The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Pause

Sadollah weighed in at 166.5 for a 171 pound fight? Really? For a guy who fought at 185 on TUF? I’m going to go ahead and reverse my previous prediction- give me Hendricks. Sadollah’s either even more of a hobbit than previous believed, or he’s insanely overtrained.

Also I have not seen the footage because my internet connection sucks, but apparently Andy Silva looked soft…hmm….

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August 7, 2009 Posted by | MMA | | Leave a comment

Well, this sucks…

As Brendan noted below, Arsenal ended up drawing Celtic in the final qualifying round for the Champions’ League. Once they disposed of Dinamo Moscow the other day, I was 100% convinced that we would end up drawing the Hoops, and that’s what happened. As previously mentioned, Arsenal is my primary team and I support them above all others (I qualify that because having a second team is apparently a sin on the level of murdering babies…at least if you ask commenters on message forums and whatnot), but I’m a Celtic supporter as well. The best option would have been for us to draw the tiny Romanian side and Celtic upsetting one of the other seeded teams to get in. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, so the Gunners will have to make do with what they’ve been given.

With that in mind, what exactly are Arsenal dealing with? The thing is, Celtic are a side very much in flux at the moment. The Gordon Strachan Era is over, with the requisite mixed feelings. While the Bhoys did haul in 3 league trophies during that time, the club rarely convinced and it could well be down to Rangers being awful more than anything else. On the other hand, Celtic also made it to the last 16 of the Champions’ League for the first time in their history, including a famous 1-0 win over Manchester United at Celtic Park (trust me, that link wasn’t hard to hunt down…it’s in my favorites and I watch it several times a week). Tony Mowbray is the man in the hot seat now though, and he brings with him a drastically-different style of play. Strachan was very much the manager of Coventry and Southampton, desperately clinging to enough 1-0 leads to stay in the division for another season. Mowbray is a talented manager who is committed to his eye-pleasing style, even when it would probably be better to bunker. While it’s not entirely surprising that Stoke survived last season and West Brom didn’t, Mowbray is in much better circumstances now. He won’t be seeing teams of the caliber of Arsenal or United every week, and he has some more resources to work with.

He has some work to do, though, as the first-team squad is not all that great. There is some talent there, but their best players tend to have a crucial flaw in their games that prevent them from being top players. In goal, Artur Boruc has a high talent ceiling but is wildly inconsistent. If Arsenal face the good version of The Holy Goalie, then they will have to work especially hard and/or come up with something special to beat him. If they face the Helen Keller version, then the tie will be won in humiliatingly easy fashion. That said, even the good Boruc may not be able to do much behind his back four. The central defense of Gary Caldwell and Stephen McManus are OK enough for the SPL, although they are somewhat error-prone even in that environment. At right back, Andreas Hinkel is a threat going forward but does neglect his defensive responsibilities on occasion. Essentially, he’s a dime-store Gael Clichy. At left back, well, ask any Celtic supporter about Lee Naylor…you’ll probably want to step back a few feet though to dodge the spittle from their frothing mouth. While I don’t know if he’s THAT bad, he’s definitely not all that good either…it is a problem position for Celtic and one of the keys to the tie will be Arsene’s selection at right wing. Whether it’s Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin or perhaps even Jack Wilshere, Arsenal absolutely must take full advantage of this weakness.

Midfield is a better prospect for the Bhoys, although this would be a much scarier tie for the Gunners if Shunsuke Nakamura were still around. His vision and passing ability in open play and his deadly set pieces would have given Arsenal no shortage of trouble. Without him, Celtic are missing the one player they had that could take charge of a close game and come up with a bit of magic to win it.

However, what they do have is a central midfield pair that is industious and not entirely devoid of passing ability. Scott Brown was scouted by just about the entire Premier League at some point this summer, and the only surprising thing is that no one made Celtic an offer they couldn’t refuse. He’s somewhat injury-prone, which may have something to do with it. When he’s in the team though, he’s a threat that will have to be dealt with. While Naylor vs. Arsenal RW may be the most important matchup of the tie, a close second will be Denilson or Song vs. Brown. Speaking of our defensive midfielders, it looks like Celtic may have the best one of the contest in their new loan signing, Landry N’Guemo. I haven’t seen him play yet, but the various Celtic blogs have been gushing about him, and by all reports, he was a big reason why they were able to navigate past Dinamo Moscow in the previous round.

