The Fiver | Arsenal and an increasingly long line of slapstick performances
OUR VASE RUNNETH OVER
With just eight of the original eleventy hundred and a million entrants left in Big Vase, it won’t be long now until the wider public start taking interest in this season’s competition. But seeing as Manchester United and Arsenal will have both exited the tournament by the time Ajax take on Dinamo Zagreb in May’s final, The Fiver considered it prudent to swing by Europe’s second-tier competition to see what’s going on regarding the remaining English clubs right now.
Manchester United are in picturesque Granada for the first leg of their quarter-final, facing humble Spanish opponents who they should swat aside with a minimum of fuss. In the same way Napoli will feel they should have two rounds ago, only to find themselves ignominiously dumped out by comparative paupers who, in one of the biggest games in their history, struggled to field 11 players after their dressing-room was ravaged by knack, suspensions and the plague. Having originally considered themselves to be in Big Vase for a good time, Granada now mean business.“This international break has been glorious for us,” Roberto Soldado, told The Fiver’s ham garage-owning, castanets-clacking, siesta-taking Spanish cousin El Sid Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fiver over a traditional socially distanced 2am dinner of patatas bravas, kalamari in garlic and chorizo. “Rest a bit and train hard: the ‘petrol’ we’re putting into our legs for these last two months.”
Of course if United fans thought their team got an easy draw, their jubilation would have been nothing compared to that of delusional Gooners, whose delight at being pitted against Slavia Prague was matched only by that of the Czech club’s supporters upon learning their team would be playing Arsenal. Having already dispatched Leicester City and the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers this season, the Czech side are unlikely to fear a team whose most recent outing was arguably the funniest in an increasingly long line of slapstick performances which prompted stinging criticism from the club’s former midfielder Emmanuel Petit, among many, many others.
“It’s just about how we take the criticism,” processed Mikel Arteta, who is growing increasingly used to taking it. “It’s not good to get the criticism and feel guilty, because that guilt is going to be changed into fear. It’s about feeling responsible, and that is the key word for me. You have to be responsible every day for what you do on that pitch, for the club we represent, and then act and not do too much talking.” And then? More talking. “It’s time for action,” he declared, in what sounded distinctly more like hope than expectation.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I never called Mark an effing cee. After a tirade of abuse from him, I did call him a swear word beginning with w … I know many of you may consider me to be a lousy chairman but I would like to think that you have found me to be an honest lousy chairman. My standards of behaviour are much higher than they are being portrayed in the media and I can assure you all that they will never drop that low” – Colchester United’s Robbie Cowling delivers a pretty remarkable statement following reports from an employment tribunal involving club charity employee Mark Harris.
Come get some Football Weekly Extra.
“Octavian Sovre’s backstory about the results of giving a penalty when he was younger (yesterday’s Fiver) reminded me of being asked to referee a Sheffield miners’ welfare league cup semi-final on my second assignment – as a callow 18-year-old just having passed my refs’ exam. It was a game between two fierce rivals with hundreds of supporters and linesmen from each team who were incredibly biased. With the score 0-0 – and with three minutes to go – the ball went down the left wing and the linesman on that side signalled it had gone out. From 20 yards away I could see it was a good three feet in, so waved play on. The winger crossed, the centre forward shot and the ball rebounded off the bar. In my excitement, I stumbled and accidentally blew the whistle, milliseconds before the striker scored from the rebound. I had to restart with a dropped ball, before the other side immediately surged upfield and scored! The crowd, on one side of the pitch, became incensed. Time was up a minute later and, as I blew the whistle, I was engulfed by players and supporters alike, not helped by the winning team wanting to shake my hand. My clothes were in the losing (home team’s) dressing room. Luckily, I had kept my car keys so was able to get in and drive off, returning later to retrieve my clothes … which were not in a good shape. I didn’t bother to ask for any autographs and wasn’t that keen on continuing with my nascent refereeing career” – Patrick Fuller.
“Since we’re being pedantic about Oxo cubes falling from space (Fiver letters passim), can I point out that gravity doesn’t magically stop once you get into space. The thing stopping Elon Musk’s satellites landing on our heads is centrifugal force – an Oxo cube will happily plummet to earth provided its orbital velocity is low enough. It’s amazing the things you can learn when the alternative is watching Newcastle play” – Richard Martin.
Send your letters to email@example.com, especially if you’re a former referee with a tale to get off your chest. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Patrick Fuller.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Swansea City have announced that all their players and staff will boycott social media disgraces for a week. “We feel it is right to take a stand against behaviour that is a blight on our sport, and society at large,” said the club.
Bayern are dusting themselves down after a PSG handed them their first Big Cup defeat since 2019. “If we had shown the killer instinct that characterises us then it would have been a different game,” sighed Thomas Müller.
Tommy T reckons that Chelsea’s 2-0 Big Cup against Porto will banish away the Sam Allardyce-shaped boogeyman lurking in the dark recesses of Stamford Bridge. “It was important for the guys to have, straight after the [West Brom] match, a clean sheet and a win,” he tooted.
Romanian charity SOS Autism Bihor is over the moon with assistant ref Octavian Sovre’s decision to ask Erling Haaland to autograph his yellow and red cards. “We rely on donations,” said Simona Zlibut, who oversees a therapy centre set up by parents. “We auction whatever we get to make up for the huge shortfall.” [Yes, tea-time emails in this vicinity feel guilty too – Fiver Ed.]
And Zlatan Ibrahimovic will now turn his hand to acting after being cast in the new Asterix and Obelix film as a character called “Antivirus”.
STILL WANT MORE?
Bayern v PSG was a wheeze but Jonathan Wilson ponders the bad, sad side to all that overwhelming quality and fun.
The Big Vase quarter-finals, all previewed here.
White Hart Lane legend Bobby Soldier, he of north-western TV company Granada, gets his chat on with Sid Lowe.
Abdallah Sima is Slavia Prague’s man most likely to when he meets Arsenal. Nick Ames profiles the Senegalese forward.
The Fiver’s new colleague Philipp Lahm reckons a Euro Super League can work if it includes clubs from across the continent.
John Murray, Ian Danter, Kris Temple and Peter Drury reveal how they write their commentary notes.
Karen Bardsley wants her England goalkeeper’s jersey back and to return to the Olympics. She speaks to Louise Taylor.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!
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