Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are you Jose Mourinho in Disguise, Part Two

I’ve been to two Premier League games in my life.  The first was Spurs-Man City in September 2000.  The game finished nil-nil and by the end, Spurs fans were shouting at one another.  The highlight for me was that George Weah was playing for City, so I got to see a former World Player of the Year release Paulo Wanchope on a great solo run that ended with Wanchope poking the ball just past the post. 

The second was Chelsea-Newcastle in November 2003.  This match was at the outset of the Abramovich era at Chelsea and the Blues had just thrashed Lazio in Rome in mid-week.  Chelsea were miles better than the Magpies, especially with Alan Shearer out, and the Blues won 5-0.  The game stands out in my memory for two reasons.  First, I was amused that the line of Bobbies between the two sets of fans extended out onto the concourse.  At halftime, I watched Chelsea fans chant “how does it feel to not have any jobs?” at the Newcastle fans with a row of beleaguered police offers trying to separate the two sets as everyone else tried to queue up for concessions.  Second, Sir Bobby Robson, who was the manager of Newcastle at the time, managed to gripe after the match about the fact that he had a player sent off.  Now mind you, the red card occurred when Newcastle were already down 2-0.  Moreover, the call was objectively correct, as Andy O’Brien brought down Adrian Mutu as Mutu was breaking away on goal.  I was taken aback reading the paper in the morning that Robson, who is otherwise close to beyond reproach, managed to blame one referee’s decision in a match that was otherwise completely one-sided.

I was reminded of that anecdote when I read the predictable comments of Arsene Wenger after the match:

“How can you kill a football game like that?” said Wenger in his post-match press conference. “Two kinds of people can be unhappy. Those who love Arsenal and those who love football. It is very difficult to understand his [Busacca’s] attitude.

“Anyone who has played football at a certain level, you can’t understand how this decision can be taken at this level. It is impossible. It ruined a promising and fantastic football match. What for? If it is for a bad tackle, fair enough.

“Frankly, it is embarrassing if you love the game. I just spoke to Uefa people and they are shocked as well. If you are neutral you will never understand a decision like that.”

Arsene, you know why people who love football would have been unhappy with the match on Tuesday night?  Because they were hoping for a match between two of the most attractive sides in the world and only one showed up.  Because your side came and put on a second-rate imitation of Mourinho’s Inter.  Because your team managed the amazing feat of not having a single shot at Barcelona’s goal over 90 minutes, including 55 minutes with 11 men.  I’ve seen matches where a team will not get a shot on goal; I can’t remember a match in which a team didn’t even take an errant shot.  According to Opta, this hasn’t happened in the Champions League since 2004.  This is the equivalent of a football team not crossing midfield or a baseball team getting no-hit.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: the red card call against Robin van Persie was horrendous.  Wenger and van Persie have every right to be upset about it.  It’s dubious to give a yellow card to a player for shooting a second after the whistle in a loud, hostile environment; it’s criminal to give that yellow to a player who is already on a yellow.  (I would like to say that van Persie deserved to go for generally being a douche, but if that were the case, then Dani Alves would have a less-than exemplary disciplinary record.)  That said, van Persie’s was needed on the pitch about as much as a fish needs a bicycle because Arsenal had no attacking threat whatsoever.  There are two possible explanations.  One is that Wenger decided to take an uber-defensive approach in an effort to get a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.  The second is that Arsenal were being utterly dominated by Barca’s pressing, such that they were trying to attack, but they couldn’t get the ball out of their own end.  Michael Cox chooses the latter explanation:

Arsenal clueless

Instead, they were barely able to play football. Sky Sports’ commentator Martin Tyler summed it up inadvertently when he suggested that when Manuel Almunia had the ball in his arms, he was attempting to kick the ball downfield at an angle, so there was a chance a Barcelona player would head it out for a throw. What a miserable state to be in – a side famed for their slick passing football reduced to trying to win a throw on the half way line from a goalkeeper’s clearance…

Barcelona being good at pressing is hardly a revelation, and it hardly takes a genius to identify it as a crucial factor in this game – but it was the key feature. Arsenal couldn’t get the ball up the pitch, and Barcelona won possession in positions very close to the opposition goal.