On the wing, the one to watch is the mecurial Aiden McGeady. Arsenal fans will remember his type not-so-fondly, as he is basically an Irish version of Jose Antonio Reyes. On his day, he is wickedly effective, raking passes and crosses all over the field. He’ll also take players on one-on-one, which is unusual for a SPL player. The good news for us is that he has a tendency to ghost his way through games, and is as defensively capable as a ripped condom. The right wing will probably be manned by Shaun Maloney if Mowbray opts for a traditional 4-4-2. Yes, the same Shaun Maloney that flamed out so spectacularly at Aston Villa…so, there’s little to worry about there.

Much of Celtic’s depth is actually at central midfield, so Mowbray may end up going for a 4-5-1 to try and flood the center of the park, especially at the Emirates. Massimo Donati, who was marginalized under Strachan and reviled by Celtic supporters when he did play, has so far looked a different player under Mowbray. Another option is the young Spaniard, Marc Crosas. It’s a fairly-rare happenstance for a player to transfer from Barcelona to the Scottish league, and rarer still for the player to not make an immediate impact. Again, this could be a case where Strachan just didn’t get the most out of him (seems to be a pattern), and personally I hope he doesn’t play against us.

At forward, the only definite is that Scott McDonald will play. He’s tiny in stature and you’d think that the Arsenal defense should be able to corral him. But, he does have some pace and he definitely has an eye for goal. While he may not remind anyone of Henrik Larsson or anything, he does tend to score big goals. Who he partners is up for debate, as new signing Marc-Antoine Fortune did not impress in either of the Dinamo Moscow games. While it is lunacy to write off a player after two games, the magnitude of the situation may cause Mowbray to opt for Giorgios Samaras instead. Samaras was the man who put home the injury-time winner against the Russians, but Premier League fans will more likely remember his barren spell at Manchester City. He’s another one that will disappear for long stretches at a time, but he’s also the type of tall, physically-strong striker that has given our center backs fits in the past. If I have a paralyzing fear about this tie, it involves Samaras scoring off of corner kicks.

Still, Arsenal are a much better side, and should win this handily. The tie at Celtic Park will be difficult, as better teams than us have gone there and come home humbled like an Iron Sheik opponent. But, if Dinamo freaking Moscow can go there and win, I’m relatively confident that Arsenal can as well. At the Emirates though, there is no excuse whatsoever for the Gunners to not eviscerate the fragile Celtic rearguard. The only way I see Celtic winning the tie is IF Boruc plays out of his skin, IF Brown or McGeady provides some midfield magic, IF Arsenal takes them lightly, IF the caludron of Celtic Park puts a shiver up the spines of our younger players, IF McDonald gets some chances to score or Samaras punishes us on corners…for me, all of those ifs have to happen.

Official TSBS prediction:  Celtic 1-1 Arsenal, Arsenal 4-1 Celtic.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

S. S. Inevitable

…and Arsenal draw Celtic for qualifying, like you do. Sean will no doubt be by to explain the meaning of this in more depth as he’s a Celtic supporter as well, but for my 2 cents it’s coulda been better, coulda been worse. Parkhead is the sort of place where young fragile teams can implode, but Arsenal are vastly more talented and one win in Russia, no matter how nice, fails to convince me that the Hoops can survive European travel. Arsenal really should win this, and let’s all be thankful that we dodged Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | , , | Leave a comment

UFC Predicamications

No in-depth preview this time; I’ll be attending my first live UFC for this one, and will probably be back Monday with comments on the live experience. Format stolen from Wikipedia because I’m lazy.

