Category Archives: UCL

Please, UEFA, pit Man U against Chelsea, won’t you?

I know the Gunners have a match coming up, but with the UEFA quarterfinal draw happening on Friday, I hope you won’t hold it against me if I hope that Chelsea get the best possible draw for the next round of their Champions League foray. The draw is now open, which means that rivals from the same league can now face each other. After a season in which we at Arsenal have seen a number of draws pit us against some of the toughest opponents available—our own Champions League Group of Death, Chelsea in the league cup’s 4th round, Bayern again, then Spuds, Liverpool, and Everton in the FA Cup—wouldn’t it be nice to see a draw help us out, even if we’re not directly involved? I speak, of course, of my hope that Chelsea draw the kind of opponent that will allow them to advance ever-deeper in the Champions League. Ladies and gents, I present to you Manchester United.

After all, the further into the Champions League that Chelsea goes, the more matches they play. That’s blindingly obvious. The further they go, the more fatigue and stress they face. Even for a club as deep as Chelsea, that becomes a factor. The matches will be played on 1-2 and 8-9 April, and the semifinals played on 22-23 and 29-30 April. None of this helps Arsenal this Saturday, of course, but it could create the kind of cluttered fixtures that could distract Chelsea’s players and sap their energies (a less compassionate, sensitive, and humane writer than this correspondent would also mention injuries. I’m nothing if not compassionate, sensitive, and human, so I would never wish injury on a fellow human being. Then again, John Terry). Unfortunately, Chelsea’s remaining Prem fixtures are pretty soft, and it’s unlikely that they’ll drop points there without something else to think about.

And that’s where Man U comes in—I hope. They’re arguably the weakest team left in the Champions League. Only a vital, pull-out-all-stops performance against Olympiakos (themselves one of the weakest teams to advance to the knockout stage) allowed Man U to advance to this stage. Killing two birds with one stone, this could lead to the savory ouster of Man U, consigning them to their first trophyless season since 2005 while forcing Chelsea into a semifinal against far-stiffer competition. Depending on tomorrow’s draw, the outcome of those matches, and the semifinal draw, Chelsea might still face Barcelona, PSG, Bayern, or—ironies of ironies—Real Madrid. Far be it from me to use spite as a motivator, but how delicious would it be to see Mourinho—er, Chelsea—crash out of the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid (who show no signs of missing the Specious One at all)?

Adding four matches to their schedule, including all of that extra travel, preparation, might just do to Chelsea what it did to them the last time they progressed so deep into the Champions League. In 2012, when they won the Champions League, they slumped to sixth in the Prem. Now, it’s almost impossible for them to fall that far this time around, and I’m sure as sugar that I don’t want them winning the Champions League a second time through, but I’d trade a little at each end: a little less progress in the Champions League and a somewhat higher finish in the Prem. That’s a tidy little compromise, isn’t it?

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Bayern 1-1 Arsenal: Player Ratings

We’ve bowed out once again but remain one of two teams to have made it to this stage of the Champions League, keeping alive a streak of 16 consecutive appearances, a massive achievement in and of itself that loses little luster when set against our failure to overcome flim-flammery on the scale practiced by Pep Guardiola’s men. Still, having gone up against one of the best rosters money can buy, and despite going in without a few key men of our own, we lost the battle but won the war. Bayern has to be counting their blessings (and Academy Awards) after escaping with the red-card enabled 3-1 aggregate. Tuesday’s 1-1 draw may not provide the same degree of inspiration that last year’s 0-2 win did, but it does remind us that, when we’re geared up, we can play football with the best of the best. Now, to carry that into the final run-in… For now, here’s a quick rundown of how our players fared (stats and ratings courtesy of