Zero attempts on goal suggests that Arsenal ‘parked the bus’ – even Inter managed one shot in their semi-final last year – but they didn’t, they were simply unable to get past the first burst of closing down.

The match was 1-1 (and thus, Arsenal was in a position to progress) when van Persie was red-carded, but that scoreline flattered Arsenal to no end.  They hadn’t managed a single chance, while Barca had scored one goal, seen David Villa denied in a one-on-one with Manuel Almunia and Messi shoot straight at Almunia when he was free in the box, and been denied a clear penalty when Johann Djourou clearly clipped Messi’s feet in the box.  (Silver lining for Arsenal fans: they have something good in Djourou and something great in Jack Wilshere.  Also, what is it with Almunia standing on his head against the Blaugrana?  He was immense in the first half of the first leg last year and he was the only reason why Arsenal did not concede five or six on Tuesday.)  By the end of the match, 3-1 flattered Arsenal, as Barca had piled on the chances as the game progressed.  Barca were aided by the red card, but on the evidence of the first 55 minutes, combined with the fact that Arsenal were naturally going to tire because they were chasing the game from the start, the red card was by no means decisive.  Wenger ought to be questioning why his side were so comprehensively outplayed, either because they are not on Barca’s level or because Wenger was afraid of letting them play their normal game for fear that they would concede another four-goal performance from Messi.  Instead, he is ignoring reality to have a go at the ref.  Richard Williams takes him apart in The Guardian:

The surprise was in the way Arsenal approached the match. Wednesday morning's Spanish papers were withering in their condemnation of the English side's disinclination to attack, a derision compounded by Arsenal's failure to complete their mission. Spanish observers did not like it when José Mourinho ordered Internazionale to pack their defence in last year's semi-final, but at least Mourinho's success earned him a measure of respect.

The scornful cartoon in Mundo Deportivo had Wenger reading from the Mourinho coaching manual: "The fault for not having a shot on goal ... is the referee's, the referee's, the referee's, the referee's, the referee's." But when he reflects on Tuesday's events, he can hardly be proud that his side became the first since 2004 to fail to register a single shot in a Champions League match.

Dismay and perhaps even a measure of shame are the proper responses to such a lamentable feat. Barcelona are a wonderful team, but they were playing with two replacement centre-backs. Despite the freakishness of the possibility that Bendtner could have put his side through to the last eight, Arsenal did nothing to deserve any form of reward. The absence of Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song and Theo Walcott played a part, and the marginal condition of Van Persie and Cesc Fábregas was clearly unhelpful. But the displays of Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Bendtner in particular cast doubt on Wenger's readiness to invest further deposits of faith in players who have spent most of their Arsenal careers underperforming.

Williams focuses on Wenger not being ruthless enough with the players on his roster.  I’d add to that the fact that there is something wrong with Arsenal’s mentality when their own keeper is ripping on the team for giving in.  I had the same reaction, as did Martin Tyler in the final minutes when Arsenal were casual in the extreme in seeking the goal that would send them to the quarterfinals.  When Barca went down to ten men at Stamford Bridge in 2009 and needed a goal, they got it and went to Rome.  When Inter went down to ten men at the Nou Camp, they fought harder and ground out the result that sent them to Madrid.  When Arsenal went down to ten men, they used it as an excuse for the rout that was already well underway.

I suppose I ought to spend a moment talking about Barca.  Next to the 5-0 thrashing of Real, this was the best performance of the season.  The finishing was less than stellar (save for Messi’s ludicrous flick over Almunia for the opener), but the pressure that Barca put on Arsenal was outstanding.  As Pep Guardiola said after the match, Arsenal couldn’t put three passes together and that was in no small part down to Barca’s front six attacking like a wolfpack whenever Arsenal had the ball.  Special credit goes to Javier Mascherano.  I was concerned when the center back situation meant that Mascherano was going to start, but Barca didn’t miss a beat in the midfield and Mascherano was instrumental in the pressing game.  Additionally, his tracking back on Niclas Bendtner saved the team’s bacon late after a mistake by Adriano.  Tuesday night was the night that Mascherano became a member of the team.


