Manchester City may be the ingredients for a fine soup or the slag roaring in a swamp.
This fixture last season was notorious for its theatre. By contrast, this year may be known for an equal lack of drama. The troublesome presence of Emmanuel Adebayor no longer resonates, the memory of his tactless move to Manchester City now truly irrelevant. Any effort at reconstitution was contained by the visitors who arrived in Manchester to conduct the business transaction of beating their host, whose ascendancy, through a conspicuous display of financial power, presents the greatest threat to the supremacy of the established top four.
A year on, and City’s inferiority turned perceived equal, has altered the nature and genre of the match, which should have contributed to a new dramatic arc. Arsenal’s business-minded approach was not the preferred approach for the neutral, but Arsenal’s focus, mettle, and clinically sober attitude cannot be pinned to the conservative and flat quality of matches often involving City.
Dedryck Boyata’s 4th-minute red card—a clear foul on Marouane Chamakh just beyond the penalty box— meant that a 10-man City would be forced to play the subsequent 86 minutes from its shell. The change of course visibly upset Roberto Mancini, but there is a grain of truth to estimating the red card’s minimal impact, given that City, even in the best of circumstances, have yet this season to leave the strategic security of their conservatism.
Mancini’s protestation of the sending-off proved thin; any implied contentiousness surrounding the red card was a misguided effort to cope with an unfortunate event so early in the match. The City manager claimed that the ball was pushed too far forward to qualify as a definitive scoring chance. The foul, occurring simultaneously with Chamakh’s last touch, sent the striker tumbling to the ground as the ball rolled toward City goalkeeper Joe Hart, hemMed to his line. Mancini’s evidence was too hypothetical to disprove either Boyata’s position or the clarity of infraction. Hart’s reticence to come out of goal could have given Chamakh a chance to gain possession. Nonetheless, the dismissal was unfortunate for the young Belgian defender; circumstances had provided a rare start and opportunity to prove his value in a squad abundant with established seniors.
Has there been a high profile, high quality public sparring in recent memory like the mid-week round between Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney?
Ferguson’s disdain for the press conference as firing line has led to a successful control of his media access. Fergie logic dictates that if the media is out to get him, then he has every right to defend himself through avoidance or bearishness. Calling a press conference to address the Rooney rebellion/insurrection indicated that the situation had reached a severity no longer served by entrenched distance. The obligation to publicly address the situation became an opportunity to reassert authority.
Ferguson spoke for six absorbing minutes. A grave seriousness carried something somber within it. Those brief downward glances were subtle expressions of a wounded man’s exasperation. Thirty-seven years of hardened managerial experience couldn’t hide a sense of powerlessness. As his version of the story wove its way through the course of events, it became clear that there was no intention to hide his solemnity.
His stated intent was to set the record straight, but it would not have been possible for his version of the story to so masterfully take control of a crisis with multiple fronts without the emotional content of his words. History, identity, and legacy were at stake. Presenting the facts as “we understand them” addressed the immediate circumstances and framed the future by anticipating the questions and criticism that would certainly follow in the aftermath, regardless of outcome.
The first front was the defense of club’s position through the tradition of paternal benevolence of which he is the pillar. Every Manchester United player is an equal part. They will be taken care of, looked after, and supported in difficult periods on and off the pitch.
Ferguson spent almost a third of the press conference addressing Rooney’s recent “ankle injury” through the context of this familial bond as policy.
The success of Arséne Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson is evident on the pitch, but must also be attributed to skills applied throughout the numerous aspects of the trade.
“The manager is a strong guide inside the club and has to establish his authority and demonstrate he is in complete control.”
“I met with David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad.” -Wayne Rooney
In the span of a week, Wayne Rooney, all but certain to leave Manchester United, had suddenly pledged his loyalty by signing a new long-term contract. The story was resolved as quickly as broke into crisis. It burned fast, gave off bright light and wavy trails of smoke like fireworks or a dying star.
For a week, this Rooney saga proved the juiciest, for it was a football scandal through in through—highlighting the power of the player, the declining power of the football manager, the seedy puppetmastery of the shadow agent, and the illogical financial calculus of a club in precarious times.
Within a few days of the story breaking, Sir Alex Ferguson gave a great press conference. He maneuvered skillfully, with a knife between smiling teeth, to position and influence the perception of himself, the club, and Rooney.
By the time the six-minute speech concluded, there was near consensus that the relationship between player and manager had become irreparable. Rooney would be off to Real Madrid, Chelsea, or, God forbid, Manchester City.
The press conference, which was closer to the briefing of a statesman, aimed to reassert his control over a situation with a number of unpredictable outcomes. He had to cover all of his bases, anticipate countermoves by Rooney, fans, and the media. He walked the finest of lines. Despite the brilliance of his efforts and broad exertion of control, the intricate maneuvering indicated that he was unsure how it would all end.
Rooney’s public criticism of Manchester United’s decline in combination with Ferguson’s press conference very quickly presented a story where it appeared that the media had no need to fill the scandal’s holes with the thinnest of speculation. The facts were hard and required little stretching. Everything between manager and favorite son had been laid bare. The only speculative element lay in where Rooney would go.
Arséne Wenger’s comments about the crisis, recorded the day before Ferguson’s press conference, were matter-of-fact. “Rooney is a great player. I am convinced he will stay at Manchester United because it is his club. They have the power to keep him.”
One hundred and forty characters is sufficient to get footballers into trouble, bring them closer to fans, and offer a little insight into their lives.
Jack Wilshere opened a Twitter account.
September 30th 2010, Wilshere— Hello.
A tentative start. Is there anyone out there to acknowledge him? A few hours later he looks forward to the release of the video game FIFA 11. This concludes his first day as a twitter.