  • Lukasz Fabianski—8.5: The headlines will to go to his last-minute save of Muller’s spot-kick, as well they should, for Fab not only saved the initial strike, leaving it spinning just inches from the line, he also dove back to punch it away while Muller slid in and get his cleats to Fab’s chest. However, up to that point, Fabianski was, well, fab, making save after save, enough for a few Gooners to call for him to be resigned. I agree.
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain—8.02: If the referee had been just a bit more even in his carding, Ox might have had a hand in getting two or three Bayern players sent off. Ten successful dribbles matched Bayern’s entire team. When he got past a defender or two, the next one brought him down rather cynically. His influence on the game was massive, and it’s a shame there’s so little to show in the final product, but it’s not for lack of effort.
  • Lukas Podolski—7.31: Clearly a bit wound up upon his return to Bayern, Poldi started slow (as did the entire squad, with little to show for his first half other than a stupid yellow for booting the ball after a call against Vermaelen. However, he more than made up for it by tracking back on defense (no small feat on a night when Robben was prowling the flank) and delivering an epic “f— you” goal just minutes after Bayern went ahead. He was even cheeky enough to foul Lahm before scoring, as if to say, “you bastards want to fall down? I’ll make you fall down.”
  • Per Mertesacker—7.28: Another vintage Mertesackerian performance with three interceptions and 11 successful clearances (both 1st in the team). His only potential flaw was overcommitting to Ribery and leaving the middle open for Schweinsteiger, but there was little else to do as Ribery had just dribbled Sagna rather embarrassingly.
  • Bacary Sagna—7.23: As alluded to above, Ribery left him looking old and slow in the box, and it’s not the first time that I’ve worried about Sagna’s ability to keep up with or stay in front of an opponent. He overcommitted to Ribery’s cut towards the endline and couldn’t recover when Ribery cut back to the middle. However, Sagna did turn in a solid shift otherwise with five aerial duels won (1st), two tackles, two interceptions, and six successful clearances.
  • Mikel Arteta—6.81: Did quite well for himself despite being outclassed; did draw a yellow but otherwise made a nuisance of himself with five tackles (1st). As an indicator of how much Bayern dominated possession, Arteta, who usually gets 80 to 100 touches per match, only managed 43. Hard to have an impact when you don’t get the ball as much as you’re used to.
  • Thomas Vermaelen—6.8: Turned in a solid performance, one more than good enough to help us forget that he’s not a left-back and that he’s apparently been too shite to play anywhere else with regularity. On a night when Bayern targeted our left flank (51% down that side), he effectively shut Robben down and answered any other calls that Bayern made. Bayern’s best chances came from the other side of the pitch, as much a knock against Sagna as it is a credit to Vermaelen.
  • Laurent Koscielny—6.74: The record will show that he’s guilty of fouling Robben in the box. The record will also show that Robben is a diving cunt of a player. Centuries from now, when talking apes rule the planet, their Sacred Scrolls will tell unto us that “Robben Shall Never Keep his Feet.” Kos’s critics will chalk up the foul as just another gaffe in the box, akin to his handball against Stoke, but really? What the hell was he supposed to do? Stand still and let Robben dribble?
  • Santiago Cazorla—6.36: buzzy and busy all evening but a lot more motion than action. Somehow, despite being the smallest man on the pitch, he managed to send both Robben tumbling and Martinez flying. I didn’t know Santi had it in him. On behalf of short people everywhere, thank you, Santi, for showing us that David vs. Goliath ain’t just an interestin’ tale but an everyday reality. At least in Munich.
  • Olivier Giroud—6.31: Little carry-over from his performance against Everton. He struggled to make any impact, but this was partly due to our own inability to get the ball, much less get the ball to him. It’s a bit of a criticism that he can’t find other ways to get involved or make himself available, but he’s the best we’ve got at the moment. He did have a bright chance late the game but had his shot blocked. 
  • Mesut Özil—6.00: Terrible news that the hamstring injury will keep him out for a few weeks, and there’s little point in criticizing a guy who got hurt about 20 minutes in, but when has that stopped anyone from spewing vitriol?
  • Tomáš Rosický (on at halftime for Özil)6.6: Added some drive and verve to the attack and delivered one of the most-sumptuous tackles I’ve ever seen, coming in from behind Lahm (I think), hooking the ball backwards with his heel, and getting up to launch a counter-attack in one, fluid, sexy motion. Have I ever told you how much I love this man?
  • Mathieu Flamini (84′ for Oxlade-Chamberlain)—6.06: Ox apparently was cramping up. Happens when you’ve been running and getting hacked that often. Sadly, Flamini didn’t register anything of note, just one tackle, no yellow cards, no blindings. He had a chance or two to maim Robben, not that I’d ever encourage such behavior, but I am a big fan or irony, and it would be ironic to see Robben actually go down because there was, in fact, an actual foul.
  • Serge Gnabry (77′ for Arteta)—5.92: He didn’t have much influence on the match, but the cameo provides valuable experience going forward. It might have been exciting to see him come on earlier to use his pace to challenge Alaba on the left. 
Ah, well. We went up against a juggernaut of epic proportions, the kind that we may never see again (if FFP means much). On to White Hart Lane.

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Arsenal exposes Bayern as a pack of flat-track bullies.