Jack said...

I don’t know, man. I’ll be the first to jump on a bandwagon making fun of Wenger for whining, but as you said, when van Persie got sent off, Arsenal were in position to go through to the next round. If you can’t complain about a terrible call in that situation, then when can you?

Michael said...

55 minutes in, Barca had scored a goal and had six shots on target. Arsenal had Busquets' own goal and nothing else. It's rational to assume that Barca were likely to win the remainder of the game by one or two goals. To use a football analogy, if two teams were tied at seven early in the third quarter, but Team B is outgaining Team A 225 to 40 at that point and the game was only square because Team B turned the ball over twice in the red zone and also fumbled a kickoff into its own end zone for Team A's touchdown, it would be safe to assume that Team B was the likely winner, even before Team A lost its running back.

Solon said...

First off, to imply that it would be 'rational to assume' Barca would have won the match by 1 or 2 goals if not for the sending off - seems to be a bit irrational, really.

Someone looking at the situation rationally would say that Barca had only scored on 1 of 6 (I had 5) shots on target to that point, and that was following a great move after a monumental mistake by the Arsenal player at the edge of the box.

Also, based on rates to that point, Barca would be expected to have 4 shots on target for the remainder of the match, for which, if I read you right, 2 or 3 would have been expected to go in. That seems incredibly optimistic.

And especially so, given the assumption that Arsenal wouldn't score - which would have required 3 Barcelona goals - since in the other 3 recent fixtures between the two sides, Arsenal had outscored them 4-2 in the second halves of the matches.

Second, the entire argument is sort of beside the point, but the football analogy is a bit strained.

99% of the time when one team has outgained the other 225-40 and the score is tied, the 'better' team at that point does not outgain the other team at a rate of 5.6/1 yds for the rest of the game - in fact, usually, they tend toward parity from that point forward.

Part of this is conservatism on the part of the better team - as in, "Let's focus on not making turnovers, just grind this out, get ahead, and win," but it's also because the 225-40 yardage gap was probably aberrational to begin with.

(Indicative of this is that the one 'sustained' period of time where Arsenal held about 1/2 the possession were the 8 minutes between HT and the own-goal - when they needed to score and were 11 on 11.)

Either way, I would argue soccer is much more like hockey, in that if a team doesn't take its chances early, they are considerably more likely to end up on the wrong side of things in the end - whether they have dominated or not - than in football or basketball.

Finally, congratulations and good luck the rest of the way.

Kanu said...

First off, congrats man, and best of luck to Barca the rest of the way. I am hoping they win the CL so that in 50 years the 3 CLs in 5 years will be a testament to those who didn't get to watch them regularly that they truly were one of the best teams in history.

There is absolutely no doubt that Barca were by far the better side over the 180 minutes, and obviously the final 90. It is pretty stunning to consider their overall dominance in the 2 legs and still think that somehow they were 1 kick of the ball from being knocked out, and I don't mean that in a damning-with-faint-praise kind of way. It's just remarkable. Certainly better finishing and they could have walked it in a blowout against a good team as they so often do.

However, their dominance alone is not a sufficient foundation for the 2 intellectual leaps that you make in this piece.

First off, to equate the non-impact & irrelevance of a red card on a match when a team is already 0-2 down and goes on to lose 0-5 with one where a team is 3-2 ahead with 35 minutes left is absurd and intellectually dishonest, man. While I can certainly understand a Barca fan's annoyance with Arsenal whining it was all the referee when your team was superior, equating those two does a great disservice to your long history here of giving intelligent opinions & insight. While I grant any fan a good degree of rose colored glasses, that comparison is pretty absurd, no matter your level of frustration with Wenger.

