Arsenal and Man City: Treading Water

The tallest blade of grass is the surest to be cut.‘*

Have you ever tried to tread water?

It f***ing hurts.

So much effort just to stay, essentially, in the same position. With a lot less energy.

Perspective is everything.

Above water? Serenity. Below the surface? Chaos.

There’s a finite element to it that always bothers me. It’s like doing a long, arduous sprint on a treadmill.

Eventually, you will fall. Eventually, you will sink.**

ūüĆä

Don’t believe me? Ask Ars√©ne Wenger and Pep Guardiola.

¬†At one point, both achieved accomplishments akin to¬†Michael Phelps’s in the pool. However, unlike the¬†American icon, both have struggled to retain dominance in the latter stages of their respective careers, leading to vociferous (and often embarrassing) arguments over whether they have overstayed their welcome.***

 Tuesday night was a perfect example of this anti-climatic paradox. Both Arsenal and Manchester City recorded much-needed wins to boost (and secure) their Champions League qualification objectives.

¬†In Manchester, City made light work of a West Brom side that had one eye on the beach by putting three past them in relatively quick fashion. Gabriel Jesus scored a tap-in from Kevin De Bruyne on 27 minutes, before they reversed roles just a couple of minutes later. Yaya Tour√© joined in with proceedings, scoring on the 57th minute from ¬†Sergio Ag√ľero’s fantastic pass to put the game beyond doubt. Hal-Robson Kanu grabbed a consolation goal for Tony Pulis’s side on the 87th minute.

Meh.****

¬†At the Emirates, Arsenal kept the pressure on Liverpool by dispatching an already relegated Sunderland, Alexis S√°nchez scoring two cleverly crafted goals to take his tally to 23 for the season. The home side had 62.5% possession, 36 shots (12 on target) and 17 corners to Sunderland’s three. Arsenal now need to beat Everton and hope Liverpool lose at home to Middlesborough to qualify for the Champions League.

¬†Fun little fact for you – Mesut √Ėzil created 12 chances, the most in a single match since Opta began keeping records.

Meh.

 Despite the (relatively) comfortable victories, they were played out to atmospheres of apathy and abjection. Thousands of empty seats; minimal noise; palpable frustration.

¬†We’re talking about top international players here… S√°nchez, Jesus, √Ėzil, De Bruyne – the list goes on. Fans¬†had the chance to watch them… and a considerable amount¬†chose not to.

 This is why this instalment of #TGIMD is pretty light on the match analysis. The results were important in a sense, but also completely irrelevant in the same breath.  Arsenal and Man City could have thrashed their legs about and scored six each, but the league table, and feeling of frustration would have been the same. It simply cannot be ignored.

 Earlier in the week, one manager acknowledged that he would probably have been sacked had he achieved a similar failure under his previous clubs, whilst the other contradicted his own now infamous claim that reaching a certain league position is something to be proud of.

 Regardless of your stance on both comments, it is clear that both Wénger and Guardiola were acknowledging that their fanbases had lost interest in watching their teams stay afloat.

¬†Now I don’t know about you, but once I¬†have admitted that I am¬†struggling to stay above water, I am either propelling myself forward, or getting out of the damn pool.*****

Let’s see what choice they make.

ūü§Ē

J

#TGIMD

*One of the 10¬†principles of underachievement from¬†Ray Bennett’s¬†The Underachiever’s Manifesto: The Guide to Accomplishing Little and Feeling Great.¬†

**Unless you turn down the treadmill’s speed. Or jump off. Or go underwater. You get my drift.

***Phelps won multiple golds in 5 of the 6 Olympics he competed in, before retiring on top and joining the latest Baywatch crew. Pep is rapidly losing what’s left of his hair, and as for Ars√©ne… you live by the meme; you die by the meme.

****Fans of lower league teams will probably call me a spoilt brat… but remember, perspective is everything.

*****OK, I think I’ve run (swum) with this analogy¬†as far as my legs (arms) can take me.

[Image provided courtesy of wikiHow.]

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Arsenal vs Man United: Pick Your Poison

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I ‚ÄĒ
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.’*

 It may be late on in the season, but Arséne Wenger and José Mourinho still have much to contemplate before Sunday’s seismic Premier League clash at the Emirates, with multiple storylines waiting to be written as one team on the ascension meets another on the decline.

 What more can be said about Arsenal?

ūüė¶

 Familiarity may have bred contempt for the Gunners, but, ironically, this might be exactly what they need as the season reaches its apex.

 Their latest defeat in a year of mentally damaging ones came at the hands of arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, no less, with the away side losing 2-0 in the last North London derby at White Hart Lane.

