Thursday, 18 May 2006

Human Nature

So, the better team won, Arsenal lost. As expected.
The game did make me ponder, though, and not just because it wasn't that bad a football match; it was mostly thoughts of the anthropological type that plagued me during the Champions League final match.

First, I observed myself. For a while there, somewhere along the 70 minute area, I was already dreaming of Arsenal lifting the cup. Indeed, as I said yesterday, hope turned out to be a dangerous thing, but it was this hope that drove me to chuck the quilt to the side and stand up to shout orders as both Henry and Ljunberg missed out on good opportunities to upgrade Arsenal's early lead to 2:0. If they managed that, the game would have surely been theirs.
But they didn't.

The second observation was the behavior of the Arsenal team. Just like their Champions League quarter final against Chelsea from a couple of years ago, there was a stage in which they seemed to freeze all of a sudden, as if incapable of moving. It was of little wonder that Barcelona capitalized on those few moments where the lapse of attention prevailed to score twice. I can only conclude that this goes to show that it's psychological fitness that counts during critical times, and not necessarily skill or fitness. Obviously, the fact that Arsenal had to run around with 10 men made them tired, but the break point was not there due to physical tiredness but rather due to the mental toll of maintaining their lead for so long under such a major opposing force - as evidenced by the fact they got their senses back and started running around again towards the end. At times like that, a person (or a team, for that matter) needs a healthy dose of leadership, which was obviously missing from the Arsenal side (including its bench, as Wenger failed to address the problem in time).

The third observation is perhaps the most interesting one, as it related to the man of the match. I'm not talking about Henrick Larson, who was responsible to both Barcelona goals; I'm not talking about Rikard, whose brilliant substitutions won the game for Barcelona; and I'm not talking about Jans Lehman, whose dire need for anger management has sealed Arsenal's demise early on in the game.
I am talking about the referee, who through a number of critical decisions decided the fate of the game and its character. Did Lehman deserve a red card? Why was Barcelona's perfectly legal goal disallowed? Why was Henry yellow carded? Why was Etoo's offside goal allowed?
All these are "important" questions to the subjective fan, but in the greater context they don't matter that much (unless you're a whiner like Wenger): the rule book says that the referee makes a decision on the spot, and if you don't like those rules, no one is forcing you to come and play; if you did come and play, though, you should accept the fact that the referee is a human being that makes mistakes and accept his/her ruling.
Anyway, what I noticed about the referee was the way his conscious was affecting his decision making process, be it for right or wrong.
Lehman should have been red carded if you follow the book, and Barcelona's subsequent goal should have been allowed by the very same book. No one would have complained much if the goal was allowed and Lehman got the yellow card - it would have been a win win of sorts to both teams as well as the neutral supporter who would have steel had a game on his/her hand - but instead the referee chose a tragic lose lose solution - no goal and no goalie.
Obviously, a poor decision on all accounts. A decision which shadowed him throughout the match.
Look at the goal Sol Campbell scored for Arsenal: It was scored from a set piece acquired through extreme and obvious theatrics by Eboue. The referee wouldn't have given Eboue the free kick if it wasn't for his dire need to compensate Arsenal for his harsh dismissal of Lehman.
Not long after that Henry got yellow carded for no particular reason. The referee was simply losing it under pressure.

One can learn a lot about the human spirit, its achievements, and its fragility just by watching Arsenal play the Champions League final. And lose.
Goodbye, Bergkamp.

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