Second, and more importantly, is your dismissal of the red card as irrelevant because of your assumption that Barcelona would have dominated the last 35 minutes and would have scored the two goals they needed anyways. This is quite a leap given the evidence to the contrary. Specifically, that both last year and this year in the 1st legs, Arsenal outplayed Barcelona in the final 25 minutes, scoring 2 goals in each instance while Barcelona did not score at all (Messi did score in the 88th min in the 2nd leg last year of course, but that game had long been decided, and even so, that's 4-1 to the Arsenal over the final 20 minutes if you take all 3 matches). Given that history of late Arsenal success in 2 of the last 3 matchups, it seems rather disingenuous for you to say:

"Barca were aided by the red card, but on the evidence of the first 55 minutes, combined with the fact that Arsenal were naturally going to tire because they were chasing the game from the start, the red card was by no means decisive."

In fact it was Barcelona who looked a bit tired & on the ropes in the final 20 minutes in London both this year and last, so to naturally assume that Barca would get their 2 goals as Arsenal got tired towards the end isn't really supported by what we have witnessed on the field.

And as far as the evidence of the first 55 minutes- if you had stopped the match in London this year, or the one last year, at the 55 minute mark, no one, and I mean no one, not the most die hard Gooner out there, would have predicted Arsenal controlling Barcelona in the last 25 minutes and outscoring them 4-0. For you to so casually assume that Barca would have dominated the final half hour & got their needed 2 goals while Arsenal ran out of gas is plausible, but not nearly as certain as you infer given what has actually happened... (cont'd)

Kanu said...


And so it is just as wrong for Arsenal fans to say "we would have held on" as it is for Barca fans to say "we would have come back anyway because we are better". The truth is no one knows what would have happened and no one can say with any degree of confidence that one or the other would have happened. We have all seen dozens if not hundreds of matches where the result on the scoreboard betrayed the dominance both on the field as well as the stat sheet. As an Arsenal fan, I am not supremely confident that Arsenal would have definitely gone through 11v11; what upsets me is that I sure do think that they could have, and we were all denied the opportunity to see if they could, to see what happened in a fair fight, to see how it would have played out.

And finally about Wenger, you also misunderstood his tactics when you assumed his plan was to park kthe bus for 90 minutes. It is obvious that his tactics in this match were to play solid defense for an hour and try to get the match to the last 30 minutes where Arsenal have demonstrated success against Barca, and then attack more and try to emulate the late game success again as Barca themselves tire from their incessant pressing. In other words, a rope a dope. Or you could call it a 'hybrid bus' that is parked for 60 minutes but then fires up it bio-diesel engine and moves forward. This was his entire strategy, and given recent history his greatest chance for success given the personnel at his disposal, and he put all of his eggs in this basket. Starting the horrible Rosicky because he can play a bit of defense over the game-changing but unfit & defensive liability Arshavin tipped his hand greatly; it was obvious that his goal was to survive 60 minutes and then throw on Arshavin for Rosicky in the final 30 minutes and go for a goal on the counterattack if needed, while also bringing on Eboue's pace and Bendtner's (whatever it is that Bendtner is good at...).

And that is why he is so upset about the RVP red and why he is whining about it much louder than he ever has before, because with RVP's BS sending off his entire game plan went up in smoke- poof!- and he feels that his team was robbed of the opportunity to execute the game plan that would have given them the best chance to win. As such, it is easy to see why he is so upset even if one is annoyed by his harping on about the ref.

People can be annoyed at Wenger and his hybrid bus, but I think he got it right and his outrage, and mine, and lots of others, is that the referee's stupidity took away the chance to see if it could work.

Again, congratulations to you and to Barca, they sure did dominate all stats other than goals. I just would have liked to see the last 30 minutes 11v11, and given the history demonstrated in recent meetings, I think the inevitable Barcelona 2 goal comeback without reply would have been a considerably sterner test than you seem to think.

Finally, I hope Arsenal draw Barca again next year. It's great fun and what better way to measure yourself than against the best. Good luck in the quarters; I hope you draw Tottenham and give them a manita or two.

Solon said...

My mind is rubbish.

To clarify: at the time of the sending off, in the second half of the previous 3+ fixtures, Arsenal had outscored Barcelona 5-3.

