Tag Archives: Arjen Robben

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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Robben: I didn't dive. Also, I hear the Pope is not Catholic.

It will come as great relief to know that, in Arjen Robben’s own estimation, he did not dive when Bayern Munich came to the Emirates in February in a sequence that got Wojciech Szczesny sent off, left Arsenal down to ten men, awarded a penalty-kick to Bayern, and dramatically changed the tempo if not the outcome of the first leg in Bayern’s favor. However, for those paranoid types who always sniff out a conspiracy, it’s time to lay your weary heads to rest and cry no more. No less an authority on the subject than Mr. Robben himself is here to allay your fears. After all, it was a “pretty scary moment” for him, and so we can excuse him just a bit if it has taken him some time to work through his feelings, sort out his memories, and speak truth to power about the affair, which threatened to sully his otherwise pristine, clear-as-crystal reputation as a player who never, ever goes to ground except under the direst of circumstances.

Wait. Wrong dive. Sorry.

Speaking to the assembled media, a visibly shaken Robben bravely put to rest any allegations that the tumble he took was a simulated swan-dive. In a voice that occasionally trembled, no doubt still shaken by flashbacks to that awful moment, Robben testified as only a misunderstood victim can: “Wenger’s comments are typical for a losing coach. I don’t care much about it because it’s not the first time he acts like this.” This prompted a flurry of activity as advisers rushed over to Robben and whispered in his ear. Straining forward, reporters could only pick up snippets of the exchange, something to the effect of “wrong tone” and “stay on message.”

Robben nodded, dabbed a handkerchief to one eye just moments before a solitary tear could roll down his cheek, and added, “it was a pretty scary moment for me. I picked up a serious injury in December after a similar foul from Augsburg’s goalkeeper.” Indeed, that injury was so serious that he could only manage to play 180 minutes in Bayern’s next two matches, somehow managing to soldier on and, through sheer grit and toughness alone, score three goals. Truly, he is an inspiration, for in overcoming not just the physical trauma but the emotional scars in such fashion, he has proven that all almost-nearly-but-not-quite injured players everywhere can still experience moments of glory.

Here’s the one I was looking for. Silly me!

However, Robben went to detail the living hell that each day has become. “The only thing I still remember is a ‘bang’ against my leg and me lying on the ground.” It is the stuff nightmares are made of. One moment, you’re dreaming of scoring a goal; the next, you’re figuring out which way you’re supposed to spin when someone bumps into you and—bang!—you’re on the ground, not knowing what hit you. Why, it’s a wonder that Robben hasn’t developed some kind of multiple-personality disorder to prevent the heebie-jeebies from keeping him up nights. Plucky l’il guy.

Pressed further, Robben delineated a difference between diving and what happened on that dark night in London lo those many weeks ago (no, not really). “The thing is, this was not a dive. Last time, maybe it was a dive. You see me go head-first and I stretch out my hands in front of me, like so”—Robben put forward his hands in a diving motion—”like a swimmer, you see? That is a dive. This time, you watch. I spin around more like a dancer and fall. Not hands first or like a dolphin does. How then could it be a dive? There is not even water nearby. So do not ask me about diving.” It was then that, perhaps overcome by the emotional turmoil brought about by being forced to relive the horrific moments of that day, Robben spoke no more. An adviser came forward and put his hand gently on Robben’s back, which sent the Dutch player flying backwards into the curtains behind him, a look of excruciating pain writ large across his face. When no red-card was issued to the offending player, Robben got up, limped around in an agonizing fashion for several minutes, and left the room.

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An irrational rage at Robben-esque theatrics…

First things first, Szczesny fouled Robben, clear and simple. Second, the rule in this situation is clear. Sort of. Szcz’s foul denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity; thus, the red card came out. I’m not going to get into whether or not Robben would have actually recovered the ball (doubtful) or Sagna would have gotten to it first (likely), nor am I here to complain that the rule itself change. No, instead, I’m here to explain my own personal and, yes, irrational rage when it comes to the histrionics that Robben and others so often resort to to draw attention to their finely tuned if warped senses of justice. It all stems from my own brief experience as a footballer here in the United States.

Over here, of course, “football” refers bizarrely to a sport in which players only touch the ball with their foot maybe a dozen times in a match. I’m referring to proper football; any references to the American variation will be dubbed “American football.” Anyway, we have to travel through the misty, cobwebbed decades, arriving in the early 1990s to visit Chicago, Illinois. More specifically, we have to check in with my tenure as a member of the St. Ignatius Wolfpack soccer team, for which I played as a left midfielder. At my biggest, I was maybe 5’6 or 5’7″ (1.7m) and 130 pounds (59 kg). I like to remember myself as being Walcott-fast but this probably exaggerates a bit (I did anchor a 4×100 relay, so there’s that…). However, for as fast as I was or wasn’t, the fact was that I was a puny, wisp of a lad who wouldn’t see the inside of a weight-room or the other side of 140 pounds (60kg) for several years.

The league in which St. Ignatius plays, the none-too-imaginatively named Chicago Catholic League, consisted variously of around ten or a dozen high schools. Two or three of these schools’ teams regularly competed for state championships and sent their players off to play at the college-level. St. Ignatius was usually that third- or fourth-place team, behind wealthier, larger schools. Beneath us, the remaining seven or eight teams struggled to fill their rosters with actual footballers and ended up recruiting players from the ranks of those cut from the American football squad—hulking, menacing, troglodytes who hated soccer, didn’t know how to play it, and wanted to destroy anyone who did. Some of them were easily twice my weight. No matter how fast I was with or without the ball, these goons and gorillas flattened me with enthusiasm and style. I remember getting concussions (I think), flying seven or eight yards in the air, pinwheeling like a rag-doll, and worse. I don’t remember many fouls being called.

