23 February 2013

Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa

Well, that wasn't pretty. Then again, against Stoke, what is? If you come out of a game with all limbs and internal organs intact, it's a victory of sorts. As it goes, we continue our dominance on a day when we needed three points--Liverpool tied Man City, erasing two potential points from each team's tally; Spurs only  managed a goal against West Brom, who went down to 10 men for more than 42 minutes, Everton barely tied Aston Villa on a Fellaini goal in stoppage time, and Chelsea found a way to lose to Newcastle on a last-gasp goal from new signee Moussa Sissoko. We now find ourselves a point back of Everton, four back from Spurs, and five back against an increasingly-fragile looking Chelsea. When we look at the rest of our schedule, optimism does start to creep in.

You'll only need stitches, not crutches.
As to the match, though, it was particularly gratifying to win against Stoke the way we did. They play football as if they're a bunch of American footballers who got cut and settled for proper footballing--only they keep playing by American football rules. This works particularly well against us, given our preference for niceties like passing and dribbling and being able to walk unassisted when the game's over. To see aggressiveness from Wilshere is, of course, becoming par for the course, but to see Monreal send a few bodies flying was just delish. I never wish harm on a fellow human, but this is Stoke, after all. I'm sure Walters is an upstanding member of the community, calls his mother on Sunday evenings, and nurses wounded squirrels back to health in his spare time, but he plays for a team that dishes it out, apparently as something akin to strategy. The play was clean, and the wound accidental, but it shows that we have players to willing mix it up. Similar with Arteta--his tackle on Michael Owen was crunching but well-timed, and he let Owen know that that petty little swipe wouldn't go unnoticed. Long story short--it's nice to see a few headlines after an Arsenal match that include the words "Arsenal", "steel", and "mettle", among others.

Continuing a long-standing tradition, we again met a keeper who had a MOTM kind of day. Begovic is among the best in the league, in my opinion, but he was making save after save after save. With almost any other keeper, we'd've been up 2-0 or 3-0 by halftime. Some of our finishing could have been more clinical--a few too many shots to the middle third of the goal instead of the outer thirds, but he was impenetrable nonetheless. When Podolski finally did slip the spot-kick in, deflecting it off a Stoke defender in the 78th minute, my first reaction was, "well, that was a crap goal." Then I reminded myself of how often we've been on the other end of that, and, to borrow a phrase from basketball, they're all swishes on the scoreboard. All that was left was to hold the ball and soak up what little pressure Stoke could muster (consisting largely of Shawcross lumping the ball in the general direction of Crouch. Well-played.
Blurry, but why is Walcott drifting forward? 

Before we're done, though, a last word on Walcott. He had a decent day, but the fact that he was even close to off-side on Podolski's kick is ridiculous--it continues a string of him being caught offside for no good reason. Look: if you're the last man wide on the weak side, with all of the action and defenders between you and your teammate with the ball at his feet, there is simply no excuse for being offside. Sure, if there's a weak-side defender wide of you who can decide to hold you onside or catch you off, that's understandable. If Walcott is serious about taking the next step in his development, in his mission of fulfilling his destiny (?), this is one area (among others) that he must address. Contrast his movement against, say, Giroud, who seems to have a much stronger sense of movement and timing, sliding laterally and only moving vertically after a ball is played forwards. They have similar statistics (Walcott has been called offsides 13 times in 1,400 minutes; Giroud, 14 in 1,516), but Giroud plays exclusively through the center and is more vulnerable to offside-traps and mistiming runs, while Walcott frequently plays in from the wing and (at least theoretically) should be able to keep the defensive line in front of him--he's also receiving a hefty number of his touches as direct passes from Sagna to his feet or into open space to chase down, while Giroud is receiving lofted passes into the heart of the defense. At any rate, back to the issue at hand, why on earth would Walcott drift offside? I admire his desire to scoop up a potential rebound, but he's gotta be smarter than that. Is he trying to protect his status as top goal-scorer? Does he resent Podolski for getting to take the shot? I like Walcott; I genuinely do, but thank the referee for making the right call to preserve the goal. I hope someone has a chat with Theo, if only on this one instance if not on the concept in general.
Right, then. We travel to Sunderland, whom we tied at home in week one. This is another winnable game. Spurs host Newcastle while Everton travel to Old Trafford. We should, at a minimum, keep pace if not pull even with Everton...