* Lightweight Championship bout: B.J. Penn (c) vs. Kenny Florian

Ah yes, the Prodigy and the Winner, the Beej and Kenflow, guy-who-hates-the-media vs. guy who works on ESPN’s MMA show, Boston vs. Hawaii, orthodox vs. southpaw, natural heel vs. natural face, awesome talent vs. incredibly hard work. If one of these guys is a Democrat and the other a Republican, I would not be surprised; it’s a good bet one’s a Coke man and one for Pepsi as well. Other than being similarly-sized human beings they come to this fight with little in common and very different stories and styles, which to me is utterly fascinating. I absolutely love this fight, and while I freely acknowledge that Griffin and Silva is the big draw on this show, this is the fight which holds the most interest for me by far.

Stand up wise, it’s an interesting contrast. As a boxer alone, BJ Penn actually is probably the best I’ve seen in MMA; he’s become almost scarily good for a guy who first last and always will be known as a jiujitsuman, skilled at all the little tricks. His chin is excellent, it’s rarely tested as his head movement is so good, his jab has become terrifying of late, and he’s got enough power to hurt even granite-chinned types like Sean Sherk (yes, a knee KO’ed him, but punches set it up). He has a wide variety of punches in his arsenal including a nasty uppercut, and he throws them all in a defensively responsible fashion. His major weakness is simply that he’s just a boxer; there’s few if any kicks in his back of tricks, so he’s somewhat one-dimensional. Florian, meanwhile, is a lefty Muay Thai guy with awesome footwork, and if there’s a striking style out there to beat Penn standing, he’s it- his movement is good enough to keep out of Penn’s grasp and fight going forwards or backwards, he throws sharp elbows and cuts people, and he’s developed a nasty kicking game to legs and body which seems to wear guys out. He comes in at odd angles, and his kicks probably give him a functional reach advantage. Not good news for Penn. If Florian lacks something, it’s power- his official record has him with only 3 wins by KO- one a cut and another a 7 second fluke- and he doesn’t seem to have the ability to really hit and hurt top-level opponents. But his strikes tell over time, and now he’s got 5 rounds to work with.

On the ground, well, one guy’s BJ Penn and if the other isn’t GSP, the result is pretty clear. Penn’s jiujitsu is legendary, and no more need be said. Florian’s very good but if they’re rolling for any length of time the best he can hope to do is survive and either get an escape when BJ tries something, or else stall it out for the standup.

So what happens? The X factor here is as always Penn’s conditioning, and despite the bag of mouth emanating from Penn’s camp I assume the usual BJ Penn will show up: deadly as fuck for 2-3 rounds. To win this fight Florian needs to keep it standing, move, point-strike his way to winning one of those rounds and then hope or cause BJ to gas so he can take the last two. I don’t put much faith at all in Florian winning this fight on any kind of stoppage; Penn doesn’t cut much, he’s got a great chin, all jokes about his heart aside he’s shown the ability to grit his way through even when blown up, and Kenny’s not a megapowerful striker. There’s always the chance he whacks BJ with a head kick unexpectedly or knees him to death when he’s gassed, but I wouldn’t put money on it. For Penn to win, he either needs to be seriously in shape for once or he needs to get it to the ground and keep it there, and in either case he has to be prepared or adjust in the cage to Florian’s movement and odd angles. If it takes him too long to get comfortable, or he expends too much energy chasing Kenflo around, he will be in serious danger of losing the fight by just not being able to do enough to win rounds; he survives when gassed, but often does so by becoming passive, languishing in clinches and failing to move.

In the end, I have to pick BJ- he’s more talented, I think he’s going to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder for this fight given what happened last time out, and at some point in the early rounds I expect them to end up on the ground. My hunch is that Penn draws Florian in and cracks him with a big uppercut, follows him down and eventually gets the RNC while Florian’s still stunned. Call it the 2nd.

Side note: speaking of BJ, it’s past midnight here as I finish this up, and it sounds like two of my neighbors are just finishing something else up in the yard. Good on them.

* Light Heavyweight bout: Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin

Griffin falls into a wheat thresher, dies, the end.

