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Louie Van Gaal not Loving the Leonardo Love-In

Inter Milan manager, Leonardo, stated that his natural fit is working behind the scenes of a club, which comes as a surprise as the Brazilian has won-over the fans and players lost under Rafa Benitez.



Barcelona 3—Arsenal 1

Robin van Persie’s sending-off for time wasting threatens to turn the philosophical aphorism That is football into a joke.

Robin van Persie realizing that he’d just been sent off for time wasting.

The argument over which league is the best in the world is truly one of the most absurd held today. Since it can never be tested, the contest remains purely speculative and completely open-ended. But it is also one of the more interesting arguments for its ability to pull in criteria lying well beyond the pitch. In fact, it can’t stay on the pitch. It is a football argument with a long cultural reach.

People weigh in wholeheartedly with unsubstantiated positions; one’s feelings are sufficient once declared. Others set about on quixotic analyses, devising classifications and headings, measuring factors and assigning them values. Anything and everything from anywhere is used to make the case; style, individual skill, recent club domestic and European success, league parity, where the best players play, league and club financial strength (from television rights to tax codes), international appeal, fan attendance, stadium atmosphere, governance, weather. In the end this is just a thought experiment no matter the weight given to global finance or Ronaldo step-overs.

There will always be disagreements and irreconcilable positions when it comes to who is the best player in the world, which is the best team, the greatest XI, the best Cup final. A manager’s strategy, a starting eleven, a substitution, or a referee’s call will be endlessly contentious. There will always be tireless (and tiresome) arguments about football matches for as long as there are football matches, from the course of a match’s unfolding events to what should have happened and what didn’t happen.

Football prides itself on indeterminacy. It is the only condition where competing truths of subjective experiences and the emotions of partisan loyalties can co-exist. Multiple perspectives are validated by their inability to be disproved. Somewhere along the way, discussions and arguments break free from the point-by-point rhetoric and float around inconclusively.

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Arsenal 2—Barcelona 1

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.

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