Saturday, March 1, 2008

Bendtner's Strike.

I have a soft spot for Arsenal. If I've picked a club side in any league, they're the team.

This affinity dates back just a few years (doing the math, I think it was about 2003). This coincided with their record-setting unbeaten run, but at the time I knew nothing about this. In fact, had I known, I probably would've deliberated longer and eventually would've picked a different team, because there's really nothing quite as distasteful as a front-runner (not extortion, rape, genocide, not anything) and I think at the time, if I knew anyone that cared about soccer, I probably would have been called that.

Getting back to giving background on my glory hunting: that Thanksgiving, my family invited me to go along with them as they visited my step-sister who was in the middle of a semester abroad in London. The few minutes I saw of English television, and the slightly fewer that were devoted to soccer, intrigued me. Fans in stands were celebrating draws, Euro 2004 was already being hyped seven months before kick-off. When I got back, I bought one of those cheap EA Sports computer game bundles that feature four games made years before --and due to personnel moves, promotions, relegations, expansion, etc. are generally considered out-of-date (in this case: 2001 versions of Madden, NHL, FIFA, and Tiger Woods)-- specifically for FIFA, riding a wave of new-found Anglophilia and wanting to play the game I couldn't find on television here (not having an expanded-beyond-my-means-cable-package or satellite dish).

I scrolled through the English sides, and chose my team quickly, knowing only enough not to pick Manchester United (the comparisons to the Yankees had made it to my shores), and went largely on name and ability rating; ability being important because I didn't --and still don't, sadly-- understand soccer and wanted to have at least a puncher's chance when going against the computer. I chose Arsenal because, frankly, it was a cool name and I liked the crest.

It's embarrassing to admit that I would initially choose a team to follow for reasons as simplistic (read: "simpleminded") as those. It'd be cooler if I said something about their "attacking, free flowing style," or appreciating the mastery of Arsene Wenger, keeping his side on pace with the other teams in the Big Four despite his fewer resources, this season that skill in developing a team on a budget best being exemplified by their greatly improved form after selling Thierry Henry to Barcelona. As it turns out, none of that is true, I just think the color red is pretty. In the ensuing years I have come to appreciate all of that, I've downloaded and watched multiple times Arsenal 49, I've spent hours watching youtube highlight compilations of Henry, Wright, and Pires, but until discovering online streaming of soccer, I wasn't able to do much more than follow their results after the fact.

Despite being tipped by many to drop out of Champions League contention this season (and don't discount the effect prognostication has, bad juju adds up), has been atop the Premier League most of the season, but with their lead dropping to three after last week's Matthew-Taylor-wrecked match against Birmingham. At home, against Villa, despite their opponent's quality, one would hope for a win rebounding from results --in some cases disappointing and against Man U, deserved-- over the past two weeks. From the 27th minute to well after the 90th, largely thanks to Senderos clearing the ball into the back of his own net, Arsenal trailed despite a 58% possession mark, with more shots on target, 7-4.

Bendtner's strike two and a half minutes into stoppage time was remarkable. (I said it. You're likely hearing it here first. It's insightful comments like these that are largely attributable to my high readership. I have this counter when I log in that tells me how many viewers I have, and while my writing doesn't inspire a great many comments, I can tell you, thousands of people are checking this page daily for information that they know they can't get anywhere else.) Not only that, but it came from a pass from Adebayor and they hate each other, reportedly. In a perfect world that would have included a hyperlink to a report, but I don't feel like researching it at the moment. Know that I once heard on a soccer podcast that might be reputable that Adebayor came on as a sub for Bendtner recently, with the Gunners trailing, and said to Bendtner something along the lines of, "we're (other players were coming in as well) only playing because you're shit." Whether or not that's true, I'll be telling it to everyone I meet no matter the context: weddings, funerals, making small talk at the register of a convenience store picking up a 99 cent 2-liter of Pepsi, you're going to be hearing about it.

To be honest, I really didn't see it coming (my blog's popularity or the goal), and had been fighting off the doze for the last five or six minutes, just wanting distress that comes with watching the side I was born into rooting for held scoreless. Again. Despite this, I was able to manage a yelp loud enough to frighten the dog, and concern the people that were in the bed with me that someone was going to kill them.

I don't know what this "draw that feels like a win" that comes off of the "draw that feels like a lose" means for the rest of the season. I'd thought, after the Man U drubbing, that the team could go either way, use it as motivation or see it completely kill their confidence. After the Eduardo injury, it's impossible really to say, as that likely has had a greater impact on their performance since, rather than what they gleaned from the FA Cup tie (they're actually going to have to cover opposing strikers if they hope not to lose 4-0 again in the near future). The strike does save the lead, which has dropped with successive draws to 1. What's disappointing is that these were two matches that should have been wins (I mean, really, Arsenal did outscore Aston Villa 2-0 this morning). Still having to go through a four game stretch of Chelsea, Bolton, Man U, and Liverpool, I'm not optimistic about their chances unless Bendtner can continue not playing like shit.

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