The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick

What, you might ask, could be more nerve-wracking than last night’s Roma-Arsenal Champions League match? Let me tell you a tale that should chill any Gooner to his/her very core.

The night began with a frustratingly poor full time, which saw the Gunners concede an incredibly soft goal.

Gallas: You take it.

Toure: After you.

Gallas: No really, I must insist.

Toure: Oh never mind, it’s in.

Now to his credit, Roma’s Francesco Totti and teammates attempted to inject some drama into the match, by throwing themselves to the ground at every opportunity (Gawd, I hate Italian football). Their writhing and pained expressions were worthy of the La Scala stage. And no, it was not a penalty.

Arsenal were at best ineffectual. Passing was good if ball retention was not, and thankfully, Roma weren’t that much better, though they played with spirit and gave us no time on the ball. Extra time is bit of a blur to me, but I’ve no recollection that it was any better.

Thus, we arrive at penalties. I struggle to remember the last Arsenal match of any sort going to penalties. Trusty Eduardo starts off and the unthinkable happens to the unflappable, as his attempt is easily saved by Roma’s goalkeeper. However, Almunia keeps us in it by saving Mirko Vucinic’s shot. Walcott, Nasri and Denilson all convert their attempts, as do their Roma counterparts, and we are in the sudden-death phase of the shootout.

And now, Dear Reader, step back for a moment and put yourself in my shoes. You’re an American Gooner who is Arsenal to the core. But where are you when the match is taking place? Not in Rome, not at Maggie McGarry’s with the other Bay Area Gooners watching it live, nor streaming it online at your desk, because they rather frown on that at your job. No, you’re working diligently, doing everything possible to avoid the result until you can get home to watch it, courtesy of your DVR.

As you go about the day’s tasks, it all seems so inconsequential at times, because you know that something, as someone once said, more important than life or death, is happening, and you can only bide your time until it is revealed to you. All your coworkers have been duly informed that a media blackout is in effect and that match spoilers will result in some very swift and painful judgment. At one point, the Englishman who sits on the other side of the cube wall from you lets out a surprised yelp, and you know he’s tracking the match online, but you reassure yourself that sound could have meant anything.

You’ve dressed appropriately. No Arsenal gear of any sort. The last thing you want, is someone racing up to you on the street, shouting, OMIGAWDDIDYOUSEETHEMATCH! Believe you me, it has happened before. Blasting The Clash in your headphones all the way home, you put forth an air of unapproachability until you make it to the sanctuary of your living room.

Now where were we? Ah yes, penalties. Sudden death. Kolo Toure steps up and converts. And then the unthinkable happens.

The DVR recording ends.

The extra 45 minutes alloted for recording the match was not enough. The Fates are toying with you. No, they say, not only shall you not live in London, not be a season ticket holder, not travel to away matches, but you shall not even get to see this most very important match through to the end. You, you are not worthy, in fact, you are less than worthy, we laugh at you, the world laughs at you.

Thankfully, there is the Internets. Once the remainder of my hair was pulled out and my composure regained, I was able to find the match replay online and see the joy of the young Gunners as Roma’s Max Tonetto skyed his shot well over the goal.

There will be some post match derision from other supporters. Arsenal did not deserve it, did not win convincingly, blah, blah, blah, and you idiot, have you never programmed a DVR before? But Gooners know better, the squad earned it, and we who bleed red and white, most certainly earned it.

I earned it.

Match highlights here.

A little bit of alright

Some truly sublime Gunner goals yesterday. Carlos Vela’s cool as ice chip shot over the goalkeeper, as the defender attempted to take his shirt as a souvenir. Eduardo added an equally brilliant goal just after half. Last but not least, noted goal scoring machine, Emmanuel Eboue added a third.

Keeping in mind this was Championship side, Burnley FC, who did not offer the stoutest of challenges this time around. Even more remarkable, was the fact that both Eduardo and Eboue’s goals were set-up by that monster of the midway, Alexander Song.

Wait, I know what you’re going to say, but it was all there yesterday. With deft passing, superbly timed tackles, and even clever little back heel flicks, the much maligned Song had Arsenal supporters singing a new tune.

Even Theo Walcott made an appearance, and though his finishing showed a bit of rust, it was nice to see him back in action. Has it really been 5 months since his shoulder injury? Yegads, what might have been if he, Cesc, and that Czech player we used to have (Rosick-something or other) had remained healthy!

But there’s still time to salvage something from the season as I think most Gooners would be relieved at a top 4 finish, excited about a place in the FA Cup Final, and apoplectic at a return to the Champions League Final.

Perchance to dream?

Watch the highlights from yesterday’s match here.

Don’t thank me yet!

Arsenal cruised to a 3-1 victory Tuesday over a (to put it mildly) ineffectual West Bromwich Albion FC, with 2 of the Gunner’s goals being scored by – guess who – Nicklas Bendtner! So literally within days of my calling out the Dane on this here blog, for his inability to put the ball in the back of the net, he does it not once, but twice. This of course follows my chiding William Gallas into shaping up his act.

Now, I can’t take all the credit, because in all honest, the Baggies were complete shite, as the kids are wont to say. But points are points, especially in light of Aston Villa losing 2-0 to that other team in Manchester, narrowing the gap between 4th and 5th place to a mere 3 points.

This has been such a frustrating season for Arsenal fans, and occasionally out come the boo boys, something I’m personally against. I’ve even read on more than one website, normally rational Gooners calling for Wenger’s dismissal. You know, because that sacking the manager every five months, has worked so well for Chel$ki. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a more rational case for why Wenger has earned our patience. Additionally, here’s former Arsenal midfielder, Oopsy-Daisy Martin Hayes trying unsuccessfully to convince Arsenal great, Ray Parlour, that we’re going backwards under Wenger.

As if past success isn’t reason enough to cut Le Boss some slack, Arsenal supporters would do well to remember he is a big reason the club has been able to attract some of the brilliant young talent currently making up our squad. Case in point: Cesc’s recent declaration that if Wenger goes, so does he. If the single most important player at the club has faith in the gaffer, who are we to question him?

For the time being, both Wenger and I are still with the Arsenal. I can’t speak for him, but can assure you, I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t worked out who in the Arsenal side is next for my negative reinforcement experiment, but you can be sure if some Gunner scores in this weekend’s FA Cup against Burnley, you can thank me for it later. 😉

Cheers, Mark