Yes, Arsenal failed to match last year’s nearly-historic second-leg victory and have been ousted from the Champions League. The 1-1 draw means that, once again, we’ve been ousted. Were it not for a red-card and the diving histrionics of Arjen Robben, among others, we might have done a bit better for ourselves. I know it’s going to sound like sour grapes because, after all, we did lose. However, it’s the nature of how we lost that irks. I don’t mind having my arse handed to me by a superior squad. In quite a few ways, Bayern are superior to Arsenal. Make no mistake about that. They have assembled one of the best squads money can buy. However, they just can’t seem to play the damned game. How many times did a Bayern player go to ground as if shot by a sniper? I could see this coming from an outclassed squad looking desperately for kind of edge, some way, any way, to level the playing field against a superior squad. On paper, Bayern are not that squad, not with players like Götze, Robben, Neuer, Müller, Ribéry, Kroos, Martinez, Alaba, Lahm, Alcantara, and Boateng. Each of these players would command a transfer-fee of £35m or more. Well, maybe not Robben. Why the hell, then, do so many of them resort to diving? Do they not have enough talent, skill, and experience to simply outplay their opponents? When it comes to Arsenal, the answer seems to be a resounding “no.”

As in, no, Bayern can’t beat us on a level playing field. Okay. So I exaggerate, but only slightly. They did get that first one, the 1-3, but I’m going to attach an asterisk to it. Three yellow cards in the first half, each to a defender (Sagna, Vermaelen, Arteta) meant that we had to play with a great deal of caution. Still, I can’t really spin that one away, so I’ll admit defeat. Tentatively.

Next, of course, is the level playing field that followed in that second leg, which saw us win quite handily. Even if we admit that Bayern went into match somewhat cavalierly, assuming that they could coast on away-goals, that attitude changed with a quickness once Giroud scored three minutes in, and what followed was some rather-manic footballing as Bayern realized that progress was no longer a sure thing. Only the flukey Mandzukic goal in the first leg and some missed chances in the second allowed them to slink through to the next round, tails tucked firmly between legs (else the swishing sound of said tails send Robben and others flying through the air).

Then, of course, we have the first leg this year, which turned terribly on Szczesny’s red-card, which (a) put us a man down and (b) awared Bayern a spot-kick. I’ll freely admit that there was contact, and the call is, by the books, the correct one. Even with his charlatan’s repertoire of dive-tastic douchebaggery, Robben’s melodrama was too much to take. In an instant, I went from dismay (crap! penalty!) to outrage [insert chosen curse-words here]. It’s not enough to simply lose one’s balance or fall, is it, Arjen? You have to fling yourself to the ground as if you’ve died, then roll a good twenty yards, grimacing as if every bone in your precious body has broken, writhing around in agony until you hear the whistle or see that played has been waved on. I usually keep this family-friendly, but eat shit, Robben. I don’t care if you’re allergic to it and go into anaphylactic shock. You’re ruining the game with that garbage, and I’m not just saying so because it works to your advantage against Arsenal. It’s a deeply personal issue borne of my own struggles as a little, little man playing footy against bigger, burlier, clumsier opponents, something I wrote about here, in case you’re curious).

It went on throughout that first leg—despite already being up 0-1 away, despite the man-advantage, despite the clearly superior squad that was on the pitch even before Szczesny saw red, the flops were feckin’ everywhere. Skulking away with two away-goals was more than Bayern deserved (even Neuer admitted as much, at least as far as it concerns the penalty-kick and red-card), but it was just barely enough to secure progress to the quarterfinals. What utter, unadulterated bullshit. These are not the tactics of an ostensibly legendary squad. Arsenal are not known for physicality; the idea that oru players play rough enough to inflict the kinds of fatal wounds that Robben, Martinez, and Lahm apparently suffered only to somehow, impossibly and against all medical opinion, summon the will and the fortitude necessary to miraculously recover—almost as if they’d never been injured in the first place. Imagine having that kind of grit, that constitution, that fortitude. Inspiring stuff, that.

