It took 84 minutes of featureless drudge, but a decidedly second-string Arsenal eventually made the breakthrough against Red Star Belgrade – or Crvena Zvezda if you prefer – to maintain their flawless start to the Europa League group stage on Thursday evening.
Four years to the very day that Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere combined to score that beautiful ‘Wengerball’ goal against Norwich, the pair were reunited and back at it amid fairly hostile conditions in Belgrade.
The approach play started with Wilshere turning smartly out of a cul-de-sac of Red Star defenders and exchanging a couple of neat passes with Theo Walcott, whose headed flick-on was finished by Giroud with what scholars usually refer to as ‘aplomb’…
Nice. When Arsenal get it right, it’s a joy to behold.
The following alternative video may be geo-blocked for some of you but it’s worth watching if not, as the full move leading up to Giroud’s finish was a thing of beauty in its own right…
The turn and pass from Wilshere
The finish from Giroud
Over in the lower recesses of the Italian league, Serie D side Turris Calcio will be without Giovanni Liberti for the next five matches after the midfielder was found guilty of erroneous urination during a recent match.
The Serie D disciplinary board have punished Liberti for aiming his mighty stream at – at, not on – Sarnese supporters during the 3-3 draw between the two sides on 15th October.
As per the official statement released today (via Football Italia), Liberti “urinated in the direction of the away section, making absence and vulgar gestures to his genital organ”.
However, Turris president Antonio Colantonio is planning to appeal the decision on the basis that Liberti didn’t in fact piss everywhere, he was simply stood next to a drinking fountain that made it appear that way.
Unfortunately, once again, we find ourselves faced with an injustice.
Our player Liberti absolutely did not do what is alleged. Quite simply in the warm-up area there’s a fountain near the wall and the player, ready to come onto the pitch, was drinking and adjusting his shirt, which by regulation should be inside his shorts.
The serious thing is that in support of this ban there is only the testimony of the assistant referee positioned on the opposite side of the pitch.
The visiting club confirmed to us that our player did not do anything of the sort. I’m bitter about the decision of the sporting court, against which we will appeal.
Rather wonderfully, Football Italia also report that Liberti’s suspension wasn’t the only five-match ban metered out in Serie D this week, with Francesco Ferrieri of Frattese being handed the same punishment for, and we quote, “kicking and punching the Nardo masseur”.
At the end of the 1996/97 season, Eric Cantona shocked Manchester United by bringing his professional career to a premature end when he reached the conclusion that, at the age of 30, he was pig soddin’ sick of being told what time he had to go to bed.
I loved the game but I no longer had the passion to go to bed early, not to go out with my friends, not to drink, and not to do a lot of other things, the things I like in life.
Instead, Cantona decided he would like to pursue a new passion: melodramatic acting – and lo, a thespian was born.
This gloriously hammy advert for Eurostar wasn’t King Eric’s first gig, but it proved to be the springboard that would go on to propel him to his iconic roles, such as ‘The Stallion’ (in seminal French language classic ‘Les Rencontres d’Apres Minuit’) and ‘Eric Cantona’ (in ‘Looking For Eric’)…
The impudent wave of the wrist while meditating on leg room is just perfect.
You can keep your Joey Bartons. This is Eric Cantona at his glorious pseudo-philosophical peak.
Why, it seems like a lifetime, but 15 years ago this very day, a 16-year-old brute who looked like he was on day release from borstal emerged from the Everton bench and promptly entrenched himself deep in the topography of English football.
With a thick neck and forearms like Popeye, that young toe-rag was Wayne Rooney, who found himself thrown on against Arsenal as an 80th-minute substitute with the score level at 1-1, only to bring the Gunners’ 30-game unbeaten run to an abrupt end 10 minutes later with his very first Premier League goal.
Bringing a lumped high ball from Thomas Gravesen under instant control, Rooney pivoted, took a touch and then leathered a fearsome shot over David Seaman and in off the underside of the bar to steal a late victory for the Toffees…
“Remember the name…”, etc, etc.