Seriously, this is not a great matchup for him if he fights like a doofus, which he may. People picking him have been saying that Silva is vulnerable to the takedown especially from the clinch, and from top position Griffin can GNP his way to winning rounds and possibly a TKO. Maybe. On the feet those same people are saying that Griffin is MUCH larger, that he’s durable, that he’ll engage a Silva who hasn’t looked great of late and make him exchange with a larger, stronger man. Maybe. They’re throwing in that Silva hasn’t looked impressive in a while, that his last three opponents were respectively a coward, a joke as a challenger at this level, and a junkie, and that he lost the first round to Dan Henderson in their first fight. Arguable. And I would agree that if Griffin decides he wants to win above all, uses his chin to get past the initial flurries and ground Silva and punches steadily but cautiously from that position, he can definitely win this thing. But.

But folks he’s got to fight Anderson Silva for 5 rounds. For a decent portion of that it’s going to be standing- Silva’s not that easy to clinch, he moves well, and if he thinks he needs to dipsy-do dodge and stink the joint out to avoid that takedown he will. And while they’re standing, well: no one’s ever been able to consistently compete favorably with Andy from that position and he’s a counter-striker facing a guy who will come towards him and give him opportunities. Forrest is going to catch an almighty ass-whipping in this one even in the scenarios where he wins, and at the end of the day in 5 losses in his pro career Griffin’s been KO’d three times, including last time out by a naturally smaller man. In a lot of ways Silva offers the same challenges that Keith Jardine did, except that Andy’s bigger, a much better athlete, a more skilled and disciplined striker, and a more naturally vicious finisher. I think Anderson Silva wins this by TKO, I think it’s competitive only in spots, and I think it lasts until the 3rd round only because I suspect Andy’s still going to fuck around a bit out there and Forrest, whatever else you can say about the guy, is insanely physically tough.

* Welterweight bout: Amir Sadollah vs. Johny Hendricks

S’dollah dollah billl y’all! Amir’s so cute you want to put him in your purse and take him home, if you have one, but I do not and frankly I’ve somehow become completely sick of this guy despite the fact that the reason I’m sick of him is that he NEVER FUCKING FIGHTS. It’s been over a year since the last time he’s gotten in there and he’s pulled out of two previous fights, and despite that he’s all over UFC advertisements and such. I recognize this bothers me more than it should, but what can you do?

Anyway, this one is going to turn on how good Amir’s grappling actually is because he’s facing a 2 time national champion wrestler who WILL take him down. What gives me pause is that Hendricks trains with a guy he wrestled with at OSU, Jake “watch the guillotine” Rosholt who’s so far demonstrated exactly zero standing defense, head movement, or meaningful grappling acumen beyond wrestling so far in his short career. I don’t have strong memories of Hendricks from his first two WEC appearances (at least one of which wasn’t shown on TV, and the other may not have been either) so it’s hard for me to judge from him directly, but it’s a worry. On the other hand Amir tapped out CB Dollaway and Matt Brown to make his reputation; Brown’s tapped in 5 of his 7 career losses, and Dollaway’s tapped in his only 2, so all we know for sure is that Amir is death to shitty grapplers from Ohio. Meh. Let’s say Amir hangs around long enough to tap Hendricks with an armbar from the bottom.

* Middleweight bout: Kendall Grove vs. Ricardo Almeida

I don’t buy Kendall Grove. Don’t even rent him, frankly. But Big Dog hasn’t looked all that great since his comeback and had no real business losing to Patrick Co-fucking-te by decision last year. On the other hand, he just lost his way and then a decision in that one- Grove got KO’d by the same guy about a year previously. The MMAth here doesn’t really add up for either guy. I throw up my hands. In their respective primes on their best day Almeida taps Grove quicker than instantly, but the Brazillian’s now 32, his two comeback wins are over a guy who never won a fight outside of Alaska and another guy who’s lost 3 of his last 4 on his way out of the UFC, and he just hasn’t looked that good. An 8 year age gap. I’m taking Almeida- that’s how little I buy Kendall Grove. Taps him in the 2nd, say RNC.