October 1st. He posts a blurry cell phone photo-portrait from the back seat of a car. He doesn’t appear contorted by his outstretched arm pointing the camera back at him. He also doesn’t have the self-portrait face people often make when taking pictures of themselves.
He could be sharing a ride with someone who took the photo with his phone, or he framed it to look like someone took the photo. It’s another introduction, but now embedded with a reply, even if staged. He’s still unsure if he really does exists in this techno-social thing.
He’s also concerned about those out there who might be mistaking him for an imposter. October 3rd, Wilshere— I can assure u this is the real jack wilshere.. I will upload a pic of my hotel room before the chelsea game!
Wilshere commits his next three tweets —via web and then via Twitter for Blackberry— to establishing that this twitter emits from the real Jack Wilshere. The first two are texts. The third is a photo taken in the hotel room before the Chelsea game, just as he assured us.
Wilshere holds an A1-sized sign with his twitter address, underscored with his signature, and under this it says “The Real Twitter”, which authenticates him beyond doubt. If he’s tentative, he’s also deliberate and sincere.
Tweeting his own twitter address as an image is the length he’s gone to proves he’s the real Jack Wilshere as he navigates his emergence as a public figure. Unless he travels with a tripod, it was necessary to have someone take this important photo.
Nicola Zigic scores his first Permier League goal and Jack Wilshere his frist Premier League red card.
The first thirty-three minutes could have been a replay from any number of games. For the first thirty-two Arsenal controlled the game, but couldn’t score. Then from a routine cross, Nicola Zigic scores off a header to put Birmingham ahead.
As soon as Zigic deplaned on English soil he became the the tallest player in the league. Johan Djourou, marking Zigic on the cross, stands at 6’4″, and was out-jumped. No one should be able to jump higher than Zigic who looks more like a foreign-born NBA player. His height advantage is a one-dimensional threat that can only be neutralized by denying his head the opportunity to touch the ball. With this in mind, why would Arsenal permit such a breezy cross to waft into the penalty box?
Defensive disorganization. Eboue uselessly stands at the edge of the penalty box forcing Nasri (top left) to defend too deeply, leaving Jeff Fahey (off screen to the left) unmarked and with time to cross the ball in to Zigic.
Eight minutes later Arsenal equalize off a Samir Nasri penalty. Scott Dann’s foul was soft on replay, but little contact is necessary when a trip comes in low. Unfortunately, Marouane Chamakh felt the need to sell the foul, albeit without much conviction. The penalty was well taken by Nasri, but credit belongs to Jack Wilshere who, from forty meters out, cut through Birmingham’s spine with determined penetration and a perfectly timed pass.
Wilshere was also responsible for setting up Arsenal’s second goal. Off a poor Liam Ridgewell clearance, Wilshere deflected the ball to Alex Song who flicked it back to Wilshere. He again controlled the ball with his chest and found Chamakh for the winner.
Wilshere’s injury time red card for a studs-up lunge on Zigic dampened what was otherwise a fantastic performance in Cesc Fabregas’ absence. It wasn’t a particularly ugly tackle, but lunging studs-up, even if benign, justifiably warrants a sending-off.
Prior to the match, there was the feeling that the events and outcomes of the match would be eerily similar to the previous encounters, which turned out to be true in part, because those anxious feeling have invested it. Supporters feel this way, so the players must feel it like bolts in the skull.
‘It will be an open game, but it will be about us, not them.’—Bacary Sagna
Where does the weight of Arsenal’s recent history lie? In what form? Heading into the international break after another defeat to Chelsea, Arsenal’s reflective period will be extended and fractured along trajectories of individual travel. Each will have the introspective duration to wrestle questions within the secure privacy of noise reduction headphones.
Could it lie in the senses? This most recent loss tastes acrid again. The memory of the game is immediately offensive and unpalatable, like a cat’s recoil from lemon wedges or toothpaste. The crowd erupted from Alex’s goal before the wall could turn around and watch—helpless to witness their fate. The taste vapors feel both hot and cold moving up into the nose and back down and tasted in the throat.
Arsenal’s pre-game squad sheet differed little from the broken lines on the palm of a dead man walking. There was already indication of the fate hiding just around the corner, just beyond the edges of a squad sheet without the names of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, and Theo Walcott. Another game against Chelsea without a full healthy squad.
Could the burden then lie in the statistics, which convey the truth until they don’t? Eight months ago, Arsenal also lost 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. Then it was a mercy killing by Didier Drogba who scored both goals inside twenty minutes; the first strike to the brain, the second to the heart of a fragile Arsenal team. Before the game was a quarter over, Arsenal could be declared terminal. Chelsea at their clinical best.
Going into this fixture, Chelsea have lost 2 of the last 15 games against Arsenal, due overwhelmingly to Drogba scoring 12 goals in his 10 matches against them. Did he have to score by back heel off a low tricky cross?
Could the weight be found in the writhing slug that wormed its way into a dark and damp Arsenal psyche? The mind is tied in knots or separated from the self it knows, or the self it expects to be. Is something subversive being whispered from inside the head? Is there a sense of inferiority, a subordination or meekness, from where a history is perversely augmented into something no longer historical, but cosmically predetermined? Koscielny was inside, but tight to Drogba and it didn’t matter.
A battle of film genres.
A bright sunny day in southern Italy was witness to Lecce hosting Catania. In other words, 1970s Italian crime drama meets its more glamorous 1960s predecessor.
Spoiler: Lecce manager Luigi De Canio, playing the gritty cop, bested the more fragile-looking and intellectually disposed Catania manager, Marco Giampaolo 1–0.