I was going to let Neal vent his spleen on yesterday's game (and I'm sure he will when he can uncurl from his fetal position on the bathroom floor) but did want to share my thoughts:
You have to start with the red card, right? Whether or not it was the 100% correct, Pareto optimal decision, it was probably fair to both teams. It was a red card worthy foul as Lehmann was the last defender. But Arsenal were probably lucky to escape going a goal down as the result of an advantage call. In fairness, they could have gone a man and a goal down and not had any complaints.
Barcelona identified Campbell and Cole as Arsenal's weak points and went at them, even sacrificing Eto'o for streches by sticking him on the left wing so Ronaldinho could run/dance around Campbell in the middle. It was working as Guily was getting behind Cole, and Barca were getting runners through the middle. That's what led to the red card, and should have later produced a goal from Eto'o were it not for Almunia's thumb.
I thought ESPN's coverage of the game (here in the USA) suffered from trying too hard. Celo Balboa didn't bring anything to the table and having to work in the "sideline" reporters disrupted Seamus Malin's normally smooth call. I hope that they can play it a bit straighter for the World Cup coverage, but I suspect they'll succumb to the "event" mentality, especially in the later knock-out games.
One particularly frustrating aspect of going a man down (and you could see this from Henry time and time again) was that when Arsenal got a goal kick, Almunia would out kick the entire team and give possession immediately back to Barcelona. But was that his fault? Or just the nature of the game you have to play with 10 men - 1 forward and 9 defending too deep to support him.
Another part of the game that confused me was Arsene's substitutions. Has there been any word on Cesc's removal? Was he hurt? Tiring badly? He, as usual, was so solid in midfield for the Arsenal. Though he seems to turn into trouble too often, he can usually get himself out of it. And he was so calm on the ball. Making the right pass at the right time... not rushing things, but drawing the defenders to him and only then releasing a team mate. (fantasy note: he also took a few set pieces) So why remove him from the game? And why put in Flamini, who hadn't played in midfield for months, regardless of how well he played at fullback? If you do want to get him in the game, why not put him at fullback and move Cole into the midfield.? Arsenal lost the middle of the pitch when he came in and a -2 "plus/minus" for Flamini says it all.
The other odd substitution was the late introduction of Reyes. I understand you're chasing the game, you put in a forward. But why not do it earlier? Barcelona took off the defensive-minded Olegur for the more attacking fullback, Beletti. Why not put Reyes in right away and keep Beletti honest, or exploit the space he leaves behind? I'm not saying that this would have prevented the second goal... but maybe Beletti doesn't find himself in Arsenal's box if he has to worry about Reyes.
What are your thoughts?
posted by Jeremy Spitzberg on Thursday, May 18, 2006