From the 55th minute on in those same matches, they had outscored Barcelona 4-1, I believe, although it might have been 4-2; as I remember it Ibra's second goal at the Emirates last year was right around the 55 minute mark.

Michael said...

A few thoughts on top of the pile of material here:

1. Both of you seem to be forgetting that Arsenal and Barca have played in an additional, rather important meeting in recent years. That meeting ended with Barca scoring twice in the last 15 minutes and Wenger pissing and moaning because his keeper got an obvious straight red as opposed to Barca getting a goal. I mention this for two reasons. First, Arsenal's alleged second half dominance over Barca comes with a sample size of two, both of which were at the Emirates. Assuming that they would have dominated the last 30 minutes at the Nou Camp without a crowd roaring them on is weak. Second, Wenger has a history of focusing on one decision rather than admitting that his team was beaten by a better side. Guardiola was absolutely right after the match: if Arsenal focuses on the BS red card and not on the fact that they couldn't string three passes together, then they will never take the leap from good to great. What annoys me and other Barca fans is that Wenger and other figures in the EPL are always making up reasons to dismiss the accomplishments of a collection of players that have won everything there is to win.

2. The only reason why we are having this discussion is because Arsenal folded after the red card. Arsenal made the red card meaningful. Kanu, there were three analogies in the piece. The first was simply to make the point that EPL managers seem to have a cultural expectation to whine about the ref after a game, regardless of what actually happened. Ovciously, there is a difference between 0-2 and 3-2. The other two analogies were to the last two European Champions, both of whom suffered red cards in the semifinal second legs and responded to adversity with winning performances. Arsenal, showing the mentality of a team that lost a cup final to relegation-threatened Birmingham, completely rolled over after the red card. They were resigned to their fate. Read Almunia's comments again. Your keeper is telling you all that you need to know about your team. Additionally, the fact that your team wilted late would seem to indicate that they were not much fitter and were not going to dominate the last 30 minutes, unless you believe that playing with ten men magically saps a team almost immediately.

3. Can we all agree that Bussaca missed an obvious penalty on Messi in the first half, such that if the game is called correctly and Barca convert the penalty, the game is 2-1 Barca with each team having 11 players and 30 minutes to go, only in the context of Arsenal not having had a shot on goal. I really don't think that Wenger and the rest of his minions are acknowledging the significance of that stat. Think of all of the mismatches in the Champions League. Chelsea-Cluj, Inter Anorthosis, United-Aalborg, etc. It's mind-blowing to me that Arsenal have the gall to point the finger anywhere else after turning in a performance worse than the champions of Cyprus (who were actually quite frisky, come to think of it).

Nate said...

This seems like an academic debate. Yes, there is a possibility that had there not been the red card on Van Persie, Arsenal may have turned in a better performance and advanced. But they still would not be the better team, not by a long shot.

Pep is absolutely right: if Wenger wants to gripe about the red card, it shows just how little he grasps the problem with his side.

Solon said...

To respond:

(1) I don't think anyone was arguing that Arsenal was poised to 'dominate' the last 30 minutes of the match. I think what was actually being argued was that to contend Barcelona was going to dominate the last 30 minutes of the match, because, well, anyone rational would assume it despite the fact that in 2 of the 3 recent matches the opposite had happened, was an argument without merit.

(For the record, even though it's not been argued, at least not here, assuming that Arsenal would stand a better shot at controlling the last 30 minutes based on a sample size of two matches at the Emirates over the course of the last year would be a far more plausible than looking at the last 30 minutes in Paris 5 years ago when Arsenal had played a man down for an hour before Barcelona were able to score. Particularly since 19 of the 20 outfield starters were different players.)

(2) Arsenal actually held out for about 1/2 of the remaining time of the match after the red card - 15 of 35 minutes. The idea that they folded as soon as it was given, or were 'immediately' worn out because they were down to 10 men, borders on absurdity.

A more sensible argument might be that they 'folded' after the second goal, although even then they were one bad touch from Bendtner away from going through regardless, so even that characterization would probably be a bit harsh.