 At a time when consistency, physicality and mental fortitude is key, Wenger will have yet more surgery to perform as he attempts to patch up his squad for another pivotal match which could make a tumultuous situation even worse.

 Top of the agenda will be the question of whether the Gunners persist with a vogue 3-4-2-1 formation that served them so well against Manchester City and Middlesbrough, or revert to type to match Manchester United’s favoured 4-2-3-1.

¬†Smaller conundrums include the central defensive partner for Laurent Koscielny, who leads the front line ahead of Alexis S√°nchez and Mesut √Ėzil, and who takes Granit Xhaka‚Äôs place, the combative midfielder having been ruled out with an ankle injury.

 Whatever remedy Wenger attempts to revive his team with must work this time, or Arsenal’s league campaign will flatline.**

¬†Mourinho, also has multiple¬†objectives to prioritise from ‚Äď his ambitions in the Europa League, his expectations for the Premier League and his love for beating Wenger.

 After a slow start and seemingly perpetual stint in sixth place, the Red Devils now have multiple routes through which they can potentially march towards Champion League qualification.

 United have leapfrogged their opponents by accumulating an impressive, if unspectacular, unbeaten Premier League record that dates back to their 4-0 defeat at the hands of current leaders Chelsea in late October.

¬†This turn of form and fortune has been carried into their Europa League campaign. Despite losing twice in a tedious group phase, United have won six of their last eight in the competition, the latest happening away at Celta Vigo in the Semi-Final First Leg, courtesy of Marcus Rashford’s fine free-kick.

¬†The Portuguese manager will have to choose which fixture list suits his team best, balancing a jaded team without the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovińá, with a chance to extend his unbeaten Premier League record against Wenger.

 Despite all of the questions, one thing is or sure Рhow the two managers approach Sunday’s game will have huge ramifications on their club’s futures, as the result will ultimately serve as an antidote for one, and poison for the other.***

ūüė∑

J

#TGIMD

 

*The final three lines of Robert Frost’s 1916 poem, The Road Not Taken.

**COME ON YOU GUNNERS.

***PERSONAL DISCLAIMER: If Arsenal lose and any of my United supporting mates wonder why I have dropped off of the face of the Earth, it’s because I have been poisoned by said defeat and need approximately a week to recover. I’ll be alright by the next game.

[Image provided courtesy of Sky Sports.]

 

MVP(iece of information)

Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer.‘*

QUESTION:

Who do you think will win the 2016/17 NBA Most Valuable Player Award?

ANSWER:

Well, that’s simple. It has to be Russell Westbrook. The guy just managed the first season average triple-double since, Oscar Robertson, in 1961/62.** In fact, he’s the ONLY other person to do that. And a 31.6/10.7/10.4 triple double at that.

Of course, I wouldn’t begrudge you¬†make the case for Harden. I mean, he did break another Big O record – the first +29/8/11 stat-line since 1964/65, and became the first ever NBA player to register 2000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a single regular season.

But¬†triple-double, c’mon!

This isn’t to take¬†anything away from The Beard‚ĄĘ. ¬†The Rocket’s talisman improved their record from 41-41 in the previous season to 55-27, a return to former glory not seen since… well, Westbrook in the same season. After the proverbial leash that was Kevin Durant decided to loosen himself, leaving¬†Russell high and dry, it was inevitable that he would go on a tear. However,¬†the extent to which he accumulated crazy box score after crazy box score and clutch point after clutch point, exceeded the highest of expectations. Brodie‚ĄĘ didn’t just have his cupcake and ate it, but went for seconds, thirds, thought to hell with it and finished the damn box.***

To be fair to Harden, he was hardly frugal with the amount of times he dined on the opposition. First player to record a +50/15/15 stat-line with 50/17/16; one of two players to record a 53 point triple-double with that triple-double; first player to achieve multiple 50 point triple-doubles in a single NBA season with a 51/13/13 against the Philadelphia 76ers in January 2017.**** And his win share score is 1.9 points better than Westbrook’s (15). And his field goal %¬†(44), 3 point field goal %¬†(34.7) and free-throw¬†% (84.7) all beat his adversary.

Wait a minute.