22 February 2013

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa Preview

With yesterday's news that Sagna will be out for a few weeks with a knee injury, we go into Saturday's match against Aston Villa with a threadbare back line. Gibbs is still out, and Koscielny is nursing an injury of his own. We therefore will probably have to go with Monreal, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, and Jenkinson. Benteke, who stands 6'3" (1.9m), has scored 11 goals across 20 Prem games, including six goals in his last five. After that, though, there's a considerable drop-off. Out-of-favor Darren Bent has scored four in seven games, and Agbonlahor has scored three in thirteen games. Therefore, if we can keep a close eye on Benteke, we can go a long way towards holding their attack at bay. Starting Giroud up top so that he can drop down for corners might be a nice touch, as would playing Podolski, not so much for his height but for his finishing, his pace, and his connection with Giroud, which has deepened as the season progresses. In midfield, I agree with arseblog when he says that we should see Rosický start. Between he and Wilshere, we need some boys who can put Villa back on their heels, and Tomáš is just that kind of guy. We'll come back to that in a moment.

Truth be told, though, this is the kind of game that we should just win without dithering so much about who starts. I won't descend into the lower depths of our pathos this year, though. As rough as a week as it's been with two losses, we're still on a strong run in the Premier League. We've won seven of our last ten with two draws (Liverpool and Southampton) and one loss to Man City--a game in which Koscielny drew a red-card for showing too much affection to Dzeko in the 9th minute. In other words, despite the doom and gloom that we've bandied about, I expect a strong showing Saturday, not least because Aston Villa have struggled, but because we go into the last third of the season knowing that we have just one goal left to achieve. Speaking at the pre-game press conference, Wenger said, "we know we are in a position where we cannot afford to drop points" and "we have to prepare ourselves for a battle."  This is true--Villa is facing relegation, holding precariously to 17th and just a point above Reading. Despite this position, they have been tough on the road, with one win, three draws, and one loss (a 8-0 shellacking at Chelsea). They've come away with a draw at Merseyside and a win at Anfield, so our boys had better be alert.

Between Wilshere, Rosicky, and Podolski, I think they'll create the kind of urgency and determination to get us off to a strong start. As much as I'd like to see Walcott up top, I prefer Podolski's willingness to drop down to create attacks over Walcott's preference to look for the ball to come to him. Let's see the boys come out strong, focused, and, yeah, a little angry and put the Acorns on their collective duffs with a goal or two in the first 15 minutes. Instead of groveling and scrabbling for the crumbs that fall from the top of the table, it's high time we start shoving others out of our way and seizing what we want--not because "we're Arsenal" and we're "supposed" to be there as some kind of birthright, but because we're not going to let the likes of Spurs or anyone else beat us to it. I"m tired of the grim calculus of how many points are available and which games we  must/should/hope to win (but I'll continue to obsess, of course). It's time to rise up and start clobberin' those who stand in our way. If nothing else, we could all use a little catharsis, a little purging of the anger and frustration that have built up over the last week or so. Sorry, Aston Villa, but you're looking like the scapegoat of the moment.

Right. Let's do this.

21 February 2013

Of Knees and Needs

Well, I hate to say "I told you so", especially when I didn't quite tell anyone in so many words, but news out today is that Bacary Sagna injured his knee and won't play on Saturday against Aston Villa. No word on whether this is the same leg that Sagna had surgery on and has struggled with in recent months.