* Lightweight bout: Josh Neer vs. Kurt Pellegrino

Another bout which invites MMAth-type analysis. Both fought Nate Diaz, both lost, Neer by split decision and Pellegrino by triangle. Both fought Mac Danzig and won, although at radically different points of their and Danzig’s career. Both fought Joe Stevenson, Pellegrino losing a decision and Neer winning one. Both will be having their 9th (!) UFC fight on this show, but Neer’s piled those up in a year’s less overall experience and somehow has nearly twice as many fights listed on the records I’m working from as Pellegrino- despite being 4 years younger. Pellegrino’s 5-3 in the UFC; Neer is 4-4. It’s actually quite good matchmaking in that both guys have an all-actions rep and there’s nothing obvious to pick a winner off of, and whoever takes it will start to get some steam on them as a result. I’ll take Neer, just because he seems meaner and more determined, seems to believe in himself more and is younger; he’s been doing some stupid stuff recently though, so if his attention is divided he could easy lose this. Should be one of the better fights on the show.

Preliminary card

* Lightweight bout: Shane Nelson vs. Aaron Riley

A rematch of an apparently infamously crap stoppage which went untelevised at UFC 96 (“the forgotten show”) and won by Nelson. Meh. I’ll say Riley is motivated and takes it on the rematch. Decision.

* Welterweight bout: Tamdan McCrory vs. John Howard

For no better reason than that he seems intensely creepy I’m not a McCrory fan, but I’ll still pick him here since he’s probably more talented and gihugic for the weight. Decision.

* Middleweight bout: Thales Leites vs. Alessio Sakara

Christ. This one pisses me off. Tallest Ladies puts on one of the most shamefully reticent performances in recent UFC history because he’s afraid to engage with a striker, so here he is selected as an injury replacement to face… a pure striker. Blah. My hope is that he redeems himself with a (vastly) more aggressive performance, because there’s absolutely zero reason he shouldn’t choke Legionarius out here. Let’s say second round, arm triangle. If this is 3 more rounds of his last performance I’m going to be furious.

* Welterweight bout: Matt Riddle vs. Dan “Non-Dairy” Cramer

Riddle. He’s a goofy muppet, but he’s a big, strong goofy muppet. 3rd round KO?

* Lightweight bout: George Sotiropoulos vs. George Roop

Give me Sotiropoulos in this one. RNC, 2nd.

* Welterweight bout: Jesse Lennox vs. Danillo Villefort

Two guys, 22 fights listed on the records I’m working off of, 1 decision result between them. Should be fun at any rate- I’ll take Villefort simply on suspicion that he’s more skilled and has a better pedigree. Let’s say triangle from the bottom.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | MMA | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two Quick Hoops Notes

– About Rashard Lewis and his PED suspension, all I can say is: if you follow me in just assuming that they’re all on something, you’ll be a lot happier. The reality of the situation is that athletes who want to be the best will take whatever they think will help them and that they can get away with, and that means steroids, HGH, blood-oxygenation doping, etc. The role of testing should be to catch the really dangerous stuff, help safeguard these guys’ health to as great an extent as possible, and hopefully keep usage down to a semi-reasonable level; it probably should not be to have “a clean sport”, because that is in all likelihood a perpetually unachievable dream and certainly is beyond the reach of today’s technology. If this is scandalizing to you, I don’t know what to say; athletics is what it is, competitors are what they are, and there’s little sense pretending otherwise. The knowledge of chemistry applied to athletic performance can’t be unlearned and has been developing for a good 50+ years now. No road leads back the way we came.

I did a thought experiment a while back and came up with my favorite athlete in every sport I watch; then, the athlete who I find most distasteful. There’s not a one of them I would be willing to swear is not on anything. When you realize that virtually all pro athletes- certainly all of the high level ones- share the psychology which drives them towards use, it’s hard to get too moralistic because one guy or another gets popped on a test. None of this is an argument against testing and penalties which I’m strongly in favor of, but it is an argument to recognize who these guys are as a class of people, what motivates them, and what kind of culture they’re in. They’re all on something because the next guy might be, and they’ll be damned if they let him beat them.