(3) As for whether the Messi incident was a clear penalty, that's certainly debatable.

Admittedly, I am surprised it wasn't given, but that's more because it was Messi, and it's Barcelona, and the match was at the Nou Camp; I probably see at least 1 equivalent each weekend in the EPL that isn't given, if not more. The idea that it was some sort of stone-cold, rock-solid penalty - like Arshavin's against Sunderland, for example - is a bit nuts.

I mean, Messi stepped forward, and while doing so, kicked the ball behind him to a spot where Wilshere was going to be the next one to touch it, even if Messi had decided to stay on his feet. Whether Messi was actually 'fouled' or not - and it was a pretty marginal foul, right on the edge of the box - that'd have been a damn soft penalty.

Anonymous said...

From all the reports it appears that Barcelona was the better team and deserved the victory overall, but this is an absolutely absurd post that can only be explained by Michael's hatred of Arsenal (for instance, Michael criticized Arsenal for being excited to play Barcelona because they wanted to play the best. From Michael's view, the only honorable thing Arsenal should have done from the start is forfeited the match due to Barcelona's obvious brilliance).

I don't even think this is just blue and red colored glasses here - I doubt you would have seen such a joke comparison to Mourinho in this blog if it was, say, Redknapp criticizing what is uncontroversially just a bad call next round.

Meanwhile, Michael also proves himself a hypocrite, since he bashed the refs for calling Villa's goal offsides in the first round, despite Arsenal outplaying Barcelona for most of the match.

Michael is a good blogger, but this is almost a pathological issue he has with Arsenal.

Anonymous said...

PS - Michael, your football analogy does not work. If the team was AHEAD 7 points and then lost by 7 points in the end, I think most people would predict that it was the running back going down's fault, even if the losing team didn't have to play with 10 men on the field the rest of the game.

Michael said...

Tell me, Justin, is Jonathan Wilson also a pathological hater of all things Arsenal? I ask because he is saying the EXACT same things that I am:

"Amid the furor, the danger is that the underlying truth is lost. The decision to award Robin van Persie a second yellow card was almost inexplicable, but that should not disguise the fact that Barcelona was massively superior over the two legs. The Catalans were better for three-quarters of the first game, and for all of the second and while Arsenal can legitimately argue that losing Van Persie was a devastating blow to its morale, and perhaps prevented them adopting a more attacking game in the latter stages,it is also true that Arsene Wenger's men failed to muster a single shot in the second leg, that Lionel Messi had a legitimate goal ruled out in the first game, and that Messi should have had a penalty in the first half of the second leg."

For the record, I don't hate Arsenal. I hope they win the EPL this year, although it might be damning with faint praise to say that I prefer them to the Manchester teams. I do hate the graceless reactions from Wenger and Arsenal fans (especially to the extent that Arseblogger is an avatar of Arsenal fans in the way that MGoBlog is an avatar of Michigan fans) when they are beaten by a superior team.


Regarding the claim that Barca was going to wilt in the last 30 minutes, your sample size is two. I watch Barca every week and the opposite is almost always true. Barca won the Champions League two years ago with an injury time goal at Chelsea and then dominated the second half against United. (So much for the EPL style causing Barca to tire.) Barca routinely outplays Real at the end of games, despite the fact that Real are noted for late-game herioics. As Wilson notes in his article, Barca's style tends to cause opponents to wear down because Barca can rest with the ball, whereas their opponents cannot.

You make a good point about the difference between the sides in 2006 and 2011, but you also remind me of another point: the way that '06 Arsenal responded to going a man down was very different than '11 Arsenal. '06 Arsenal went a man down around the tenth minute, then scored shortly before halftime, created good chances in the first part of the second half, and then only gave out in the last 20 minutes. If '11 Arsenal had that level of mental strength, they would have won or at least put up a better fight on Tuesday. I hate mental explanations for sporting events, but they're hard to escape with this Arsenal team. They seem talented, but weak. I truly hope they prove people like me wrong this weekend.