It's like I almost said in the build-up to the match Bayern--rest some key players to keep us at full-strength for 4th place. The UCL is a distraction at this point, even more so after the 3-1 loss. Would Sagna's absence have made matters any worse? Probably not by much, as both goals came from the left side, and Bayern was largely content to sit back for most of the second half to protect that lead. Maybe Sagna had injured his knee before Mandzurik's goal, or worse, on the actual play. I know that I didn't actually call for Sagna himself to be rested, because he did sit against Blackburn a few days before, but it's still upsetting to see that a key player will be out as we head into the home stretch. We should be able to maintain against Villa, but we have a trip to White Hart Lane after that to prepare for as well.

On-field issues aside, I hope that this doesn't complicate contract-talks. This just adds to the obstacles to Sagna getting a new deal--a leg that has broken twice inside of 14 months, a nagging knee injury (and this new one?), and a 30th birthday already in the rearview mirror (one week ago, in fact). As I said last week, he is to me one of the faces of Arsenal. Maybe his age and injuries will prevent him from pushing forward on attack, but he has shown that he can play in the center. At 5'9" (1.76m), he may lack the height of Mertesacker, Vermaelen, or Koscielny, but he has amply shown his aerial ability. Heck, I'm ready to switch him and Vermaelen now. Another thought for another day.

Without him for next week and with Gibbs still weeks away, and we now have to figure out who to throw on--Koscielny is still a bit gimpy but available, so we have Monreal, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, and an open right-back spot. Our options:
  1. Drop Ramsey to the back.
  2. Bring on Jenkinson, now available after his red-card against Sunderland.
  3. Call up Miquel.
  4. Throw on Squillaci.
Aston Villa will throw an in-form Benteke at whoever mans the ramparts, so we'd better be ready. Make your recommendation below the fold...

19 February 2013

Arsenal 1-3 Bayern: Postmortem

Well, after a frantic first half in which we set a record for quickest goal we've conceded in UCL play and generally looked like a bunch of chickens running around with their heads cut off, the second half showed a more composed but still aggressive Arsenal bunch. In the first half, everything just seemed to go Bayern's way--the bounces of the ball, the blows of the whistle, the strategy--and for us to have gone in at the half down "only" 0-2 was actually far-better than we'd have a right to hope for. The frustration of being down 0-2 showed as we earned four yellow-cards, three for deliberate fouls of frustration and one for a reckless challenge, not to mention a few non-calls from an inconsistent ref. It was, as one commentator put it, a "men vs. boys" kind of first half. As I mentioned in the halftime report, our defenders were pouring too far forward and were then getting caught in Bayern's counters--ironically, just the kind of strategy I'd hoped for against Bayern, if not Blackburn. So it goes. Going in to the second half actually saw us balance out. While Bayern sat back a little more, content to keep four or even five men back on defense, we did assert ourselves, passing and pressing and generally looking like a proper football team. Podolski scored a nifty goal ten minutes in, heading home into an empty net during a corner-kick scramble.

All of a sudden, it looked like a tighter match. Bayern, however, awoke from their self-induced torpor and started creating chances. When Mandzukic "scored" in the 77th minute, my initial notes included remarks like "crap goal", "worst goal I've ever seen", "wouldn't've counted in billiards" and so on. He slid onto a cross that made its way across the goal-mouth and somehow squirted it straight up into the air while he tumbled into the back of the net--surely the first time the scorer hit the netting before the ball was even in. There were a lot of breakdowns leading up to this: Vermaeleen overcommits to Robben's left, leaving open the entire left side for Lahm to run on to Robben's pass, Koscielny makes little effort to block Lahm's cross while Woj stays on his line, and Sagna lets Mandzukic get inside for the touch. Just ugly all the way around. I want to say it came against the run of play, but that's overselling it. It was ugly and lucky, but that doesn't matter. It took a lot of the wind out of our sails and means we have to go to the Allianz Arena to win by three if we expect to advance. The question already becomes, will we even show up? There are interesting parallels to last year's encounter with AC Milan; sadly, the miracle we need has to happen away from home this time, and it looks more and more like the trophy-less streak will continue, sad to say, and the calls for Wenger to resign will strengthen.

