Welcome to the first ‘Groan in Brief’, a look at recent events that may or may not have anything to do with Arsenal – the focus of these pieces will be on any current football stories that I feel like commenting on. Expect the FA, FIFA, UEFA and Jamie Redknapp to be regular targets of ridicule.
The international break seems like a good time to start, given that there’s no Arsenal news filtering through, at least until the matches themselves leave the whole squad crippled, so let’s get on with it.
I’m glad Rafa Benitez is finally getting some stick from the ever-patient Liverpool fans. Admirable though it is to back your manager through thick and thin, it seems highly unfair that the owners face the music every time the team struggles. Benitez has made some good signings (even at the price, Torres was worthwhile, while Benayoun is probably one of the best buys of recent years), but has also a catalogue of shockers, and continually makes frankly odd managerial decisions (such as the reluctance to give the aforementioned Benayoun the role he deserves).
You’ll struggle to find a non-Liverpool fan who thinks Benitez is capable of bringing Liverpool their first Premiership title, which you can’t say about any of the other three ‘Big Four’ managers. There’s no doubting his ability in the big matches, so they’ll always be dangerous in cups and in Europe, but is it any coincidence that their solitary win from the last nine games was against United? That doesn’t win leagues. Never has, never will.
As for the injury argument, everyone gets them. We missed Eduardo and Rosicky for the whole of last season, and Cesc for a large chunk of it. And that scratches the surface of our list. Chelsea missed Essien and Joe Cole, for United read Hargreaves and Scholes.
Liverpool’s trouble is that they are so reliant on Torres that when he gets injured they are badly exposed, and because Benitez clearly has no faith in any other striker at the club, Torres is continually forced to play while semi-fit. Any wonder he’s crocked so often?
This isn’t simply a jab at Liverpool. They have history, and patient fans. I have no doubt they’ll continue to win cups competitions. But if they want to win the league, something has to change.
Ah, this old subject, once again in the news because David Ngog fell over a stray air pocket and won a penalty that earned Liverpool a point against Birmingham on Monday. In a way, I feel sorry for the guy. Yes, it was an awful dive, and no, he shouldn’t have done it, but it seems he’s being singled out, Eduardo-style, as the scapegoat of a wider problem.
The whole of Europe was up in arms at Eduardo’s dive earlier in the season, and this weekend gave us a reminder of that incident. Only it wasn’t Ngog’s dive that brought the images flashing back, it was Darren Bent’s for Sunderland. You see, Eduardo’s crime was going down anticipating a foul from the keeper that never came, and Bent did precisely the same thing on Saturday. By the time Gomes finally clipped him, he was already horizontal.
For the sake of their credibility, I was hoping the MoTD pundits would at least pick up on it, and had a brief moment of hope when Shearer pointed out that Bent was already going down when contact was made. But in the next sentence, Mr Bland stated that ‘he deserved the penalty anyway because the keeper was rushing out so quickly’. Eh? This is the same Shearer who joined the voices of condemnation over Eduardo’s identical actions.
It makes a mockery of their demand that referees show consistency in their decisions when they themselves cannot do the same for their analysis, despite plentiful time and infinite replays.
World Cup playoffs
Speaking of making a mockery of things, how come the parameters for World Cup qualification were not set in stone before the first ball was kicked? How was it allowed that FIFA made the decision to seed the playoffs so late that they already know who was likely to be in them?
This international break might have been interesting if France and Portugal had squared off against each other for a place in the finals, but FIFA have done everything they can to ensure the major nations get through.
And spare a thought for the likes of Bosnia, who overachieved massively to get this far, but have had their chances greatly reduced by the carve up.
And that’s about it for today. Join me again for another brief look at the football world next week. It’ll be back to Arsenal tomorrow.