That first touch definitely deserves a nod, too. Deft.
Little did young Rooney know then that he was about to embark on a long and storied career that would eventually see him leave for riches untold, shattering all manner of long-standing records along the way, before eventually ending up back at Everton, largely knackered and one of least popular players of an entire generation.
Lionel Messi passed yet another career milestone on Wednesday evening when he scored his 100th goal in European competition, thus becoming the first ever player to do so for one single club.
The goal came in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Olympiakos, in which Messi netted the second goal with a set-piece on the hour mark.
In all honesty, the free-kick itself was hardly vintage, with goalkeeper Silvio Proto hardly covering himself in glory as Messi’s relatively tame effort slimed off his wet gloves and underneath the crossbar…
As mentioned, the goal was Messi’s 100th in European football with Barca, though only 97 of those have come in the Champions League, with three being scored in the UEFA Super Cup.
That means we can expect to hear the exact same hoo-ha when he brings up his Champions League century in three goals’ time. That said, Cristiano Ronaldo is currently perched on 95 Champions League goals for Real Madrid, so the race is most definitely on.
Anyway, it would also appear that Messi relied on a little of what The Byrds once dubbed “artificial energy”, after retrieving a mysterious pill from his sock before swiftly going on to break his record…
Images: BT Sport
Thankfully, Catalunya Radio commentator Ricard Torquemada has already assured us that Messi was simply chewing on a glucose tablet for some extra chutzpah.
Something something we’ll have what he’s having something something.
Marcus Rashford scored the only goal of the game as a ponderous Manchester United edged out Benfica in Portugal.
This was a rather limp affair, with the Red Devils struggling to break down a resilient Benfica back-line.
However, the decisive goal would eventually come just after the hour-mark, albeit in rather fortuitous circumstances for the visitors thanks to a handling error from teenage goalkeeper Mile Svilar.
Rashford’s swirling 35-yard free-kick didn’t look like troubling Svilar, but the young stopper’s poor positioning saw him forced to catch the ball at full stretch, unfortunately carrying it backwards over his goal-line as a result…
Quite a way for Svilar to mark his Champions League debut, which saw him become the youngest-ever goalkeeper in the competition at 18 years and 52 days, thus beating Iker Casillas’ long-standing record by a matter of days.
Conservative MP Douglas Ross has taken a bit of a battering after ditching a Parliamentary debate about welfare reform on Wednesday in favour of running the line at the Camp Nou.
As well as being the Tory MP for Moray, Ross is also a qualified professional assistant referee, and can regularly be seen officiating in the Scottish Premiership.
He has also been selected as part of the team of officials responsible for overseeing Barcelona’s Champions League tie against Olympiakos, which coincides with the vote on the Government’s proposed roll-out of Universal Credit.
As such, it was left to SNP MP John McNally to deliver a sarcastic ‘red card’ to his contemporary in absentia at the House of Commons this afternoon…
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives later assured us all (via Sky News) that while Ross will indeed be moonlighting in Barcelona tonight, he’s still doing a bang-up job when it comes to representing his constituents.
Douglas has held more than 50 surgeries since becoming an MP and has met personally with Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke to discuss local cases which have arisen from those.
The people of Moray are right behind Douglas and his refereeing, as they showed decisively when they elected him as their MP just a few months ago.
One intrepid Chinese fan embarked upon a 12,000-mile odyssey to visit the very crucible of his footballing obsession: The Millbank Linnets Stadium in Runcorn, an industrial port town on the Cheshire coast.
Huang Wenbin fell in love with Runcorn Linnets – or Runcorn FC Halton as they were then known – after guiding them from obscurity to Premier League and UEFA Cup glory on his mammoth Championship Manager 01/02 playthrough…
In reality, Runcorn are currently plugging away in the North West Counties League Premier Division, the ninth tier of the English pyramid. They do, however, boast a rather tremendous corn-shaped club mascot.
Still, Wenbin gathered his family: his wife and their two young children, and whisked them from Xiamen, some 6,000 miles across the world on a special pilgrimage to sunny Runcorn.