In this second half, we showed grit and determination enough to move forward. Wilshere, in another performance soon to be described with the phrase "as always", drove the team forward. In the last 15 minutes, I don't think I saw a forward push that started without him. He regularly received or just plain got the ball near midfield and drove up-field. His give-and-go with Rosicky, laying the ball off to Rosicky at the top of the 18 and then running onto Rosicky's pass, for example, very nearly led to a goal, and it was his corner that led to Podolski's goal. Teammates clearly look to him as the engine of this team, each match, especially ones like this when more-experienced players look to be out of depth further proves that Arsenal's future is bright as long as he's in it.

On that note, then, it was inspiring to hear the chants of "Let's go, Arsenal" at the end of the first half and the singing to bring the game to a close. While it's not quite Irish fans singing "Fields of Athenry" in the last five minutes of a loss to Spain, it shows that we do have some fighting spirit during one of the toughest stretches of one of the toughest stretches (not a typo, I meant to repeat myself) we've been through in a while. This is a result I feared but also am not all that upset about. In fact, I'm stoic in my acceptance. I had encouraged us to throw on a team that would allow us to rest , but Podolski, bless his heart, gave me something to pull for even though it disappeared far too quickly. This was not an unpleasant surprise or even a disappointment, in my eyes. We ran into a team that is perhaps inspired by its loss to Chelsea in last year's UCL final.

Let's turn our attention to Aston Villa on Saturday. We need some catharsis, and if this comes at the price of shoving the Acorns down into the relegation zone, so be it.

Arsenal 0-2 Bayern: Halftime Report

Well, things got off to an ugly start with Bayern scoring on a beautiful volley in the 6th minute. Kroos hammered a cross from about 20 yards out, and it curled past Woj, who had little to do but flail at it. It was a quality strike, no doubt about it, and it put as on our heels. 

I did't like how much we were pressing up the field, even before the first goal. The defense in particular has been caught out. Someone has to take Vermaelen to the side, and to a lesser extent, Sagna, and ask them to stay home. Too often, we poured forward in too many numbers and got caught with only two or three defenders at midfield to joust for a 50-50 when Bayern cleared. What seemed to happen was that Walcott, to his credit, was running his head off, but in the process was outrunning his teammates. By the time they catch up, Walcott has lost the ball and it got cleared over our midfielders just as they'd catch up.

In the 20th minute, Bayern's second goal showed much less quality.  A corner went inside the six, which Woj parried only for Müller to beat his mark (Ramsey, from the looks of it strike that, it's Arteta) to volley home from about two yards off the line.

A number of players have been booked already--Vermaelen for a reckless change, and Arteta and Sagna for frustrated ones. Sagna is lucky to have not picked up a second yellow for a challenge in the 38th minute after clattering a Bayern defender because he (Sagna) didn't get a call when he went down in Bayern's 18.

The referee passed on what would have been a decent spot-kick just outside the 18, for what it's worth.

Not a whole lot else to say, here. Bayern look to be firmly in control. Not much positive can be said here, although I seriously disagree with the boos from the crowd that came at the whistle. We are playing the 2012 runners-up, after all, and they are currently playing some of the best football in Europe.

Let's hope the second half yields a rally similar to those we've mustered in the second halves of so many other games this year

COYG!

