well, at least Song is suspended for a game due to his 5th yellow of the season…

Only Arsenal can make a creditable result seem like the worst loss in history. *sigh*

December 26, 2008 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

We’re Really in Trouble

It’s four months.

We are fucked. For. Life. Here’s the key quote from the man who Wengs:

“”It is more likely yes [that we will buy in January] but we have internal solutions. We are not desperate. Of course we can still challenge for the title.””

How you read that quote all depends on how far you trust the man these days. Charitably, you might say that he’s hedging to maintain his players’ confidence and hopefully maintain some leverage on the market when he does buy as he clearly now must; uncharitably, you might say he’s once again setting himself up to negotiate in a somewhat-less-than-good-faith manner, offering just below what the other party considers acceptable so that he can say he tried, and then return to his previous policy of sticking with his current hand-picked crew. Which of those interpretations comes nearer the mark we will know in about 40 days. Meanwhile, it says something that some of the players who would perhaps qualify as “internal solutions” with a bit of positional jiggering- Wilshire, Ramsey, Vela- have rarely been trusted to even get off the subs bench in league play this season.

I think we all more or less expected before this season that the first-choice Arsenal 11, while talented, were probably not really a title-winning team; we’ve now seen subtracted from that unit their best player and offensive engine for the bulk of the remainder of the season, their starting right wing for a few more months, the starting left wing on and off for weeks at a time, Toure has barely been present even when available due to his malaria struggles, and there’s been additional man-games lost here and there throughout the squad in predictable fashion- as well as the long-term issues with Rosicky and Eduardo. We’re left with a situation in which to plug the gaps, players who aren’t good enough in their natural positions play out of them, while other options are either deeply out of favor or else too young even for Arsenal to be considered. The starting 11 were probably 2 or 3 players away from a title to begin with; now the side is likely 5 players away from a title this year, and much more realistically they’re probably 2 or 3 players away from a top 4 finish. Nasri is a strong bet to miss more time at some point this season- if and when he’s out, without reinforcement a midfield of Diaby, Denilson, Song, and Eboue will be sent out to try and gain crucial points. Even with Nasri and Walcott whenever he returns, that is still not a midfield with great creative ability or defensive ability or consistency, nor is it all that well suited to getting the most out of two mercurial and touchy strikers in Ade and RVP who rarely if ever have any relation to each other during the game, requiring different and independent service. There’s just not enough goals in that set-up to consistently mask the issues in defense, which at this point we have to assume are just not going to be solved in the short or medium term. That’s not a top 4 team.

New players were going to be required all along, once the decision was made to allow so many midfielders to leave in the summer. Under kinder circumstances, the need to replace Flamini might have become gradually apparent to Wenger during the season and perhaps one player could have been added in January to fill that gap and allow at least the semblance of a title challenge in a year in which apparently no one wants to seize the race. That would have been papering the cracks, but it would have been just about defensible. What the injuries have done is change this from a situation of needing to add one, maybe two players to a mix to really challenge again, to needing to do severe structural work on the team. Players have had their opportunities through those injuries, and been badly exposed; the shocking lack of depth is apparent, the flaws and limitations of even automatic first-choice players like Denilson and Adebayor has been exposed, some of the prized youngsters have been revealed as total morons who aren’t good enough, and now all of a sudden the season and the near-term future of the club depends on Wenger’s ability to succeed brilliantly at the thing he’s worst at as a manager at a time- January window in a credit crunch- when it’s probably harder to do so than any other time. Arsenal at their best are a finely-tuned, ultra-efficient machine; what we’re seeing now is how one or two broken parts of that machine can lead to burst pipes, stripped gears, and a total seizing up. The chances of Wenger now putting together a title contender for this year are vanishingly small, the chances of him putting together a top 4 team probably 50/50, and yet as fans we’re still wondering if his heart is even in the attempt or whether he’s willing to throw this season away to try and make a point about his players. How did it come to this?

It’s all coming down to a month for Wenger to save this.

December 23, 2008 Posted by | The Arsenal | , , , | 2 Comments

We’re In Trouble

As of when I’m writing this, Arseblog is saying Cesc is out for 3 whole months. I can’t find reports of this elsewhere just now, but Arseblog has his sources and is usually on the money. So, we’re fucked. More to be written tonight, after another busy day. For now, I’d just have to say I agree with what he wrote, and would add that this is the first time I’ve really felt January would be a verdict on whether Arsene Wenger remains the right man for this club at this moment. This team needs help, desperately; 3 months of no Fabregas and no replacements will possibly see them slide below 5th with Everton rising, and would give Villa a chance to put an insurmountable climb in Arsenal’s way to get back into the CL slots. Finishing 5th or below and missing out on CL revenues in a time of personal conflicts and institutional upheaval at the club, with the backdrop of a worldwide recession, would have dire results both for future competitiveness and for future ownership and management. All of a sudden, if the Cesc reports are true, January goes from meaning a lot to perhaps meaning everything.

Get well soon, little guy. And whatever Rosicky suggests, do the opposite.

December 23, 2008 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Missed the last two Habs games…

For the one or two people who may be coming here to read about the Canadiens, I apologize for missing the last two games. This was a hectic weekend, to say the least.

I did see the goals for the Buffalo game, not sure if I’ll bother with the latest debacle against the Hurriwhalers. Fucking hell, am I glad we don’t have to play that goddamn mob anymore this season. Actually, with my luck, we’ll finish 6th and they’ll win their division. Sigh.

Normal service will resume next week when they play again.

In closing, I (heart) Matt D’Agostini.

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Montreal Canadiens | Leave a comment