And on to the second leg, where, again, knowing they had a the two away-goal-advantage to defend, Bayern were largely content to patiently play keep away and look for occasional chances. However, on the rare occasions that we found an advantage, someone was there to fall down. At some point about 17 minutes on, Podolski got past Martinez, slapped him a bit on the cheek, and kept going. Martinez, however, collapsed as if he’d been hit by a two-by-four, after which he lay prone on the pitch, apparently dead. I’ve been punched harder than that and barely flinched. I’m not saying I’m tough, but compared to Martinez, I’m a goddamn Superman. He lay on the pitch for damn-near a minute, long after the play was over, until being comforted by teammates and the referee. The offenses are too numerous to enumarate, unfortunately, but I am more than happy to focus on two moments of poetic justice:

  1. Podolski’s goal. Did he foul Lahm? I’m not sure. It looks like Lahm overran the ball and tripped, either over his own feet or over Podolski. Podolski, in much the same way you might usher someone to a chair at the dinner table, put his hands to Lahm’s waist as Lahm flew past. Podolski then charged in and blasted past Neuer, who, no doubt, was awaiting the referee’s whistle. No dice, Manny. Martinez, having recovered from his near-death experience, followed Podolski with his arms upraised, more concerned with working the ref than with playing the game. Justice served.
  2. Robben’s dive for the penalty-kick. this time, there was some contact as Robben and Koscielny vied for the ball. However, Robben has this uncanny ability to sense when he’s lost the ball or advantage and lost his footing on the lightest of touches—never mind the other, rougher touches he received when he still safely had possession or the other rough-housing he gave to Kos—once he knew he couldn’t turn the corner on Kos, he collapsed to his knees, slowly enough for Kos to bump into him again and draw the whistle. Ridiculous. Proving, however, that the universe is held together by stronger stuff, Fabianski made the save. No harm, no foul. Take that for what it’s worth.
Fair’s fair, I guess. You dive often enough, and I guess you’ll get a few calls, certainly more than you deserve. However, you’re also going to miss out on real fouls, such as Podolski’s potential foul on Lahm. Was the referee moved to wave play on because of earlier dives that had duped him? Perhaps. Despite all of the diving, then, Bayern were not able to defeat Arsenal, proving my original point. Over four matches, we’ve won once, drawn once, and lost twice. Those two losses may look like countervailing evidence—until we remember the yellows and red that tilted things so heavily in Bayern’s favor.
Long story short? Bayern is happy to pummel lesser squads, especially those in the Bundesliga. However, when you put them on the back foot, when they feel cornered, they resort to slimiest of tactics. Why, you could knock them down with a feather. Literally. Babies. Scratch that. Babies are made of sterner stuff. Bayern, however? Not so much.

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Arsène: "Robben did well; he dived well again tonight."

Speaking after the match, Arsène was as glib and as flippant as ever when he spoke of how Bayern escaped with a 3-1 aggregate victory to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals. It wasn’t down to tactics or quality or match-ups or anything else. No, according to Arsène, “we have shown as well that we have the quality, I think to knock them out. and I thought that with two games, that aspect of playing with ten men was massive.” He refused to blame the official; after all, the red-card against Szczesny was, according to the rules, the only call the referee could really make. Instead, Arsène directed his thoughts to Arjen Robben, whose diving histrionics in that first leg “made a lot of” the contact between him and Szczesny, and he made a lot more of a lot less at Allianz Arena.

Unprompted, Arsène pointed out that “Robben did well; he dived well, and he dived well again tonight and that’s what I spoke about yesterday and it happened today. Nothing new.” It’s undeniably true. Time and again, under the slightest of nudges, the lightest of contact, even the ghost of a whisper of a caress, Robben collapsed in a heap or splayed out like he was being thrown from a saloon-window in a crappy spaghetti-western. He wasn’t alone, of course, as Lahm, Martinez, and others fell to the ground like Muppets or Shakespearean actors paid on a per-dive basis. All that was missing at times was for one or another Bayernian to exclaim something along the lines of “Mount, mount my soul! thy seat is up on high;/ Whilst my gross flesh sinks downard, here to die.” Indeed, some of them fell so slowly, so dramatically, that they might have had time for a longer soliloquy.

It comes as a bit of poetic justice then that Podolski dropped the Hammer of Mjolnir on them on what might have been a penalty. As he cut left to chase down a through-ball into the area, he outran Lahm to the ball, nudged him aside (or did Lahm merely trip?) and cut along the endline. Perhaps sensing that hsi teammate had flubbed his lines, Mandzukic jogged along behind Poldi with his arms as if he couldn’t believe the injustice of it all. However, Poldi danced into the box before slamming the ball through the roof of the net. Done. Dusted.

Now, of course, it wasn’t enough to right wrongs, and we’re still out of the Champions League. Then again, Robben wasn’t done, earning a spot-kick at the other end when he lost his footing, fell to his knees, and Kos bumped into him from behind. How the referee fell for it is beyond me, but karma is a bitch, ain’t it? Fabianski denied the spot-kick.

