Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Henry's Audition For New Team just OK

Barca 2, Arsenal 1

First off, some general impressions of the match. It was hard fought, and generally speaking, as well called as a match this big can be. I didn't have a rooting interest in either team, though I'll admit I was hoping to see Henrik Larsson do good things, and he did. But on the whole, I didn't care who won, just wanted to see a good match, and it was certainly that. Lots of drama.

I'm sure if you turn down your music, or ignore your boss, you will be able to hear, even now, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments throughout London at this very moment. They will come up with reasons why they lost, and why it wasn't their fault, and all the other things that come with losing a major championship. I don't think they'll get to Mike Holmgren levels, because again, this game was pretty well called.

You gotta feel for Arsenal's back-up keeper, who must have felt between the posts much as Dante did in Clerks: "I'm not even supposed to be here today." Giving up two goals, and then having the commentators mention that the only two other goals that Arsenal gave up their entire run was while Lehmann was sitting also stung. Teams only score on the shitty back-up, was the subtext. Though he played in three games, and gave up four goals (which really, isn't bad. Just under 1.5 goals a game isn't spectacular, but it isn't shitty, either. It's good. It's very good. Well, it's OK).

I linked to the Bloomberg story, because I have some issues with it. Again, being a dispassionate observer, I thought I should share my comments, because that's why people don't come to this blog to not read it. Ha-ha!

I don't want to blow 'fair use' out of the water, so I'll try to quote sparingly, but really, the nuances in this piece are myriad and serve to deliver a message. I'd like to challenge that message a bit. Go read the whole thing, though.

Barcelona failed for an hour to dominate 10-man Arsenal before rallying to win the Champions League final

While factually accurate, this is the kind of thing any soccer player will realize as bullshit. Both teams adjust when a player is sent off. It is shockingly common for the team who had a player sent off to play better for the next 10, 20, 30 minutes. Why? For the same reason every team everywhere tries to be the underdog. It's an amazing motivator. And if you are a man down on the pitch, boy are you ever the underdog. Going down to 10 men with 70 minutes left to play makes you a HUGE UNDERDOG. I have to wonder how many stupid, homertown Brits placed 2nd half bets, convinced their lads would have the magic to stay in the lead. Great goal, though, by old man Sol Campbell. Doing what he has done for nigh a decade or more. Rising up on a set piece and putting a header where a goalie can't possibly reach it.

Now coached by another Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard, Barcelona sealed a second straight Spanish title two weeks ago and, with the team's average age of 27, more may follow.
Yet with 14 minutes left, Arsenal, in its first European Cup final and with an even younger team coached by Arsene Wenger, appeared to be heading for victory thanks to Campbell's 37th- minute headed goal.

A team that is "younger" in average age but relying on Sol Campbell for offense is the kind of paradox that would make philosopher's heads explode. How much younger is Arsenal then Barca? The article doesn't state, because I think it is necessary, to backdate the idea that Arsenal was the underdog. 27 isn't that young of an average, really. Would you want a team with an average of 31 years on the pitch? I guessing having young goalies skews this stat like crazy. But a team with Henry, Ljungberg, Pires, and Campbell can't possibly be considered young (nor old), no matter what their average age is. They had veteran leadership in their prime. Ljungberg, in a lot of ways, was Arsenal's most dangerous player this game. And usually, he's a dangerous player in the clubs of downtown London, if you know what I mean? The birds do, don't they? Phroar!

A defense including 22-year-old Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure, 25, stifled Ronaldinho's trickery even after Arsenal was reduced to 10 men when Lehmann brought down Eto'o on the edge of the penalty box and received a red card.

Completely accurate. It may have been noted somewhere in this paragraph that Ronaldinho looked off the entire game. Missing badly on free kicks that were perfectly set up for his dangerous kicks, and even lofting a corner as badly as I ever did, when I was taking them for the JV squad of the Macalester College Fighting Scots. The commentators throughout the game, stated they thought that the line-up and positioning that Barca was using was counter-intuitive. You have Eto'o, one of the best center strikers in the game the past two years out on the wing. No one could make sense of it.

That said, Eboue and Toure played magnificent games, and they did stifle the attack. Until the attack reorganized.

``You'd think no-one could handle Barcelona with 10 men for 70 minutes but Arsenal did,'' Charlie Nicholas, an Arsenal icon as a striker in the 1980s, said in an interview. ``(Thierry) Henry's miss was the decisive moment, not the sending-off.''

Charlie may be an icon, but his math sucks. In point of fact (to be all Britishy about it) Arsenal did not handle Barca for 70 minutes. If they had, they would have won. They handled them for about 60 minutes. Then, Barca put in fresh legs on offense, charged for the goal, and facing tired, old men in the back, and tired young men as well, they put pressure on.

The key moment was clearly the sending off, or both of Henry's misses, which weren't "misses" in the sense I think of them. He put balls on goal, admittedly at the keeper, but then again, so did Barca. Barca got two goals out of their shots at the keeper. Which I'll touch on later. But Henry's misses could be considered poor shots, or they could be considered as well-timed reactions by Barca netminder Valdes. While I lean towards the former, I won't deny the poise Valdes had the few times he was tested (and that really wasn't that often).

The second key moment was the insertion of Henrik Larsson. Fresh legs, an experienced attacker, he keyed both goals. While Henry was begging for offensive support, which Wenger pretty much ignored, Barcelona inserted offense. Out of desperation, sure. But if you are up 1-0, and playing a man down, you should be playing desperate offense as well. Inserting Morientes with only 5 minutes, and already down a man and a goal? too little, too late. We will see if the English press focuses its Booby Driven Page 3 "news" on Wenger's decision making, or just on Henry's misses and Lehmann's send off.

I think an argument could be quite easily made that Arsene was out-coached this evening, by Dutch genius (on the pitch at least) Rijkaard.

He guided the ball into Eto'o's path in the 76th minute, allowing the African player of the year to fire in between substitute goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and the post. Wenger said Eto'o was offside when Larsson touched the ball.

That passage just has the stank of Washington Press Corps on it. Wenger "said Eto'o was offside"? Hey, Bloomberg, did you watch the game? I heard no mention of offside when I was watching. Upon watching replays, is it clear that Eto'o was off? Or that he was on? You're reporting on the game--how about some conclusion here? He didn't look off to me, but I only watched it in real time. I watched with 5 soccer players, and I didn't hear one of them say, "Eto'o was off". Maybe he was off. Tell us, Bloomberg. You dicks.

The second part of the story in my mind is that Lehmann's sub, Almunia, while he played well, didn't play as spectacularly as Arsenal is used to from Lehmann. He got beat near post, and on the second goal, the ball struck the inside of his leg and bounced into the net. Unlucky, to be sure, and really, anytime someone is rocketing a shot from the 6 yard box, the goalie is in trouble. Call me an American homer, if you wish, but if kasey Keller is in net for Arsenal, this game doesn't end at the 90 minute mark.

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