-And on the Knicks front, the combination of no movement on Sessions plus this does not make for fantastic reading. In short: DO NOT WANT.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | Other NBA, The NY Knicks | | Leave a comment

The Manager Keeps Talking

And talking and talking and talking

I don’t have a problem with him taking shots at fans as such; fans take shots at him and he’s got every right to respond. I do take issue with him having absolutely no idea what fan concerns actually are, and consequently arguing with the caricature of people critical of his decisions he has in his mind. Every fan has their own concerns so I won’t speak for others, but a major one of mine is: very little which is said by club representatives can be trusted these days. A week ago Wenger wanted all his business done by opening day; now it’s the 26th-31st. I understand that plans change, but why tell stories in the press about both days? To put pressure on potential business partners? I thought Arsenal didn’t negotiate in public, a stance which between these comments and the public wittering over Chamakh’s price seems to have fallen by the wayside….

The major issue here is that the club and the people who run it are selling the future and asking fans to trust them. 5 years ago that was reasonable, because they had accrued a great deal of gravitas and auctoritas through a long track record of success, and were rightly viewed within and without as one of the most straight-dealing clubs in the sport. The trust they asked for was trust they’d earned. 5 years later the board is substantially different, there’s constant contradiction between what’s said by one person and what’s said by another or what’s said by the same person week to week, the stories and claims don’t match up with the actions, and the results have fallen away. Finishing 4th isn’t a disaster; finishing 5th wouldn’t be a disaster. Finishing 4th 3 years in 4 and 3rd the other while saying next year is going to be different every year though few meaningful improvements are made, allowing obvious issues to fester, and telling increasingly incredible stories that are contradicted by events is a disaster, because it erodes the trust of people who care about the club and it’s ruined what was once one of the strongest institutional reputations in the industry. The proof is in events; it took years for Wenger to be criticized to his face and years for there to be a substantial portion of fans with grave concerns, and it will likely take years more before they outnumber the “Arsene Knows” contingent.

But that process is now in motion- not because of any one game or any one year or any one transfer or any one anything at all, but because the club and the manager have demanded trust and sold credibility for time, and now the bill is coming due with little to show. When trust is offered from fans to club, it is offered in expectation that those in charge know what’s best and that their methods will eventually bear fruit; right now that trust, if these comments are taken at face value, is being used to begin to prepare fans for the possibility of finishing 5th or 6th. I think fans would accept even that, if they knew why it was happening; but when there’s a real risk of entering a second consecutive season with no decent defensive midfielder after 3 were allowed to leave the club in one year, when there’s enormous surpluses from transfers which aren’t reinvested into the team, when our captain is quoted to the effect that this is “a difficult time”, questions begin to be asked- not from the idiots who think that one 4th place finish is disaster (who seem to be difficult to actually find in the wild), but from people like Arseblog, etc. who are among the staunchest supporters of current management.

And incidentally, if you’re looking to cool down fan interest and celebration of Jack Wilshere, as Wenger claims to want to, comparing him to a player who made his league debut at 16, was sold for over 25 million pounds to Manchester United at 18, won his first club honors in less time than Arsenal’s current drought and has since played regularly for one of the top 5 clubs in the world is not the way to do it. For him to make that comparison, and then complain about how hard it is to hold down expectations in England, either reveals a finely developed sense of humor or total lack of comprehension of how his words sound. Or maybe he’s angling to make 25 million.

Possibly the hardest thing about following this club is the way every offseason follows this pattern. Personally, I don’t need my teams to win to keep me interested; in the 20 years or so I’ve followed the Knicks and Nets and Rangers they’ve won a grand total of 1 title sixteen years ago among the three of them, and have frequently been execrable. I love them still, the incompetent bastards. But I do think it’s fair to want a team or a club to play straight with you, to not continually bullshit you in public and to give best effort. If Arsenal gave their best effort and finished 8th, then so be it; but if they go into another season with a giant pile of money and no defensive midfielder despite losing two midfielders to injury in preseason already, it’s almost impossible to take the club seriously if they tell you they’re really trying to win first and foremost. Other agendas seem to be at work. There’s three weeks to change this; Arsene’s talking about a forward who’s too expensive. So it goes.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | , , | Leave a comment