I’ve got to admit, feeling like a loser has become a part of my identity, low self-confidence hard-wired into my DNA by virtue of too many years of hardship. On Saturday morning, as Arsenal destroyed Blackburn 7-1, I got to feel like a winner again. And it felt good. Really good.
In terms of pure bliss, I don’t know that I’ve sincerely enjoyed any weekend of sports more than the past one. I woke up early on Saturday morning, and as I performed some 500 push-ups and an equal number of crunches on the floor, I watched my beloved Arsenal demonstrate why their status as a historic club can still appropriately be described in present terms. The Gunners have had better times in the past, but Saturday morning demonstrated clearly that good things are yet to come. Some clubs continue to live off of past accomplishments, and obviously, one of the most harsh criticisms leveled at Arsene involves his propensity for living off his reputation (the equivalent of my Mustang GT sucking fumes long after the gauge is indicating I’m low on fuel.)
Most people know that I truly love sports, passionately, but as an avid soccer fan, I’m out of step with most (cough–make that “all”–cough) Yanks. If I was to even mention the Barclay’s Premiere League, the UEFA Champions League, or the FA Cup, I can only imagine how most people’s eyes would glaze over. At best, people would have no idea what in the world I was talking about. At worst, they’d probably accuse me of being upatriotic or effeminate or something. Soccer just isn’t all that popular in America, and as Exhibit A, I give you the sharp contrast between the success (or lack thereof) of the MLS and the National Football League.
Like the rest of the world, I watched the Super Bowl last night. I pretty much had to, since there was nothing else on (trust me, I looked.) It was a fairly enjoyable spectator event, but like most Super Bowls, it didn’t nearly live up to the hype. The Super Bowl never lives up to the hype.
To tell the truth, I watched all four hours of the Super Bowl, including the Madonna/LMFAO/Cee-Lo/MIA half-time spectacle/debacle, and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as the commercial for the UEFA Champions League on Fox Soccer. Note to Self: Subscribe to Fox Soccer. I’m already so desperate to incorporate more soccer into my daily life, I’m strongly considering watching the games that are only broadcast on the Spanish channel. Note to Self: Learn Spanish, and fast.
Several years ago, while serving in the Army and training at Arlington National Cemetery, I had the unique honor of attending the Major League Soccer All-Star Game. If I remember correctly, I think they were pretty much giving the tickets away. The current crop of pseudo-super-stars was more or less underwhelming, but when the veterans got out there to show they still had the right stuff, I was fascinated to discover how many names I recognized from previous World Cups. It was a fantastic show, and one of the highlights of my adult life. Needless to say, there was hardly anybody there.
I’m quite proud to be an Arsenal fan, and I consider it both an honor and a privilege to write for my team. We tend to beat ourselves up pretty good when we’re losing, and for lack of a more positive outlook, I’d say we’ve all over-indulged in Arsene-oriented hatred. I hate to compare Premiere League Soccer to the NFL, but I would like to point out that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl last night. Just a few months ago, New York Giant fans were clamoring for the team’s coach to get sacked, and the team’s potential for a winning season looked rather dire. Now, they’re the world champions, with bragging rights for months to come and their names forever in the record books. We Arsenal fans who have expressed our desire to see Arsene replaced may soon find ourselves eating crow if the team goes on to have the success the New York Giants have had.
Player of the Week: Robin van Persie. The guy was simply infuego on Saturday. He quite literally made all of his goals look easy, since he executed them so effortlessly. Nevertheless, none of the goals he scored were given to him on a silver platter. He just demonstrated his mastery of the game and displayed what technically perfect soccer looks like. When Rob had the shot and instead opted to pass to Thierry Henry, he demonstrated why he is the team captain and exemplifies all that is good about the Arsenal. Quite simply, it was sportsmanship in its purest form, and it brought a tear to my eye. He put on a darn good show, and he looked good doing it. That meant the Arsenal looked good as well.
I do know there was one moment wherein it was suspected that van Persie was injured, and I’m confident my wife thought the world was coming to an end by my shout of “NOOOOO!” echoing through our cozy little house. It was indeed a scary moment, and I’m just lucky I didn’t have a heart attack or a nervous break-down in the process. When Rob jumped back to his feet and demonstrated no ill effects, I suddenly had the warm feeling that all was once again right and good in the world. On a related note, I think I have a touch of post traumatic stress disorder now.
The game against Blackburn had everything that is great about football, and specifically, what is still great about Arsenal. When Yossi Benayoun, captain of the Israeli National Football Team, trotted out onto the pitch to replace one of the starters at midfield, I couldn’t have been happier.
I know the Manchester United and Chelsea matchup will garner considerably more attention and more press, but that’s only because their game was so evenly matched. For the uninformed, the game ended in a 3-3 tie, which was considered epic and history-book worthy, but I wasn’t super impressed with either squad. I quite literally sat there thinking, “I think we can beat either or these teams, which means we can…Dare I say it?…Beat anyone.” I only hope and pray the Gunners’ confidence in themselves is comparable to my own confidence in them.
Lest we forget, let us remember that the soccer world experienced a significant tragedy on this very day (February 6) in history. I give you the following information, as provided by The History Channel: “On this day in 1958, a British European Airways flight crashes just after takeoff from the Munich Airport. Twenty-three people died in the crash, including eight players from the Manchester United soccer team, which had just qualified for the semifinals of the European Cup.” Manchester United was then what they are now (our arch-rivals), but the soccer community is nevertheless a family. A tragedy is still a tragedy, whether it befalls us or someone else.