David Hirshey writes regularly about soccer for Deadspin.
In a week that saw the future of American soccer go gurgling down the sewer of world respect when a lazy-ass Kraut decided he couldn't be bothered getting off the beach to coach the U.S. national team and Mel Gibson's Apocalypto hit No. 1 at the box office, couldn't my one moment of true bliss have lasted just a little bit longer than six minutes? Was it too much to ask that the woodwork rescue Arsenal one last time when Essian launched his surface- to-air missile in the 84th minute? I mean, the way the ball kissed off the crossbar, the left post and the right post all afternoon, you'd have thought that Lehman had hung mistletoe on his goal. There was even a hint of what passes for Teutonic man-sex when the German keeper playfully fell to the ground after a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink with Drogba.
Tis the season to spread holiday cheer, right? And Chelsea and Arsenal certainly did their part yesterday. You should have seen the beaming Irish face of Joanne, the long-suffering Kinsale bartender, who was raised by her mother to believe that Manchester United stood for all that was good and noble in life. And there was the slightly more sodden mug of Deadspin boss Will Leitch, who chose yesterday to take in his first soccer game since the Fighting Illini beat University of Chicago in the 1997 state playoffs for club teams.
Truth be told, Leitch took some time warming to his new sport — for one thing, the bar didn't open until an hour into the game — and he looked a bit bemused when the ever-burgeoning Deadspin Drunkathlon faithful began chanting "You greedy bastard" at the introduction of Chelsea's Ashley Cole, who was once the greatest left back in the world when he played for Arsenal for a mere 85 grand a week. "What's that's about?" Leitch asked, as on the screen, Gunner fans could be seen giddily tossing fake 20 pound Bank of Russia notes with Cole's face on them. But by the second half and a couple of hot Irish coffees, Leitch was entirely comfortable howling at the television, pounding the bar and cursing in Anglo-Saxon ("Thanks, but I know what a wanker is")
(More after the jump.)
Of course, this was not just another soccer game that Leitch had turned up for, but a full-blooded classic, even if , according to the Special One, only one team tried to win it. Arsenal were without four starters — Henry, Gallas, Toure and Rosicky — and Wenger assigned the steely Gilberto Silva to protect his children at the back (Clichy, Djourou, Eboue, and Senderos). Silva did an exemplary job holding the midfield, but the Brazilian alone couldn't contain the muscle and bustle of Drogba, Lampard and Essian. Drogba, as always, seemed to have Senderos' number, and the young Swiss centerback did his best not to pee down his leg every time the powerful Ivorian ran at him. Fortunately for the Gunners, Drogba had little to work with upfront, his fellow striker Shevchenko once again proving to be huge waste of $45 million space. It was only when Mourinho took off the one-time European Player of the Year in the second half and brought on the Dutch dynamo Robben did the Blues look like the juggernaut of old. With impudent ease, Robben skinned Senderos to smash a shot that Lehmann couldn't hold, but, like Fabregas did in the first half when he cleared off the line, Gilberto bailed his keeper out with a last-ditch interception that prevented Drogba from scoring.
For all their disarray at the back, Arsenal kept attacking with pace and precision, and, after a neat interchange with Hleb, Flamini lost Cole (there is a God, after all!) in the box and rifled a shot off the fingertips of Chelsea's sure-handed third string goalie Hilario-us. Oh, what a satisfying moment that was: 12 minutes left, Arsenal up 1-0, playing the role of SPOILERS, Mourinho looking in pain, my Chelsea buddy Steve Quattrociocchi, in his vintage Autoglass kit, slumped over his Guinness...
No point going into what happened next. Suffice it to say that Leitch paid the Deadspin tab and, with the true innocence of the non-partisan fan, exclaimed "That was fun. I should do it more often." It doesn't quite make up for Klinsmann pissing on U.S. soccer but does offer some small comfort that the game — at least when accompanied by adequate libations — can be as intoxicating to the newbie as it is to all us football weenies.