Regarding the penalty, Wilson thinks it was a penalty and both the English announcers thought that it was a penalty. Your line about expecting that it was a penalty because it was Messi at the Nou Camp is cute, but it's also wrong because Barca get fewer penalties than just about any other team in La Liga. I think that Barca was either the last or next-to-last team in La Liga to get a penalty this year. It took about half the season to get one. If you're bored, watch the highlights of the home match against Athletic Bilbao from the weekend after the first leg with Arsenal and you'll see Messi get felled in the box with no call after a terrific run.

By the way, between the commenters here, Arseblogger, and the people who call/e-mail World Football Daily, I've yet to read or hear an Arsenal fan come to grips with the historical accomplishment that is the Gunners' failure to register a shot of any kind over 90 minutes.

Solon said...

For the most part I will let most of the comments already made stand for themselves, but I will three things:

(1) Regarding increasing our sample size:

In case it isn't obvious, Arsenal also regularly dominate the end of matches; the 2008-2009 team, in particular, had some sort of uncanny scoring record in the last 5 minutes of matches where they were tied or behind.

(2) Regarding the Arsenal failure to register a shot on goal in 90 minutes:

In last year's semifinal, Inter managed 1 shot during the entire match - a free kick from 55 yards that, according to Soccernet's Gamecast, went "miles wide." They also managed 14% possession as opposed to Arsenal's 24%.

The idea that Arsenal had some sort of extra-special bad performance because someone didn't heave the ball toward the net at some point - compared to Inter's rightfully acclaimed one - is getting tangled up in the minutae of the numbers.

(3) On Barcelona penalties:

It may have taken Barcelona half the season to get a penalty in the league, but it took them about 55 minutes to get one in the Champions League this season.

I don't know why that is; maybe it's because their players don't feel the need to dive unless facing the prospect of elimination from Europe.

Solon said...

I should point out that the 'Messi was diving' thing is a joke, in case it doesn't come across as such.

But now that I look at the standard for a PK in La Liga - a rate of something like 1 every 3 matches - I'm amazed even more that you thought it was a certain one.

Kanu said...


1. I didn't forget the 2006 CL final; I just don't see how it is relevant since it was 5 years ago and only 2 of the 22 starters in that game (Valdez for Barca, Cesc for Arsenal) also played this year and last. Both teams were completely different and it just doesn't seem relevant to me to compare them. And the idea that Barca scored twice in the last 15 minutes doesn't seem all that relevant to the points we are discussing; Arsenal played the final 74 minutes with 10 men so them tiring at the end was entirely predictible. You countered my points with "Assuming that they would have dominated the last 30 minutes at the Nou Camp without a crowd roaring them on is weak." This was never my position and I clearly stated that I did not assume that they would dominate or win, I simply stated that they could have based on recent history. If the match played out ten times 11v11 from Arsenal up 3-2 on 55 minutes, I would guess that about 4 times out of 10 they would have held on, perhaps five. My whole point is that confident assumptions about what would have happened by either set of fans are silly and I just wished that we could have seen it play out, and that I feel that the red card was relevant and I presented reasons why I thought that.

2. I am confused by your stance that bitching about the ref when things go against you and you lose is an English 'cultural'phenomenon, and by implication you seem to be saying that it doesn't happen, or happen nearly as much, in Spain or other places. In my experience this is universal and happens everywhere. Hell just last week Sid Lowe wrote about how pervasive blaming everything on the referees was in Spain and that it dominated all other things in that football culture. I would say that would also go for Italy, Argentina, Brasil, and hell pretty much the rest of the world as well.

El Sid:

Bias is reflected in all aspects of football, but perhaps mostly clearly when it comes to referees. In Spain, a country where fouls are blown more readily and cards come out quicker than anywhere else in Europe, being a referee is a nightmare. Some believe every single contact is a foul. Most appear never to have actually read the rules at all. Diving is just another highly polished skill. And every decision is pawed over by "experts," tapes rewound and replayed over and over again. Every decision is "obvious." And serious, match defining.