Still, it makes me wonder. If Bayern are so great, so magnificent, so goddamned invincible, why the hell do they have to resort to such shameless simulation? 49 consecutive wins in the Bundesliga. Aside from the pointless 2-3 loss in the group-stage to Man City, they haven’t lost in the Champions League since facing us last year. In fact, all of that flopping around like electrocuted fish suffering from grand mal seizures while overdosing on heroin make me wonder just how terrified Bayern were of us in this match—and in the first leg, come to think of it, when there was just as much of it going on. It’s a little bit grubby if you ask me, hardly befitting a squad that fancies itself champions of anything.

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Tommy V: left out and now, left back…

So we go into the Allianz Arena today hoping to again defy history—successfully, this time—by overcoming a two-goal deficit in the Champions League. The task looks well-nigh impossible, like a baby counting all of the grains of sand in the world in a second. Who are we to try to defeat Bayern? If their history is any indication, we’d better be careful about trying too hard. God forbid, we actually succeed, or Bayern will simply buy up whoever it is who plays well against them. They’ve done it before.  More seriously, though, we a few doubts along the back-line, one of them not too troublesome; the other, a bit of a quandary. For the first, of course, Szczesny was sent off in the first leg for being in the same time-zone as Robben. However, Fabianski was in goal for the second leg last year and did about as well as a keeper can. Clean sheet. The more-serious issue though is the left-back situation, where both Gibbs and Monreal are too gimpy to play. Without them, we face a dilemma that is apparenty only solvable by playing someone out of position, but whom?

I don’t fancy the idea of playing Sagna out of position, as it thrusts the callow Carl Jenkinson in, and that arguably exposes us on both flanks. Instead, I’d prefer that we keep Sagna at his preferred position, which then returns to the original question of whom to play on the left. Assuming Kos is fit enough to start, then, we have two options, Flamini and Vermaelen. If he ain’t, Vermaelen has to play CB and Flamini’s left-back, and the rest of what you’re about to read is pure, unadulterated dross. If that’s how you like your dross, by all means, read on.

For the first, I’d prefer that Flamini play at DM in order to maintain some semblance of order and tenacity. Playing Flamini on the left side, however tempting, takes him away from the center of pitch, diminishing his barking ability while pitting him more directly against the pace of Arjen Robben, and let’s face it, Flamini ain’t fleet of foot (hope you like alliteration). Instead, then, it is time to summon the center-back of annoying nick-names, TV5, the Verminator…uh, Tom TeaVee (I think). I bring you Thomas “Tom” Vermaelen. On one hand, he was the left-back during the 1-3 dressing-down we endured last season. On the other, he wasn’t the left-back in the 0-2 disrobing, so maybe it all evens out.

At any rate, Vermaelen might then be our best option. Despite his drop in form and his positional freelancing, we need a strong performance from him, and not just because Robben will be marauding along the left side. It’s not just him, of course, as Kroos and Lahm will likely drift towards our left to exploit whoever’s there; whether it’s Flamini, Sagna, or Vermaelen, that man is playing an unfamiliar position and is likeliest to be targeted.

Of course, defending is not one man’s job, and just as vital as who plays left back is who plays on the left wing. Podolski might offer an interesting option going forward, but we simply can’t afford to play him above Vermaelen because of how much Poldi neglects his defensive responsibilities. Even if we’re playing the defensively minded Arteta-Flamini pivot, we can’t afford to expose Vermaelen to too many one-on-one situations. Robben, for one, is simply too much of a threat to (a) blow past him or (b) go flying through the air and tumble about 37 yards in agony if Vermaelen such as exhales too loudly.

It’s the kind of situation that might normally inspire dread. Veramaelen, the out-of-form, out-of-position defender, going up against a pacey winger with a nose for goal. Normally, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, given that the stakes at our end are so low—no one seems to rate our chances very high in this match or in the Champions League is we do pull of the improbable—what can go wrong? If we lose, we can shrug our shoulders, and head back home. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If, on the other hand, Vermaelen turns the world on its heads, shutting Robben down (and up, if you don’t mind the conflicting prepositions but matching meanings), so much the better. Heck, we lambaste Vermaelen for getting too high up the pitch as a center-back, but “too high” for a center-back might be “just right” for a left-back.

Then again, if we don’t quite like Vermaelen as a left-back, could we maybe consider converting him to a defensive midfielder?

I kid.

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