Arsenal vs. Bayern Preview

I won't lie. I probably won't have the guts to watch this one. As much as I hope we can continue our strong form in the home legs of UCL matches in the knock-out rounds, whether it's a near-miraculous comeback last year against AC Milan, crushing Porto by five, or beating Barcelona 2-1. The statistics, this year more than most, not to mention the momentum, just don't give us much to hang our hats on, as the saying goes. The nearest proxy I can find is that Bayern has beaten Schalke, a team we lost at home 0-2 and tied away 2-2, by scores of 2-0 and 4-0. Schalke may have done well enough to qualify for this year's UCL, but this year sees them sitting 9th, scrabbling for Europa League qualifying. Our struggles against them do not bode well. Bayern, by contrast, has lost just two games in all competitions, having conceded seven Bundesliga goals while scoring 57. While it's true that they've conceded seven goals in six UCL matches (including three to BATE Borisov), this still leaves them conceding 15 goals in 35 matches while scoring 72 (including domestic cups, Bundesliga, and UCL). For what it's worth, all of this scoring has happened with Arjen "Ray of Sunshine" Robben sulks on the bench. May that be both the first and last times that the words "Arjen", "Robben", and "sulks" all appear in one sentence--from my lips to God's ears.

It's with that in mind that we ponder our defense, porous as ever and just as prone to conceding silly goals. Koscielny is still limping, and Monreal is cup-tied. That leaves us with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Sagna, and...Jenkinson? Miquel? Coquelin has played back there, but I'd prefer to see Ramsey drop back as he did  against Sunderland. The other gents are fine as far as they go, but given that I'd like to see us borrow from "lesser" teams (and let's face it, at least in this leg, we are the lesser of the two teams) and get behind the ball and wait for counters, and Ramsey is better-equipped to trigger and participate in those counters. With Ramsey joining Sagna, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen, we can then field Arteta, Cazorla, Diaby, and Wilshere  in midfield and throw on Podolski with Walcott up top.

I rather like the idea of Podolski up top, having a crack at his former team. He says that there are no hard feelings after his less-than-stellar time with Bayern, but I'm sure that, deep down, he does have something to prove. He has settled in nicely with us but hasn't played in the last two games. I hope this is down to minor injury or strategy over a possible falling-out. Whether he has any kind of insider-knowledge from his time with Bayern or the German national team is cute to consider but unlikely to yield much. The pace that he brings, not to mention that wicked left-foot, might add nicely to the counter-attacks that I think we should wait for. Bayern is a very cross-happy team, so I think that having some speed up top can take advantage of clearances to create counter-attacks.. Anam at Arseblog has written about the fear that Walcott struck into Dante's heart when they met in the Brazil-England friendly, and although that performance has rightly put Walcott on Heyncke's radar, adding a second  attacker with pace and finishing (sorry, Gervinho) might just keep us in this one.

Last thought before the match, t-minus 5 hours, 41 minutes: I rather like the "fire" that Wenger "unleashed" on the press during Monday's press conference. Depending on who you ask, he's on his way out a year early or about to sign a new deal. In either case, it's nice to see a little bit of passion instead of that French sang-froid. Nothing like being cornered to bring out a little of the beast within. It's almost enough to convince me that we should press ahead with the UCL. After all, it's just as realistic as winning the Prem.

My prediction: Arsenal 1-0. Yours?

18 February 2013

Mt. St. Arsene Erupts!!! A Veritable Volcano "Unleashes its fury!!!'"

Oh, my stars and garters! Bring me some smelling salts! I do declare, I have the vapors!

Apparently, Arsene Wenger completely erupted at Monday's press conference before Tuesday's UCL match against Bayern Munich, venting unmercilessly on poor, hapless reporters whose only fault was their unflinching commitment to the truth. It's enough to make me want to reconsider my advice to Arsene. Good God, if he's going to treat credentialed reporters in this uncouth manner, what unholy pain would he inflict on me, a petty part-time blogger? Maybe I should delete this whole blog and go crawl back under the rock from whence I emerged.