I learned quickly that the fouls—or calls—just wouldn’t come.

I decided not to go down, no matter what. Of course, it’s not like the plan succeeded, as I was still frequently and remorselessly sent in all directions by many means—trips, shoves, stomps, body-checks, elbows, forearm-shivers, punches to the nuts and gut…I learned that I had to work through all of that or pick myself up and get back in the match. The whistle stayed in that ref’s pocket.

With this little autobiography in mind, I fly into a rage when I see guys flop to the ground in all of the stages and versions of agony they can concoct. Like Robben. Suarez. Busquets. Ronaldo. To be fair, they sometimes get fouled, such as when Szcz fouled Robben on Wednesday. However, the flailing, the wincing, the flopping around like a meth-addled fish on a boat-deck, it’s enough to drive a man mad. Part of me wants to appeal to these sorry simulators: how many penalties do you earn compared to how many you miss out on because of your reputation? Sadly, the answer probably turns out in their favor. This makes it all the more pathetic. It’s a strategy to them, a skill, perhaps, just as much as a favorite dribble-move. heck, some of them may even practice it.


When I saw Robben pinwheel in a direction very nearly opposite the one that Szcz’s impact might have sent him, I wasn’t even thinking of the looming red-card. I was so enraged at Robben for the theatrics that I didn’t even care about the implications for Szcz or the rest of the game. In my darker moments, a not-small part of me wanted him to pull a muscle during the flailing and have to come off.

I’ll save the “it’s a stain on the game” sermons for someone else to intone. I’m not here to moralize on the sanctity of the game. I’m just here to vent my gut-feeling, my almost-instinctual disgust, that there are footballers out there, many of them blessed with preternatural talent and skill, who go so far out of their way to fall all over themselves when I spent so much of my own brief, benighted career getting bounced around like a pinball without so much as a by-your-leave, not to mention a spot-kick or a red-card. I watch these marionettes go flying through the air, and I say to myself, “nah, that’s not how it feels or looks when a guy really crashes into you, I mean really crashes into you.” Save it, you sacks of shite, for the stage.

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Arsenal vs. Bayern Preview

I won’t lie. I probably won’t have the guts to watch this one. As much as I hope we can continue our strong form in the home legs of UCL matches in the knock-out rounds, whether it’s a near-miraculous comeback last year against AC Milan, crushing Porto by five, or beating Barcelona 2-1. The statistics, this year more than most, not to mention the momentum, just don’t give us much to hang our hats on, as the saying goes. The nearest proxy I can find is that Bayern has beaten Schalke, a team we lost at home 0-2 and tied away 2-2, by scores of 2-0 and 4-0. Schalke may have done well enough to qualify for this year’s UCL, but this year sees them sitting 9th, scrabbling for Europa League qualifying. Our struggles against them do not bode well. Bayern, by contrast, has lost just two games in all competitions, having conceded seven Bundesliga goals while scoring 57. While it’s true that they’ve conceded seven goals in six UCL matches (including three to BATE Borisov), this still leaves them conceding 15 goals in 35 matches while scoring 72 (including domestic cups, Bundesliga, and UCL). For what it’s worth, all of this scoring has happened with Arjen “Ray of Sunshine” Robben sulks on the bench. May that be both the first and last times that the words “Arjen”, “Robben”, and “sulks” all appear in one sentence–from my lips to God’s ears.

It’s with that in mind that we ponder our defense, porous as ever and just as prone to conceding silly goals. Koscielny is still limping, and Monreal is cup-tied. That leaves us with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Sagna, and…Jenkinson? Miquel? Coquelin has played back there, but I’d prefer to see Ramsey drop back as he did  against Sunderland. The other gents are fine as far as they go, but given that I’d like to see us borrow from “lesser” teams (and let’s face it, at least in this leg, we are the lesser of the two teams) and get behind the ball and wait for counters, and Ramsey is better-equipped to trigger and participate in those counters. With Ramsey joining Sagna, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen, we can then field Arteta, Cazorla, Diaby, and Wilshere  in midfield and throw on Podolski with Walcott up top.

I rather like the idea of Podolski up top, having a crack at his former team. He says that there are no hard feelings after his less-than-stellar time with Bayern, but I’m sure that, deep down, he does have something to prove. He has settled in nicely with us but hasn’t played in the last two games. I hope this is down to minor injury or strategy over a possible falling-out. Whether he has any kind of insider-knowledge from his time with Bayern or the German national team is cute to consider but unlikely to yield much. The pace that he brings, not to mention that wicked left-foot, might add nicely to the counter-attacks that I think we should wait for. Bayern is a very cross-happy team, so I think that having some speed up top can take advantage of clearances to create counter-attacks.. Anam at Arseblog has written about the fear that Walcott struck into Dante’s heart when they met in the Brazil-England friendly, and although that performance has rightly put Walcott on Heyncke’s radar, adding a second  attacker with pace and finishing (sorry, Gervinho) might just keep us in this one.

Last thought before the match, t-minus 5 hours, 41 minutes: I rather like the “fire” that Wenger “unleashed” on the press during Monday’s press conference. Depending on who you ask, he’s on his way out a year early or about to sign a new deal. In either case, it’s nice to see a little bit of passion instead of that French sang-froid. Nothing like being cornered to bring out a little of the beast within. It’s almost enough to convince me that we should press ahead with the UCL. After all, it’s just as realistic as winning the Prem.

My prediction: Arsenal 1-0. Yours?