David Hirshey writes regularly for Deadspin about soccer.
If there's one thing even more satisfying than holding a grudge, it's kicking the life out of it.
That's why my favorite moments of Arsenal's soul-crushing 1-0 victory over Chelsea yesterday came in the first and last minute when the Gunners welcomed back their former defender Ashley Cole by "accidentally" nailing him in the swingers.
Don't get me wrong. Gallas' goal against his old club was pretty sweet, as was the sight of Terry limping off in pain, but nothing compared to the look on Cole's face when first Flamini and then Fabregas — how great was it to have the Spanish maestro back? — reminded him that we don't take too kindly to players who forsake Arsenal because they feel that their weekly wage of $110,000 is not worthy of their supreme excellence.
I did my part, joining the 60,000 fans at Emirates in a rousing chorus of "Juuuu-daaaas, Juuuuu-daaaas" when Cole was introduced. Granted, I was an ocean away in the Kinsale section, but I know they heard me, especially when Flamini made a surging run through the Chelsea defense early on and was knocked off balance by Cole. Trying to remain upright, Flamini reached out and grabbed the Cuntly One (as I like to call him) by the ball sack.
Hey, it happens. I've seen Relegation Zone Mikey try that same move as he stumbled out the door after another last second Tottenham loss.
"I hope that's worth $150,000 a week, you fuckin' wanker, " I bellowed at the screen from my barstool at Kinsale. Even more satisfying was when Cole was tackled from behind, as we say in the Meat-packing district, by Fabregas in the dying minutes and the Spaniard's foot lodged squarely in the CO's package. My only regret is that he was able to walk off under his own power and then showed his class by giving a two-fingered salute to the Arsenal fans.
While the result was immensely gratifying, this was not one of those Arsenal performances they're going to hang in Wenger's wing at the Louvre. It was more a test of spiky resilience than eye-catching skill. Chelsea was without its best mercenaries — Drogba and Essian — but still had enough firepower to make for a tense afternoon at the Emirates. And with this young Arsenal team, is there any other kind? Thankfully Wenger had the good sense to put Almunia back in goal after letting Lehmann out of the Arsenal gulag for Wednesday's meaningless Euro game against Steua Bucharest.
As far as I'm concerned, the peroxided Spaniard can match the carpet to his drapes if he wants (you know, like Beckham) if he has the kind of world-class game he did against Chelsea. I mean, who in their right mind would have predicted before kickoff that Almunia would be flawless while his counterpart Petr Cech, generally regarded as the best in the business, would gift Arsenal the only goal it needed by whiffing on Fabregas' cross and allowing Gallas to thump it into the net?
I must admit that I don't derive quite as much pleasure beating Chelsea as I did when the Special One was the preening, stubbled face of the team. When I look at his successor Israeli-born Avram Grant on the Chelsea bench, funereal in his all-black outfit, I feel the ancestral call of my people and wish he didn't have to suffer any more than he does already under the Guccied boot-heel of Ambramovich. Then I hear that Grant has been given a new four year $100k a week contract for "revitalizing Chelsea" and I think "Eat dreck and die."
Speaking of death, that's how I felt as I trudged through the icy hail on Sunday morning, pausing every few steps to hawk up green gobs of sputum that had lodged in my system from my company Christmas party two nights before. Kickoff for what the British papers were hyping as Grand Slam Sunday, because it involved The Big Four of ManU, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea and was at 8:30 — or to put it another way, three and a half hours before any alcohol could be served at the bar.
Imagine how frustrating it must have been to have a sweating beer tap a few tantalizing inches in front of you and realizing that if you reached over and yanked on it before NOON, you'd pull away a bloody stump. Yet all the deprivations of sleep and alcohol would have been worth it if the soccer on view hadn't been so godawful. Had it not been for Lingering Bursitis, who had the generosity of spirit — or was it simply the shakes, James? — to bring along a contraband bottle of bourbon, I can't fathom how anyone would have made it through the mind-numbing morning with their sense of self intact.
Good thing that Leitch couldn't break free of his girlfriend's rapturous clutches to make the trek from Brooklyn — as, I should point out, the far more manly Deadspin commenter Spectator did — or he might have questioned why he pays me Cole-like wages to write about such craptastic matches. (Ed. Note: Mr. Leitch pleads guilty. It was very cold Sunday morning.)
I will always have a soft spot for Liverpool because of Benayoun — who, by the way, was an absolute schlemiel against ManU —and because you have to admire a team whose fans profess to be the greatest in the world and then burgle their players' homes when they're out of town. Usually the break-ins occur in the dead of the night, but yesterday Liverpool had their pockets picked in broad daylight. How the Reds could fail to notice a couple of trolls like Rooney and Tevez lurking in the box in the 43rd minute is something I would have paid to hear Benitez explain to his American yahoo owners during their peace talks last night.
Lucky for him, Tom Hicks and George Gillett know fuck-all about soccer so maybe he just told them that Liverpool was icing the puck or something.
The rest of us were treated to a game so helter-skelter that you thought you were watching a pinball machine rather than two of the best soccer teams in England. There were moments of high comedy, thanks to two goalkeeping blunders from ManU's Van Der Sar that were worthy of England's Funniest Home Videos, but Liverpool, with Torres and Kuyt woefully out of sync, couldn't take advantage of either of them. ManU, with Ronaldo strangely invisible, was equally wasteful except for their incisive set-piece in the 43rd minute that Tevez finished off after Rooney picked him out at the far post.
With their win, United sniffed the rarefied air at the top of the Prem for all of 90 minutes before Arsenal regained their perch. Chelsea slid six points off the pace while Liverpool fell out of the Top Four and is now 10 points behind.
As for Ashley Cole, he recently discovered he was related to Mariah Carey and after yesterday's ball-stomping, I'm confident he can hit the high notes just like her.