Westbrook did accumulate the highest points ever in a triple-double with 57, and broke the record for triple-doubles in a single season with 42 (another Big O record). But Harden became only the fourth player in NBA history to achieve a 40/10/10 stat-line in consecutive games. Westbrook¬†was one of the other three guys, but that’s beside the point.¬†Or is it? He did the same thing this season, part of a 4¬†game triple-double stretch in which he averaged¬†34.75/13.5/12.5, which would be impressive except that he became the only player in NBA history to have a seven game triple-double stretch, twice, in the same season, but then now I think about it, Harden had more 20 point (29) and 30 point (28) games than Westbrook, but then Westbrook had more 40 point (14) and 50 point (4) games than Harden; OK well let’s look at advanced metrics, Westbrook’s player efficiency rating (30.70) is better, but then Harden’s scoring (1.537) and shooting (.525) efficiency rating are both higher; steals per turnovers? That’s Westbrook’s (0.30); assists per turnovers? That’s Harden’s (1.95); Westbrook’s team finished 6th but the usage percentage (41.7) suggests¬†that he was asked to do more but then again you can’t exactly hold that against Harden because the usage percentage (34.2)¬†suggests he ran his offence more effectively but¬†if you look at the statistical efficiency per 100 possessions Westbrook had a higher defensive rating (104) but then again Harden had a higher offensive rating (118) so when you compare that to the value over replacement player rat-

Sorry, what was the question again?*****

J

*American novelist Norman Malier’s words of wisdom.

**Oscar Robertson (known as ‘The Big O’) averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists in the 1961/62. The record had been thought to be unbreakable, until this season.

***Congratulations to the Oklahoma faithful – you’ve won the award for Pettiest Insult Directed at a Former Player. Remember guys, pictures last a lifetime; memes last forever. Take a look.

****Harden is tied with Wilt Chamberlain for this particular record. Wilt managed 53/32/14. Absolutely absurd.

*****We have two months left of this. ūüė¶

[Image provided courtesy of GQ; statistics provided courtesy of Basketball Reference, ESPN, NBA Miner, Wikipedia and the Denver Post. My head hurts.]

MUST SEE TV? Video Refereeing and the Art Of Modification

Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change.‘ *

Let me set the scene for you.

It’s Tuesday 4th April 2017, and the time is approximately 02:00 GMT.

The game? Oh, only the NCAA National Championship Final, the culmination of a a tournament that ended up being the third most watched in 24 years.**

The teams? Well, Gonzaga had never been to the promised land, but the University of North Carolina (UNC) found themselves in the same predicament a year on, victims of (arguably) the greatest finish to a basketball game in living memory.***

This match-up was two tournaments in the making. Ground-breakers vs Redemption. My laptop on; TV plugged in; stream found. I was ready.

(13847629884720 foul calls later)

What transpired¬†was two of the most tedious hours of stop-start basketball I had watched that season. The final¬†should have been a showcase of basketball‚Äôs free-flowing style, but instead, it became an incredibly frustrating game¬†of ‚Äėwhodunnit‚Äô, with play stopping every few minutes, for a few minutes while referees agonised over slow-mo footage of every barge and fumble. Think Hack-a-Shaq, on steroids.****

To put things into perspective, the number of fouls called (44) almost¬†eclipsed made field goals (46) making for¬†an underwhelming spectacle which failed to get the crowd excited, or the players hot.Gonzaga had their worst shooting performance of the season on the biggest stage (33.9% – 20 of 59), and UNC’s ugly 14.8% three-point success rate was the lowest of all victorious teams throughout the tournament.*****

In one particularly perplexing sequence of play, 7 fouls were called and just 6 points were scored between both teams. How much game time had elapsed?

92 seconds.

92, fucking, seconds.

If my calculations are correct, that’s 10 minutes¬†of mind-numbing adverts, and 15 of me looking at my soft pillow asking myself why the hell I bothered with this garbage.

Now I’m all for listening to other¬†mitigating factors such as pressure, chance and defensive excellence, but I’ve played enough competitive games of sport to know that if me and my teammates are¬†feeling particularly cold hot, the last thing we need is for a¬†referee to continuously pause proceedings, preventing¬†us¬†from getting into a rhythm.

Don’t believe me? Ask future hall-of-famers Lebron James and Dwayne Wade:

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 20.10.03

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 20.11.23

James and Wade are not only two of the greatest players ever to step on the hardwood, but leading role models and spokespersons of the game. It speaks volumes about the gravity of the problem at hand, that they felt the need to publicly condemn the product they were watching, even if college hoops slightly differs from the NBA.

I hated it, they hated it, the journalists hated it, and I’m sure¬†the numerous players in foul trouble did too.

The NBA and NCAA are¬†enjoying their greatest golden eras since inception and that is in no small part down to the steps taken in removing human error from the game. However, humans on and off the court should still be able to play, referee and watch with some fluidity, and so I sincerely hope this ordeal of a spectacle is a one-off. Otherwise, unfortunately viewers may look for an alternative that doesn’t boil their blood.

Which brings me to football, and the Premier League (PL) in particular.

