* The Collective reserves the right to define the period of time constituting a fortnight. Any complaints will be completely disregarded.
The Gooner Roller Coaster
So just when I was about to jump on a high and handsome horse to gloat about my early season prediction of Gooner demise, belatedly fulfilled, suddenly Arsenal look to have turned their season around. Slaughtered by four goals to nil at the San Siro, Arsene Wenger and his rag-tag group of kindergarteners looked truly down and out. No sooner had they returned to England and they were knocked out of the FA Cup, leaving Wenger mumbling about how earning fourth place in the league was like winning a trophy. Lower than down and out? Try two goals down at the Emirates to bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Theo Walcott teetering on the precipice of his Arsenal career and the overwhelming fear of losing out on another trophy (a.k.a. 4th place). But when the final whistle blew Arsenal had demolished Spurs 5-2. I now had second thoughts about my high horse. From the moment Van Persie’s shot crashed off the post, just prior to Arsenal’s first goal, there only looked one team in the competition.
One week later and Robin Van Persie popped up again, this time very late. Deep into what can only be called Fergie time, he scored a beautiful volley – reminiscent of his own breathtaking volley against Everton earlier this season. Unlike against Spurs, at Anfield Arsenal had to rely on some brilliant keeping from Szczesny, whose double save from Kuyt – first from the penalty spot and secondly from the point blank follow up – rivaled Van Persie’s goal for drama.
Then we have the first half fightback against AC Milan in the second leg of their Champions League tie. Down four goals and written off by pundits, rivals and supporters alike, Arsenal rampaged to three first half goals. Of course they spent the next forty five minutes in vain searching for the essential fourth goal – Van Persie, the in-form man himself, missing a glorious chance when trying to chip Abbiati instead of slotting home either side of the Milan goal keeper. Despite eventually losing the tie the media and Wenger hurrahed Arsenal’s valiant effort as a moral victory.
So what has caused this fantastic turnaround at Arsenal? A couple of weeks ago we were talking about Wenger moving on again – the inevitable rumors of Madrid resurfacing – and now we wouldn’t dare speak of such things. The truth, in my humble and all-knowing perspective, is simply that the only thing that has turned around for Arsenal is the fixture list. Given a moment’s thought and it’s not difficult to see the current Spurs and Liverpool sides might lack the kind of tactical defensive nous of AC Milan (who, in the first leg, simply let Arsenal tika taka to nowhere and hit them on the break with utter ruthlessness; and while soundly beating in the second leg, Milan really didn’t have to do too much to still progress). Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland might not be in the same class as the Milan giants, but you have to rate his ability to organize a defense over that of Harry Redknapp and Kenny Dalglish.
In the next four weeks Arsenal will face home fixtures with Newcastle United and Manchester City and a tricky trip to Everton so we could easily find the Gooners slipping back into crisis club status. Chelsea have managed to temporarily take hold of that mantle during this past week with the sacking of Andres Villas-Boas (not to mention QPR and their “Four Year Plan”). Unlike Chelsea, however, Arsenal always manage to entertain, whether winning or losing. And at the end of the day that’s what football is all about and that’s probably why Arsene Wenger still has a job, while twelve different managers have come and gone from Chelsea during the Frenchman’s time in North London.
Less Boxing (outside the ring), More Boxing (inside the ring)
What the hell happened to boxing? It seems that as events have dulled inside the ring, those in the industry have contrived to liven things up through whatever goes on outside of the actual boxing. Ever since the sport lost Mike Tyson to jail it has been on a downward spiral of dullness. The first signs of rottenness emerged from the shocking incident with Evander Holyfield – Tyson twice biting his opponent’s ear. Boxing at the highest level has not been the same since.
In the past year alone the big fights have often disappointed, while the non-sporting controversy escalates. Manny Pacquiao’s win against Juan Manuel Marquez was a ludicrous decision – based purely on protecting everyone who stands to make money off of the blockbuster Pacquiao vs Mayweather showdown.
The Lamont Peterson vs. Amir Khan bout in Washington D.C. ended bizarrely with judges taking ages to compile their scores and then came the revelation of mystery man Mustafa Ameen handling score cards and conferring with officials prior to celebrating with Team Peterson. The World Boxing Association has since sanctioned a rematch.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s fight with Victor Ortiz ended in controversy as Mayweather knocked out the Mexican-American while it appeared his opponent was waiting to touch gloves after a points deduction. The referee was not even looking and had not signaled for the fighters to return to action. That’s not boxing, that’s bullshit, plain and simple.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse Derek Chisora slapped Vitali Klitschko at their weigh-in session, spat on his brother Wladimir just before the fight and then full on brawled with David Hayes at the press conference. Only the evergreen Dr. Ironfist – forty year old Klitschko holds a PhD – seems to have any sense in an industry running around with its head chopped off.
