Thursday, February 18, 2010

Don't score, Sol!

Suicidal dives back into your own goal? Psssh! Handling a clear back pass? Mere child’s play! Tonight Fabianski was little more than a helpless pawn standing in the way of an avalanche of bad luck generated by the real catalyst of all footballing catastrophe: the Sol Campbell goal. A brief history beckons.

Ok, so his goals for England in the ’98 World Cup against Argentina and then in Euro 2004 against Portugal were both disallowed, but the fact that the ball bulged the net was apparently enough for the football gods to place an irrevocable curse on England in both games and then later on Arsenal as Campbell again scored in the 2006 Champions League Final (coincidentally his last Champions League appearance), ultimately inviting condemnation on the Gunners as we lost 2-1 (yes, I am very sorry to be reminded too). And tonight, like clockwork, the curse was back with a vengeance after another Sol Campbell headed goal.

Clearly I digress, but if footballing gods must be blamed for tonight’s loss then it can be said with much certainty that their primary tool for enacting destruction upon Arsenal came in the form of the boy formerly known as the goalkeeper Fabianski, who contrived to turn the two routine goalkeeper chores of collecting a targetless cross and clearing an easy back pass into game-changing (and game-winning) goals for Porto. Not that he didn’t get help from the referee, who apparently derives his life-force solely off controversy and therefore felt it oddly appropriate to immediately demand the ball from Fabianksi before allowing Porto to take a quickfire free kick.

It’s a pity it all went down in such shambolic fashion considering that, a shaky opening 5 minutes aside, Arsenal seemed likely to eventually triumph in the offense-only game that was being played by both sides. On multiple occasions throughout the first half, Porto’s midfield seemed to abandon their back four every time Rosicky so much as received a return pass in their final third, prompting the kind of 3-on-3 defensive scenarios your high school coach used to force your team to practice ad nauseam just to emphasize that they should in fact never occur. And Bendtner, though at times clumsy in possession, reacquainted us with the long-lost friend that is the aerial game, which in turn provided us with a rare second dimension of offense. This all, however, only yielded one goal in the end, and now Arsenal’s chances of advancing in the Champions League rest worryingly on our ability to keep a clean sheet while at the same time hunting for 1 to 2 goals in the return leg at home. Then again, we can probably be grateful we don’t have to hunt for 3 to 4 goals…

Speaking of home, our game against the Black Cats this Saturday should prove a more welcoming venue as I predict there’s a good chance Wenger will give the “goalkeeper he has faith in” another run out just to salvage some of his confidence…not that there’s reason to believe he has any left. Surely fielding Mannone would seal Fabianski’s fate, from a mental standpoint at least, and with Sunderland performing as poorly as they have in recent weeks the boss could be forgiven for treating this weekend’s game with a little more comfort than our last 4 domestic fixtures. On the other hand I wouldn’t blame him either for trying something new between the sticks…all I can say is that tonight’s game will most likely summon a “Worst-goalkeeping blunders” list from some publication.

If not, we’ll try to put the terrifying world of Arsenal goalkeeping in greater perspective by making a list of our own on Arsenal Review USA this weekend after the Sunderland game. Chin up, it’s back to the Premiership on Saturday and it’s back to the Emirates, where you’d have to fancy us to take all 3 points…

Come on Arsenal!