Oh wait. I just watched the video. It's three minutes long. For two and a half minutes, it's just Arsene answering questions. Then, he gets a little terse. After that, he really dials it up and gets brusque. Then, as if 20 centuries of manners and politeness never existed, he interrupts someone. You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Civilization itself. I mean, if a man can't remain perfectly calm and unflappable, no matter how persistent others are in prying, what are we left with? We might as well go back to clubbing mastodons.

Look, I get it. Managers are not supposed to let reporters' questions get to them. Wenger's reaction has been described in terms like so: he "erupts", "vents fury", and "Wenger meltdown".

Do you want to see testy? Do you want to see an eruption? Here's a meltdown, while we're at it. Heck, here's a top ten. Look, I'm not a professional reporter. I'm not even pretending to be one. All I'm saying is that, before you say that a coach "erupted", maybe you should scan your own memory, or, I don't know, do some research, to establish a bit of perspective.

At worst, Wenger displays a thin skin. Perhaps he should be a little less self-deprecating in the future so that any subsequent "outbursts" seem tamer? I've seen bigger blow-ups in the check-out line of a supermarket. A coach getting impatient with a reporter's off-topic questions (yes, I know that the loss to Blackburn is significant, but this was a UCL press-conference) hardly lives up to its billing.

At the end of the day, a tempest in a teapot. Thoughts?

Throwin' in the Towel against Bayern

delightful shade of orange, innit?
Time to put the defeat to Blackburn defeat behind us. It's not like winning would guarantee a trophy. There would still be Chelsea, Man City, and Man U to contend with, among others. Maybe, then, it's for the better to have crashed out now instead of getting to the final and losing there. Maybe. It's probably for the best to ignore the FA Cup for now. One last thought on it, though, inspired by Wenger's comments after the loss. He said, "Maybe [the players] thought, 'Ok. we're playing at home against Blackburn. It will be difficult, but we will win." It's a bit too tidy in my mind to blame the players so exclusively. As I previously mentioned, subbing out six regulars sends a message from the manager about the game's importance. Every player in the room looks at the starting XI and thinks, "Oh, this isn't such a big deal. Look who's starting." Sure, Wenger and Bould probably got up and talked up the importance of the game, but this ends up looking like a "do as I say, not as I do" kind of moment. We reaped what we sowed on Saturday. While I sympathize with the belief in keeping players fresh for Tuesday's UCL match with Bayern, I don't respect it.

A few weeks ago, our priorities were as follows:
  1. place 4th or higher in the EPL
  2. win the FA Cup
  3. make progress in the UCL.
Now that priority #2 is off the table, option #1 should be our focus. The same logic that was misapplied to roster selection against Blackburn--keep key players fresh for an important game--should now be properly applied to roster selection against Bayern. We face Aston Villa on Saturday, 2/23. Before we scoff at a team that sits one point above relegation, the Acorns tied us at Villa Park, beat Liverpool at Anfield, and tied Everton at Merseyside. Given our needs and prospects, I'd say that Wenger should, at a minimum, rest the five regulars who started against Blackburn--Vermaelen, Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Giroud. To that list, I'd add Wilshere due to nagging injury. This may amount to throwing in the towel. So it goes. Last year, in similar circumstances, we threw on a strong starting XI against AC Milan and came out on the short side of a 4-0 score. Bayern currently sits 15 points clear in the Bundesliga with an even-more impressive 57-7 goal differential. Seven goals conceded in 22 games. Wow.

However, I'm not awe-struck by Bayern. I'm impressed, but that's not what this is about. This is about the bigger picture. Even if we beat Bayern, we'd still have to run a gauntlet that could include the likes of PSG, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man U, and Juventus. At the risk of splitting hairs, I'm being realistic without being pessimistic. Our remaining slate of Prem games, which is a known, is far more promising than our potential slate of future UCL games, which is an unknown, and the devil you know is, well, still a devil.