The sport has long been compared with basketball for its pace, free-flowing style and aesthetic beauty (I’m looking at you, Barcelona), with the English competition often showcasing the best of what football has to offer.

However, rather than embrace technology, football shunned it for many years, the PL only having introduced goal-line technology in the 2013/2014 season. Despite the speed and accuracy with which Hawk-Eye detects any discrepancies in play, many are still getting used to the change – every goal-line decision is met with a comedic display of hyperventilation from match commentary, and pointless analysis from pundits.

The general consensus of the traditionalist is that by introducing ‘advanced’ video refereeing, every game of football would descend into the debacle seen on Monday evening Tuesday morning. The flow of the game would be disrupted, there would be a gazillion minutes of injury time, and vomit-inducing EDM would plague every interval.

Ok, maybe not the last part. But you get my drift.

Some articles have gone so far as to praise football for it’s ‘imperfection’, a point I’m sure Manchester United and Bournemouth fans found hard to appreciate when watching Tyrone Mings and Zlatan Ibrahimovic beat the living daylight out of each other, under the¬†watchful eye of referee Kevin Friend.******

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 17.21.05.png

As I think you can tell by now, I sit on the other side of the fence – these¬†dumfounding decisions have worryingly become part and parcel of the supposed ‘beautiful game’, to the extent where referees are being made celebrities for essentially doing their job correctly.

This is not to belittle the good work that they do, but if Howard Webb can get paid a handsome sum of money to sit in a darkened room, providing analysis of situations that we can all decipher anyway, why not assemble a video technology team to confer with the referee in the PL?

Both sides of the debate in both sports are fully aware of the frustrations and criticisms that surround the current and proposed states of the game in question. Therefore,¬†I propose both basketball and football associations¬†climb said proverbial fence, and plonk both their¬†asses in the middle, for the good of both sports. No doubt it’ll be a tight squeeze, but I think everyone can just about fit.

What do you think? Feel free to retweet, follow, share, and get in touch with your ideas, whether that be for modification of the sports featured, or your experiences of video refereeing in others.

I want to witness greatness, not a sight for sore eyes.

J

*Dr Wayne W. Dyer, The Power of Intention (sweet quote, I know).

**NCAA figures as of March 27th 2017: 9.8 million viewers on average across all coverage; 88 million live streams (record); 55.3 million engagements across official ‘March Madness’ social media handles.

***The buzzer-beater to end all buzzer-beaters. Seriously, watch the last few minutes of the game via this link¬†– you’re welcome.

****Hack-a-Shaq was a tactic devised by former Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson to deliberately foul Shaquille O’Neal so that he would have to shoot free throws, preventing him from building momentum (Shaq shot a measly 52.7% throughout his career).

*****Stats via ESPN and Sporting News (thanks).

******One such article.

[First image provided courtesy of Sports Illustrated; second image – The Telegraph.]

And so it begins…

Yeah, I know.

Technically, the first post was my introductory post.

And technically, said post was posted a number of months (years?) ago.

And to save you from wasting your thoughts on deserved criticism of my action or lack thereof, yes, technically* the very point of said post could be (and probably has been) said about the Mongolian outback that is this blog.**

But no more.

On April 10th 2016 I made a promise to myself and you, the people, to provide you with GOOD talking points, and GREAT discussion, AND DAMNIT I AM GOING TO GIVE YOU IT.

(wipes tear from eye)

So with that being said…

Before the regular posts start coming, here are just a few points, about the Talking Points that will ensue.***

  • Apart from resembling the inner ramblings of a madman, this page will most likely read as a running commentary on all things sport, with a particularly strong focus on football and basketball.
  • To all those who despise just that, don’t worry. Sport is, on the most part, synonymous with the global issues and stories that constantly surround and consume¬†us. Thus, I will bring in various socio-political/pop-cultural links, as and when I see fit.
  • So hopefully there’ll be something for everyone most people, apart from those who despise just that, to which I solemnly say – I’m sorry. I can’t do anything for you.****
  • Through a mixture of habit and inspiration, I have developed a deep love (and hatred) for footnotes. So expect them. A lot. (Thanks KCL/Bill Simmons).
  • It will not be another year¬†before I post again.

So, there you ago. Please welcome me back into your loving arms. And feel free to share. If for nothing else than to heap shame upon me should I disappear into the outback once more.

Until the next post…

Happy reading.

J

 

*(I completely agree with you – ‘ironically’ would work better, but RULE OF THREE man! Always respect the rule of three. Cheers prof.)

**My sincere apologies.

***I really am going to run this ‘Talking Points’ thing into the ground, aren’t I – it’s TP from now on.

****Can someone let me know who actually came up with the whole ‘you can’t please everyone‘ phrase? Thanks in advance.