It doesn't matter if a team wins 10-0; if there is a questionable penalty, that will be front-page news the next day. Writers at papers on both sides of the divide are told to look for controversy when they report on their rivals' matches. Madrid coach Jose Mourinho recently turned up in one news conference with a sheet of paper decrying 13 "grave" errors from the ref. Never mind the fact that it did not include any that went against his side -- and even Mourinho can't seriously claim there were none -- those "grave" errors included a couple of throw-ins going the wrong way.

entire article here


Kanu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kanu said...


You seem to want Wenger to come out and say "we got outplayed, the card didn't matter, we deserved to lose", which seems unrealistic. Or maybe you just want him to come out and say "Barcelona are superior to us." I don't think we'll hear that from him but I for one, and many, many Arsenal fans and media, accept this as an obvious fact and admit it freely, and have done so for years.

3. I am surprised that penalty was not given, we've all seen them given for less. On the other hand, I've seen much more ironclad penalties not given. We can agree that Bussaca missed many things and had a horrible match. Dani Alves elbowing RVP in the face & getting away with it in the 26th minute (bottom left of screen, also missed by announcers), Abidal grabbing RVP by the throat and not getting yellow nevermind red, Adriano grabbing Nasri by the throat in the same group scuffle, the Messi penalty, etc; many things on both sides- I'm sure there are other moments that stick out in Barca fans' minds. I read somewhere that Buscassa is slated to referee the Cl final this year- ouch.

Arsenal weren't any worse than Inter last year unless you want to obsess on 0 shots versus 1, which is as significant a difference as Inter's unheard of 14% possession last year compared to Arsenal's 24%. Were they poor? most certainly. Did they get dominated? yes. I don't see anyone out there arguing any differently.

Anyhow, like many of our exchanges, we will just agree to disagree. Sorry for the pointless back & forth, it really serves no purpose. I originally just wanted to contend that the red card was relevant and it seemed rather harsh of you to claim with such confidence that it was not. As another Barca fan said to me "We were better, we totally dominated, the card helped, lets move on". But in the end, it doesn't matter what any of us think, Barca move on, are clearly the best team on the planet for the 3rd year running, and I wish them , and you, luck the rest of the way.

I hope you don't feel I have been a graceless Arsenal fan that you profess to hate; I feel like I've been respectful and that we always have good civil discussions even when we disagree.

Anyhow, I'm done, I think we've exhausted this discussion. Time to move on.

Kanu said...

correction- I can't find anywhere that the 2011 CL final ref has been assigned, so wherever I read it is to be Busacca, that person was wrong (he did ref the 2009 CL final).

Stephen said...

This debate got pretty lengthy, so an attempt to refocus:

Michael, would you disagree with the following statements?

1) Soccer has a random element. The quality of a team is imperfectly correlated with the outcome of any one match. The outcome of a match is a -distribution- not a certainty or an expected value.

2) RVP's second yellow was absurd.

3) RVP getting his second yellow shifted the distribution of match outcomes in Barca's favor.

If you do not disagree with those statements, then quit criticizing Wenger. If you do disagree, then explain why.

Finally, can we get a "big picture" check here? A lot of Barca players were complete jerkoffs- Abidal, Alves... even Iniesta was taking swipes. You can "lost in translation" apologize for Pep all you want, but he's also a jerkoff. After ten articles, you aren't misinterpreted; you're a jerk. Barca fans need to get off their collective high horses, be thankful that they put together a good squad and that the dice have fallen their way over the last few years... and STFU.

Good luck in the next round.

Nate said...

I suppose this thread is dead, but I'll add one last thought for the crickets:

I have rooted for both Real Madrid and Arsenal against Barcelona this year. I don't dislike Barcelona, but I root for underdogs and I would love to see some more teams play at such a high level. But both Madrid and Arsenal were so outclassed in their matches with Barcelona this year that it is staggering to me for their fans to complain about ANYTHING until these clubs elevate their level of play.

If I were an Arsenal fan, the Van Persie red card pales in significance when compared to the team's abysmal passing performance in the face of Barcelona pressing. And to see Arsene Wenger overlooking this dire strait of affairs is very depressing, since he of all people should know there is more to soccer than lucky results.