06 December 2005

Bolton 2-0 Arsenal; Other Weekend Results

It's all my fault.

Saturday marked the first match day in quite some time when I didn't wear an Arsenal jersey. Instead, I got myself involved in foolish outdoor activities which didn't really lend themselves to jersey-wearing. Now, since I was away (again at my foolish outdoor activity), and since the match was PPV, I haven't seen it yet. But everything I've read indicates that the 2-0 loss was quite grim, and due as much as anything to a distinct lack of effort from the team. Now clearly, the team was disheartened to know that I wasn't wearing the colors. And scorning a good luck habit was a poor choice too.

I apologize for the mistake. It won't happen again.

In all seriousness though, it's clear that Arsenal are not dominant in the league this year. That does call for a real sense of commitment from the players, and it's disappointing if they're not offering it. But it also means the Gunners will have their off days. The defense right now is rather dodgy; Cygan at left back is a problem, but Campbell and Toure have had their challenges too. Until Saturday, the attack has been sound. I don't know the cause of Saturday's blank scoreline, but I'm sure that going behind doesn't help. If everyone on the team is worried about the defense, the attack is going to suffer.

We have Ajax tomorrow in a meaningless Champions League game, and then Newcastle at St. James' Park on the weekend. The latter match will be crucial; my hope is that some of the newer kids will see some time. At the least, we should have Alexsander Hleb back. I'll be out of town, but wearing the colors regardless.

In other news...

Liverpool 3-0 Wigan

Since I couldn't see the Gunners, I watched Liverpool win 3-0 over Wigan. It was my "Match of the Week" pick, and I can't decide whether I got it right or not. Certainly it was not a close match, and Liverpool had the game well in hand by halftime. But even so, most of the match was played at a frenetic pace, and Wigan kept up the attack throughout.

These are two interesting teams. Liverpool are wildly inconsistent. Certainly they looked sharp and dangerous on Saturday, with crisp one-touch passing that threatened to carve up the Wigan back four on every posession. The back four was organized, calm, and committed. But watch them another day, and they'll be disorganized and devoid of ideas. Rafa Benitez has built this team into a group that has the ability to challenge anyone, as last year's Champions League win can attest. But he's made some questionable moves too, most notably the signing of Peter Crouch. Liverpool may build thier consistency and end up a real Premiership threat; or, they could continue to bump along, mixing flashes of brilliance with unexplicable mediocrity.

Wigan are intriguing too. Preseason expectations were universally low; Wigan were to face certain relegation in their first-ever trip to the top division. Only Wigan refused to read the script. Their October highwater mark of 2nd in the Prem served as a wakeup call for the rest of the league. They've faltered in recent weeks as they've faced tougher opposition, and there's no way they will win a place in Europe next year. But there's no way they'll get relegated either, and that in itself is a huge accomplishment.

The team is well-designed for Premiership play. There are no superstars, but there's a uniform distribution of quality through the team, hence no glaring weaknesses. They play with a tremendous work rate and a solid organization. It's exactly the kind of team that will be vulnerable to the top teams, because they don't play defensively enough. But they will continue to threaten the lower two-thirds of the table, and that's enough. Their biggest risk is a crisis of confidence due to their recent form. If the players start second-guessing themselves, that will damage their organization and leave them vulnerable. But I suspect that manager Paul Jewell has prepared them well for this, as in everything else.

And finally...

Worcester City 0-1 Huddersfield Town

Sadly, the Worcester FA Cup dream has ended, with their 0-1 loss to Huddersfield on Sunday. It was a thrilling match; Huddersfield went to 10 men before the half, giving Worcester hope, but Chris Brandon scored the only goal at 61' and Worcester were unable to respond.

But fear not, at least if you're looking for underdogs to root for. There are still several second-round replays to complete, with teams like Northwich Victoria, Nuneaton Borough (both Conference North), Histon (Conference South), and Burscough (UniBond Premier league, one step below Conference North) still alive. Once those are complete, I'll work through the third round draw and pass on the biggest minnow-shark matchups.

Scratch Burscough.
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