29 August 2011

Arsenal's Silver Lining

It hasn't been a great opening to the '11-'12 season for my favorite soccer teams.  In Scotland, Celtic have failed to impress, lost at home to a team other than Rangers (which is a rarity) and then proceed to crash out of European football at their first challenge, losing to the Swedish side Sion.  Two years in a row with no European football is worrisome, the loss of the experience against quality teams, the lost appeal to prospective players, and most important, piles of forgone income means financial tightening, which means fewer and lower quality transfers.  Across the border in England, my second favorite team, Arsenal, is going through a historic rough patch.  They lost key stars Cesc Fabregas and Samri Nasri to rival teams this summer and have failed to bring in any quality replacements, leading to angry fans and a very thin squad.  Although they just qualified for the Champions League group stage with a nice win in Udinese, fielding some very young players, fans were still nervous.  Add onto that eight players missing this last weekend's game against Manchester United, some through injury, some through suspensions.  And I use the term "game" loosely.  Manchester used it more as a technical dismantling, scoring at will and running away 8-2 winners.  This is a rivalry between two of the biggest English clubs that has produced epic battles over the years.  It is the first time Arsenal has given up eight goals in 115 years.  And, scarily enough, many article's said that Arsenal's goalkeeper was their best player on the field!  People are calling for the manager's, Arsene Wenger, head.  He took the team to its highest highs, but six years without a trophy and people forget.  Manchester's manager, and longtime rival, Sir Alex Ferguson even come out last week to support Arsene and told people to back off.  Arsenal now have only days to bring in some desperately needed reinforcements.  (Edit. I went home for lunch and this game was on so I was able to watch ~20 minutes of the game and see the first two goals and Arsenal's failed penalty kick.  Even at the 30 minute mark (with an hour left to play and 6 more goals to come), the announcer was saying that 'this could get ugly.')
The (very thin) silver lining comes in how Arsenal, the fans, the manager and the captain all handled that loss.  Arsenal is offering the 3,000 or so fans that made the road trip to the Manchester game (and stood by their team, getting louder in their solidarity as the goal barrage continued) a free ticket to another game.  Arsene has not offered excuses or pointed fingers at all after the loss, only apologized.  Robin Van Persie's statement after the game was the type of comment I like to read and one that doesn't get made enough in today's society where finger-pointing and excuses too often trump responsibility-taking. "It is an honest result if you look at the game.  It sounds crazy maybe but Manchester United were much better than us and they punished us hard. We were simply not good enough. We have to deal with that. I don't think we can hide behind injuries or suspensions. It is no excuse. They had injuries too, this is football.''

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