In all of these recent fights the underdogs came out the worst – Marquez, Peterson, Ortiz and Chisora. Marquez deserved something for his valiance against the commercial-giant Pacquiao. After Kahn came out all-guns-blazing Peterson fought back brilliantly in front of his hometown crowd and really didn’t need any help from Ameen or the judges. Ortiz was never going to beat Mayweather but he deserved to finish the fight rather than succumb to a cheap shot – or rather, Mayweather needs to win better than via a cheap shot to deserve the reputation and purses he thinks he deserves. Chisora is the strangest case. He defied the pundits’ predictions and put up a real fight against the might of Klitschko, but no one will remember that. They will only remember his antics at the weigh in and the Friday-night-down-the-pub fracas at the press conference.
Let us hope the action from this summer’s big fights comes from real action inside the ring…
Welsh Grand Slam Dreams
I’m going to skip the part about Italy huffing and puffing and losing generously (this time to Ireland), and Scotland’s “look we can play, we can play, we can play, oh we lost” routine (to the French), and go straight to The Game – England vs. Wales at Twickenham. The Welsh have a terrible record at Twickenham but have played the most attractive rugby of this Six Nations (and, with the exception of the All Blacks, at the World Cup as well) and England are still finding their feet with new coach Stuart Lancaster and a new look selection.
The hype surrounding the match was understandably uncontainable. Sunday’s BBC coverage began as John Inverdale strolled through a campsite of visiting Welsh supporters, who in turn creepily followed behind with barbeque and glasses of wine in hand – like a gang of sinister television cooks in rugby kits about to beat up a TV presenter. The match coverage itself began with an epic Eddie Butler-narrated introduction. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a WWII documentary given the pitch of Butler’s narration.
I would love to give some tactical analysis of the match, or some poetical summation of events, but in truth I mostly remember a couple points.
- Referee Steve Walsh is bad ass. Granted one look at his checkered CV will tell you that, but it’s much more fun spending eighty minutes watching him referee a rugby match. He’s got that fantastic sarcastic Kiwi tone that works much better on a rugby pitch than after 15 pints at your local.
- The rucks are just too goddamn slow. Both commentators brought this up throughout the match and the IRB really, really have to do something about it. It was such a bore-fest at times (to be fair, this was such a brutal encounter that the players probably needed whatever respite they could find). Still it’s strange that the referee would demand players to play quickly off a maul or scrum but allow them to hang around all day at the ruck.
- England’s Owen Farrell is not a bad player at all. Twenty years young, and with ‘lil Johnny Wilkinson’s big boots to fill, Farrell did his growing reputation no harm despite the loss.
- Wales are the absolute kings of resistance, holding off the opposition as they pound at the Welsh backline from within touching distance of the try line. Wales did this with such grandeur, ultimately in vain, in their World Cup opener against South Africa, and they did it numerous times against England (most memorably with captain Sam Warburton’s ankle-tackle on the surging Manu Tuilagi to keep things close in the first half). There was also the significant feat of holding England scoreless during the ten minute sin binning of Rhys Priestland.
Of course the elephant in the room is England’s last gasp non-try. After Scott William’s exemplary piece of burglary and subsequent try, England threw the kitchen sink at Wales and looked to have set up the opportunity for a draw as David Strettle crossed the try line just after the game reached extra time. After three minutes of searching, however, and with no definitive video evidence, the referee couldn’t allow a try and the victory went to Wales.
So, the Triple Crown to Wales – and with the French side drawing Ireland in the replay of their postponed match, Wales look favourites to take the Six Nations title. If Wales can overcome the relatively routine task of Italy this coming weekend they will setup a massive Grand Slam showdown against France at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff on March 17th. Before that the French will face England at the Stade de France in what looks to be the most attractive tie of the weekend.
The all-singing, all-dancing crap of Motorsport (p.s. not to mention also highly addictive)
After what barely seemed like a break at all (seventy one days from the last race in 2011 to winter testing in Jerez), the globe-trotting motorsport circus known as Formula 1 gets going for the 63rd season next week in Melbourne. Excitement is high (despite those god-awful platypus noses on the new non-McLaren cars) with the return of Kimi Raikkonen, the restrictions on those highly confusing exhaust diffuser contraptions and the Third Coming of “Let’s Break Into the US Market”. Of course all the excitement will fade when Sebastian Vettel takes poll position next Saturday and proceeds to lead the entire race and win the Australian Grand Prix.
Of course there is also the downer, for UK residents, of Sky TV’s new F1 channel. The Beeb, having to cut back like the rest of us in these harsh economic times, could no longer justify paying for the F1 rights for the whole season. That means UK residents, like the rest of the world, now have to pay to watch the entire F1 season. Overall not the biggest loss for those outside of the UK, but I will miss the antics of Eddie Jordan and DC (not, ahem, Jake Humphrey); although they will probably feature on the BBC’s limited coverage. Thankfully Sky have retained Martin Brundle for the race commentary, as nobody else would do.
Finally the biggest downer at the start of the season is the race in Bahrain. Other than quantity of media coverage I can’t see what else has changed all that much in the past year since the Bahrain Grand Prix got shelved. Of course F1 is hardly comprised of angels or strangers to political controversy. A little perspective and common sense once in a while wouldn’t hurt would it?
Thankfully all the off-track hullabaloo will fade once the twenty four cars (god forbid HRT or Marussia miss out) line up on the starting grid and those famous five red lights illuminate and then disappear…