Fourth place is still our first priority, and the fact that it's still vital to our future ups the ante. Finish fourth, qualify for next year's UCL. Qualify for next year's UCL, attract stronger players. The lure of playing Champions League football should not be underestimated. I know full-well that I speak from both sides of my mouth on this, saying in one moment, "blow it off" and saying seconds later, "it matters." However, the distinction between competing in it this year and qualifying for it next year is just strong enough to allow it. I'm going with F. Scott Fitzgerald when he said, "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Calling my intelligence first-rate may me a stretch of the imagination, but it conforms to my current worldview, so I'm sticking with it.

All the best to our boys on Tuesday. Join the fray in the comments below.

17 February 2013

Trophies vs. Legends

If only to give myself a break from the garment-rending fallout of a 5th-round FA Cup loss to Blackburn, and perhaps also to lay the issue to rest once and for all, I'd like to visit an issue that has been on my mind since the departure of Van Persie and others. Van Persie claimed that he left to win more trophies. When he left, I was reminded of Lebron James's departure from Cleveland in order to, as he so classlessly put it, "take [his] trophies to South Beach" to play alongside Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and ten cardboard cut-outs. Of course, they have gone on to win the championship that had so cruelly eluded James up until that point. James had slogged and played through seven years of frustration, never getting closer with Cleveland than a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. James receives favorable comparisons to Michael Jordan. On a statistical basis, I'm inclined to agree. Where I demur is on philosophy. What I mean is this--Jordan, like Lebron, carried his team as its best player for seven long years without touching the championship. Here's where the difference in philosophy comes in--unlike Lebron, and unlike Van Persie, Jordan forced and inspired players around him to get better. With the possible exception of Dennis Rodman, no other player that Jordan played alongside had a chance to become a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Scottie Pippen, as good as a player as he became, owed all of that to Jordan's tutelage. Granted, Jordan may not have had the Bosman rule or transfer windows to blackmail his owners the same way that European footballers have. However, that's window dressing around the issue--Jordan looked around, and he decided that he would have to make the players around him better, whether this was chewing them out, staring them down, working with them in practice, putting the ball in their hands at key moments and praying, trusting, believing that the ball would go in. Ultimately, the proof came out in two separate three-peats, six championships in eight years. Talk about vindication. Talk about legend. Jordan, perhaps more than any other athlete, is Chicago's own. Never mind his years "playing" for Washington or owning the Bobcats. It's not for nothing we put a statue in front of the new Chicago Stadium and emblazoned that statue with the following quote from one of my favorite novellas:
“At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection. He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.” 
— “A River Runs Through It”, Norman Maclean
For as many championships Lebron wins, there will always come with them the sense that he has somehow taken the easy way out. To whom among his current teammates or former teammates can he point and say, "I helped him to become the best that he could be and, together, we achieved epic feats"? Wade? Bosh? Ray Allen? No, even in admitting that all athletes are mercenaries (not a criticism), Lebron's "Decision" as well as Van Persie's, will always smack of rank opportunism: "I can stay and fight, or I can get while the getting's good." Each of these jocks--and I deliberately declined to use other epithets, for good or evil--looked around and said, "winning things is hard. I want to go where winning is easy." I'm sure Van Persie will go on to win many things with Man U, and it will feel good to him. How much more could it have meant if, instead of looking at established players like Carrick, Rooney, Scholes, Giggs, Vidic, and others, he could look at Wilshere, Walcott, Ox, Ramsey, Gibbs and also feel that he has made some among them into greater players--protégés who would also look to him as a source of their greatness? What kind of statue would stand outside the Emirates then?

This brings be me back to Maclean's description above. Life is not a work of art, and the moments of perfection we're lucky enough to witness could not last. It's just a shame that a potential moment of perfection was shunned so soon before its inception. However, in the words of advice I may have to share with my daughter sooner than I'd like, if he doesn't love you, don't waste your heart loving him. We may feel like emotional wrecks right now, having crashed out too early, but we'll recover. We are Arsenal