Apologies to non golf fans, but last night’s finale to the 39th Ryder Cup was simply amazing.
Europe began the final day trailing America by six points to 10 and needing to more than equal the tournament’s record comeback to retain the trophy.
I say “more than” because the previous time a team came back from 6-10 down to win they were on home turf (the Americans winning in Boston in 1999). Europe would need to match that feat on enemy soil, in the face of the home crowd’s notoriously bad sportsmanship. But do it they did and the Cup remains in European hands for at least the next two years.
What has all this got to do with football and the Mighty Arsenal in particular, you are probably asking.
Well, for one thing the biggest hero of the European team was Ian Poulter – a Hertfordshire lad who is such a big Gooner that he has been known to tickle his balls round the fairways of the world wearing an Arsenal shirt on occasion.
Ian was victorious in every one of the four matches he played – including his final singles match yesterday when, despite trailing or being level for most of the game, he sank three consecutive hole-winning putts on the run-in.
It was particularly pleasing to see a large Arsenal flag unfurled among the supporters around the 18th green as our Golfing Gunner clinched his victory. You know that he will have appreciated that touch.
Interestingly, Poulter was not an automatic selection for Europe’s team. Ten of the 12 places on the team are decided by the standings in the European and World golf tours. Ian was not in the top 10 and was chosen as one of the two “captain’s picks.”
Why was he chosen? Because his previous Ryder Cup record was very strong: prior to this year’s event his score sheet was: Played 11, Won 8, Lost 3.
Now it is Played 15, Won 12, Lost 3 – putting him up there with the very best Ryder Cup performers of all time.
Many football fans don’t follow golf. Some even dispute that it should be considered a sport at all, preferring to think of it as a game (there have been interesting points made both for and against in the Arsenal Arsenal comments over the past couple of days).
But a couple of things struck me as the Ryder Cup reached its gripping conclusion.
First, the sheer courage and concentration required to pull off shots in such a fevered environment, knowing that an individual mistake could cost your team the championship.
On the final day, when it came to a battle of the bottle, Europe came out on top and the Americans, for all their over-the-top competitiveness, were found wanting.
Gary Neville (who has transformed from much-loathed Manc whinger to much-admired match analyser almost overnight), writing in the Daily Mail, felt that the difference between Arsenal and Chelsea on Sunday was bottle. He didn’t use that word (he referred to Chelsea’s experience of having won together) but he was right. In a close game Chelsea shaved it because, despite some new arrivals, they have a core of players who know how to win.
Arsenal’s key moments – the shots from Santi Cazorla, the missed effort from Giroud, the header from Podolski, the needless dive-in tackles from Vermaelen – all displayed a lack of judgement and, arguably, a lack of bottle.
The Chavs didn’t do much, but they didn’t make many mistakes. We did.
Lesson number two from the Ryder Cup is the importance of a team – right down to the contributions of less high profile players. The putt that secured victory for Europe was holed by a German golfer called Martin Kaymer. It was his first Ryder Cup and he had only featured once over the three days – in a fourball that he and his partner lost.
But, fired up by the European comeback on the final day, he held his nerve and won his singles match on the last hole with all of Europe and America watching. Likewise, the young Italian Francesco Molinari halved his singles game against Tiger Woods to give Europe an outright victory of 14½ to 13½.
The point is that if you give the fringe players the right encouragement they can become heroes. Sometimes at Arsenal I feel we are too hard on the fringe players. We dampen their ardour rather than inflaming it. Let’s cut them some slack when they have an off day, because next time they might be the difference between success and failure.
Thirdly, the fact that Ian Poulter was put in the team as a “captain’s pick” because of his previous Ryder Cup record shows that you seldom go far wrong by selecting the people who have performed for you before.
It’s a fact that Arsene Wenger may have been reflecting on this weekend after leaving our best defender out of the team for the Chelsea game.
We’ll never know whether Per Mertesacker would have made the difference had he played, but what we do know is that he was in stellar form prior to Saturday’s game and was desperately unlucky to be left out.
Arsene made some comments afterwards to the effect that he picked centre backs whom he felt were best suited to the task at hand (Chelsea’s dangerous attacking movement from Torres, Hazard and Oscar).
But I have long argued that our strongest CB pairing is the BFG plus one of Koscielny and Vermaelen. And I don’t buy the argument that because he’s tall, our Massive Per is best against the hoof-it teams like Stoke City.
To me, his reading of the game, his ability to snuff out moves before they get dangerous and his marshaling of the back line make him ideal against the teams with nippy strikers (as proved at Man City recently). Oh, and he is also exceptional at bringing the ball out of defence and using it well.
Against Chelsea our centre backs played a combined total of 65 passes (36 for TV and 29 for LK). The previous weekend Per alone made 53 passes out of defence – against the reigning Champions (Koscielny made 38, for a combined total of 91). Against Southampton Per’s passes from defence were 55, with a 95% success rate.
In both games Per’s distribution from the back helped us keep control of midfield – which we generally failed to do against Chelsea.
Sadly, the most droppable of our central defenders is the club captain – and I wonder if the manager will have the courage to do what needs to be done in the weeks ahead.
Finally – and most importantly – there is another lesson that our boys could learn from the Ryder Cup team. It’s this: When you are up against a team with a notorious philanderer at their heart, DON’T BLOODY WELL LOSE!