16 February 2014

Arsenal Reserves 2-1 'pool: Rodgers, cram it with walnuts

Trotting out an starting XI that included Yaya Sanogo, Carl Jenkinson, Lukas Fabianski, and Nacho Monreal looked to be a bit of a capitulation from Arsène, as if he was conceding the FA Cup in order to stay fresh for Wednesday's Champions League first-leg with Bayern. If the inclusion of those four didn't look enough like a white flag, we had to fret over the defensive-midfield pairing of Arteta and Flamini, which might have something to offer defensively but has frequently seen us go begging offensively. However, despite an opening ten minutes almost as shaky as the Annihilation Aberration at Anfield, the lads went ahead through some spirited attack-play from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanogo, with Ox going straight at Liverpool's defense on the dribble and Sanogo muscling his way around the box to create chances. It was enough to put us up 2-0 shortly after halftime, but not enough to prevent some post-match whingeing.

I'll leave it to others to offer a more-detailed play-by-play. That's not what I'm here for, at least, not today. Today is all about schadenfreude, sweet, sweet, schadenfreude. After the match, the talk was all about how Howard Webb had declined to award Liverpool a second penalty just minutes after awarding one that Gerrard converted to make it 2-1. I'm not going to weigh in on how harsh the tackles were or whether or not either should have been—oh, wait. That's exactly why I'm here. The first one was just a bit light, with Suarez appearing to trip over the chalk that marks the edge of the penalty-box just as much as he was 'clipped' by Podolski. To award that one is a bit of a stretch. To award a second one to the same divey, bitey McRacist inside of five minutes is biting off more than one can chew. It would be enough to set one's teeth on edge. It would have been a real kick in the teeth. I mean, c'mon, Suarez. Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth. You got one penalty. Leave it at that.

Sure, the second penalty looked a bit more severe, with Ox crashing into Suarez as both went for the ball. However, Suarez went down as if he knew there would be contact. How does he know these things? It's as if he possesses some kind of extra-sensory perception that allows him to to detect an opponent's sweat- or heat-molecules moments, seconds before impact, so finely attuned is he to his surroundings. Let's call them the Ampullae of Suarezii™. At any rate, he went down as if he had been shot, although just where the bullet struck him is a matter of conjecture. The Zapruder films indicate that he seems to have taken a hit to the right buttock, then to the left cheek. Whatever the case, Webb did not see fit to award two penalties to the man. So it goes, and here comes the schadenfreude.

When you make a living from diving as often as Suarez does, there will come a time when—how do I put this delicately?—a certain reputation for faking it accrues to you, and a penalty that might otherwise be forthcoming is, in your case, overlooked. It's a bit like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Speaking of crying, Brendan Rodgers said, "It was a blatant penalty. It was more clear and blatant than the first one. The first one, Luis got clipped so it was a clear penalty, but the second one was clearer." Well, so it goes. It's almost as if scoring five goals at Anfield convinced Liverpool that this was in fact a second-leg, and they could advance to the quarterfinal on aggregate. As it stands, it might have been wise to have saved a goal or two from that first leg, so as to allow Rodgers his wish when he added, "I thought the best team lost, and the very least we deserved was a replay." Alas, it was not to be. More's the pity. Maybe Liverpool did for my little gambit, as described in this post.

While we're on the subject of overlooked penalties, it would be irresponsible of me not to comment on the two rash tackles Steven Gerrard laid on Alex "the next Steven Gerrard" Oxlade-Chamberlain. The first, with just minutes to go before the half, saw Gerrard scythe Ox down as Ox made a cut-back that left Gerrard looking even older and slower than usual. Had he not fouled Ox, the young one had an open path towards goal with teammates pouring forward on dangerous counterattack. Yellow was a bit soft, but the call was made. Fine. I'll move on. The second one, uncalled showed Ox beating Gerrard again, and this time about to cut into the box from the side. Gerrard's slide-tackle got 100% Ox, 0% ball, and no call was made. Gerrard was lucky to stay on the pitch inside of drawing a second-yellow, leaving Liverpool a man short for 20 minutes, not to mention without his services for another match. If we could just trade a penalty on Ox for the second yellow on Gerrard, just for kicks, it might be worth a look. However, my TARDIS is on the fritz.

As it stands, Liverpool will have to lick their wounds. I'm sure that Suarez's scars from the Ox tackle will ache a bit in the morning, but he's a big boy and he'll live to dive another day. As for us, we'll move on to the quarterfinal against Everton. What will Liverpool do? Root for us, the team that dumped them from the FA Cup, or root for crosstown rivals Everton? Choices. Tough, tough choices. At least Liverpool will have a bit more time on their hands to ponder them...