A tale of a season’s two halves for Blackpool's first ride through the Premier League may have to go unpublished, at least for this week, as they beat Tottenham 3—1.
Blackpool made their case as survivors in the months of November and December by losing once in eight matches. The cold winter that forced the cancellation of two home fixtures in a half-built stadium couldn’t disrupt a team whose mantra is “Progress.” The cruelty, inflicted on most newcomers, finally caught up to Blackpool in January and February of the New Year, which witnessed an immediate dip in form.
The sudden reversal of fortune is difficult to characterize. All that changed was the calendar. Although the potential loss of Charlie Adam was a disruption, Blackpool kept the squad together through the hunting season of the transfer window.
The year 2010 was undoubtedly Blackpool’s year. In Chinese astrology, 2010 was the year of the Tiger. Composed of fire and wood, the Tiger burns brightly and strongly. The Tiger possesses boundless energy and is insanely competitive. Brave and courageous, he loves a fight and is always up for a challenge. He is a natural leader with farsighted strategies. The Tiger can be volatile, but always lands on his feet.
Unfortunately, the year 2011 is the year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit is diplomatic, seeks peace and a leisurely pace in life. He is considerate of others. The Rabbit is the Tiger’s tonic. In the Premier League, the Rabbit may not fare too well. An explanation for Blackpool’s slide as solid as any other.
Coming into the home match against a hot hot Tottenham side, the ninth league game of the new year, Blackpool had won only one—the rescheduled home game against Liverpool and lost seven (five by one goal), which included a five-match losing streak.
The emergence of a tale of two halves for Blackpool's first ride through the Premier League may have to go unpublished, at least for this week as they beat Tottenham 3—1.
Blackpool has made their case as survivors in the months of November and December by losing once in eight matches. The cold winter that forced the cancellation of two home fixtures couldn’t disrupt a team whose mantra is “Progress.” Cruelty tidily was pushed back to January and February of the New Year, which witnessed an immediate dip in form. Coming into the home match against a hot hot Tottenham side, the ninth league game of the new year, Blackpool had won only one—the rescheduled home game against Liverpool and lost seven (five by one goal), which included a five-match losing streak.
But the match turned out to be arguably the game of the round. Blackpool stayed true to an attacking strategy that had proved successful thus far and won supporters far outside Lancashire. It can be seen as bold, blind, or sensible to remain faithful to an approach deemed risky for a promoted team with a porous defense and doubly so against a freewheeling and confident Tottenham side that drools at the sight of open space.
But the formula nearly produced a perfect outcome. Only an own goal in stoppage time prevented Blackpool from recording their first clean sheet of the season and spared Tottenham the shame of the first not to score at Bloomfield Road. This would have come as a surprise if the match statistics were somehow presented beforehand. Tottenham recorded twenty-six goal attempts, although only five were on target. Regardless, these numbers qualifies as an onslaught that Blackpool was able to withstand, if only due to the aid of Tottenham’s profligacy.
The highlight of the match was Blackpool’s second goal, a product of winter transfers. The experienced James Beattie and unknown Sergei Kornilenko (one must ask where he came from?) connected through back heel and flawless cross to produce a goal of the season for DJ Campbell. To call the sequence Barcelona light would be condescension. This was a dreamy goal, the signature of Blackpool. It is unfortunate that a single sequence of beauty isn’t enough to guarantee Blackpool a second season in the league, for the entertainment and sheer joy they bring to fans and neutrals in moments like this is invaluable.
The on-loan striker makes a lasting impression for both of his clubs.
Carlos Vela scored his first goal for West Brom in stoppage time to mark a dramatic 1—1 finish to the first Barclays Premier League Black Country derby on the 157th occasion.
Arguably considered the best derby on the planet, there is no better way to endear yourself to a new club and new manager than in the midst of a relegation battle with a local rival. This is the kind of contribution that Vela has lacked in his time at Arsenal. Most of his Arsenal goals have come as a late substitute once the match has been decided.
What could be equally valuable for the tender striker was the confidence in his play leading up to the goal. There is no question that Vela is a technically gifted player with pace and an incredible left foot. Unfortunately, for all the skill and talent, there are indications that he is somewhat of an airhead. He missed last year’s Champions league away game at Barcelona because he lost his passport. It’s hard to say whether or not he misplaced it just before leaving town or had no idea where it was and waited until the last minute to search for it. Either way, Vela had learned his lesson. Before the World Cup, he revealed that he now took his passport to bed with him.
For every time he chips the goalkeeper, there is a missed opportunity requiring less expertise. At times he thinks too slowly or refuses to use his right foot. For stretches of a game he will be peripheral, as if the game itself was an unknown language, but then without notice he will do something incisive and exquisite.
Arsenal’s commitment to play Barcelona’s game was a risky strategy, but in all likelihood was the only one to pursue.
Robin van Persie celebrates equalizer with Arséne Wenger. A rare moment of public affection indicative of meaning and importance the match has for the team.
Only on the surface can the luck of the draw account for Arsenal having to face Barcelona in the Champions League unnamed knockout round. Without the quarter- or semi- to measure respectability, there is something ignoble about the generic, but consequential defeat.
Certainly the rule that teams from the same league cannot face each other at this stage of the tournament—four of the eight are Premier League teams—raised the probability of meeting them, those godly ones who don’t even have to be angry to defeat you.
This would have been irrelevant if Arsenal hadn’t compounded the chances by finishing second in the group stage. Bubbling balls ejected from a large clear vessel do not expose the cruelty of chance. Drawing Barcelona was also of Arsenal’s own doing. Their poor run of form through the latter matches of the group stage, peaking with a full-blown hamstring injury in the mind at Sporting Braga, was a display of free will far more determining than the whim of chance outcomes.
Two years running in the Champions League, and three of the last six Champions League knockout rounds, Arsenal will have faced Barcelona in a knockout round. For Arsenal, the results don’t look to be heading in the right direction—first the 2006 final, then the 2010 quarterfinal, and now possibly the round of 16. Arsenal’s pathologies seasonally recur and flare like bad allergies. Facing Barcelona again gives Arsenal another opportunity to cast out the demons or repeat traumatic experience. Arséne Wenger does not flinch from any challenge; when enshrouded in the belief zone he invites it. Maybe some part of them wanted to finish the group stage in second.
Arsenal surrender four-goal lead to Newcastle in a match that qualifies as inexplicable event.
As we know the most consistent team in the end will make it and that’s what is at stake… -Arséne Wenger
The fear of going on the record is that matter-of-fact words can come back to bite, most cruelly when they refer to a record, for no team in Premier League history has come back from four goals down to expose the inconsistency of looking hapless one week and title contenders the next.
Inconsistency is usually reserved for deviations, the kind found in a restaurant’s food or an airline’s flight arrivals, but with Arsenal it encompasses total collapse. This is one observation of many to be taken from Arsenal’s 4—4 draw with Newcastle.
Endless commentary is born from an event without explanation. Leading 3—0 after ten minutes, 4—0 after 26 minutes, and 4—2 after 75 minutes places the event at St. James Park under this heading. Every frailty, psychosis, trauma, and biting criticism that has come to define Arsenal in recent seasons had it larvae hatch simultaneously. Incubated in catastrophe, the monsters have emerged healthy and strong. Nevertheless, not one is sufficient to explain what happened in the last 25 minutes of this match. In combination, a clearer picture begins to emerge, but still falls short of explaining what pushes human reason and scientific capacities to understand and interpret to a limit.
Catastrophe modeling is accompanied by the caveat that no matter how intricately a set of data is studied, there will always be unpredictability. There will be some tiny happening that plays a role in the course of events that goes unrecorded or undefined. The events that lead to surrendering a four-goal lead probably exceed the observable explanations such as lack of focus, defensive weakness, lack of confidence, the inability to recover, Abu Diaby’s red card, a soft penalty by Laurent Koscielny, a mystifying second penalty again by Koscielny, and Johan Djourou’s injury. These constitute a similar set of criteria used to analyze the 3—2 loss to Tottenham after leading 2—0. Not only was this the former great catastrophic loss of the season, but a third league defeat at home in seven. By this point, if not sooner, the team’s black box should have been recovered and thoroughly examined.
Cesc Fábregas captaincy has taken on a different tone this season. An increasing petulance may be seen as an attempted evolution of his role or an unintended sign of frustration and waning faith in his club.
A recent piece by Dominic Fifield rightly takes a look at a string of recent confrontations and unsportsmanlike comments involving Cesc Fábregas. None have been scandalous, but the frequency, coming in the last three Arsenal matches, can’t help but raise questions.
First, there was the rugby indictment of Ipswitch following Arsenal’s 3—0 Carling Cup win. Five days later, in the FA Cup win over Huddersfield Town, it was reported that two Huddersfield players approached Fábregas for his jersey and instead of the traditional exchanging, Fábregas told the players to “fuck off”. Finally, on the following Tuesday, against Everton, David Moyes accused Fábregas of a “disgusting” rant in the tunnel at halftime. Apparently in reference to the referee’s bad call, which lead to Everton’s first goal, it was reported that Fábregas indiscriminately shouted, “How much have you been paid?”
Fifield places these spats in the context of Fábregas’ confrontations over the years to sketch an emerging picture of an unlikable personality threatening to tarnish his and the club’s image. Three confrontations in as many games are peculiar, and searching for an explanation correctly looks to the history of the Spaniard’s outbursts to account for the frequency.
Before determining a dark streak runs through Fábregas, the frequent displays of petulance may be derived from other sources.
The three recent outbursts may be the most conspicuous displays of consistently subtle feistiness as a means to impose his presence. Far more than in seasons past, Fábregas has committed harsher fouls (the late tackle on Wolves' Stephen Ward) and been up in the faces of opposing players. On an opposition throw-in he’ll toss the ball to the side or on a free kick poke the ball away a little further than acceptable. In general, he’s far less warm on the field.